Two memorable characters return in tonight’s Eastbound & Down. One of them, Stevie Janowski (Steve Little), is absolutely crucial to the show, as much as anybody who isn’t Danny McBride could be. The other, Ashley Schaeffer (Will Ferrell), can be a point of contention among fans. Is Will Ferrell’s flamboyant car dealer a necessary foil to Kenny Powers, a rival who’s even more arrogant and horrible than Powers, thus making our hero slightly more likable in comparison? Or is he an over-the-top cartoon that turns Eastbound into a bad comedy sketch whenever he appears?
In the first season Schaeffer definitely fit the former role. Schaeffer might be more vulgar and vindictive than KP, but it’s his wealth and power that make him a far more odious character. Schaeffer’s rich enough to do what Kenny can only dream about now. Both are contemptuous of each other, with the local celebrity Schaeffer envious of the national fame (turned infamy) that KP once enjoyed, and Kenny jealous of Schaeffer’s fortune. Schaeffer served a specific purpose that first season beyond just being a transparent and hilarious impression of “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair.
Tonight’s episode stretches Schaeffer far beyond the point of believability. Eastbound doesn’t normally deal in extreme Southern stereotypes outside of Kenny, and even then it’s pretty clear that Kenny acts that way to avoid getting close to people and because he thinks it’s expected of him. Tonight Schaeffer blasts past stereotype and straight into cartoon character territory. Between his plantation home, his Butterfly McQueen-style maid, the human-splattering cannon he keeps in his backyard, and his predilection for dressing Stevie up like a geisha girl, Schaeffer is no longer just a rich, flamboyant asshole but a completely absurd and sociopathic caricature of the racist old Southern gentleman. Schaeffer’s storyline is so thoroughly divorced from reality that it doesn’t feel like the same show anymore. The final third of this episode is an awkward Funny or Die skit featuring a cameo from Kenny Powers.
Otherwise this is a top-notch episode of Eastbound. Fears that this season would just be Three Men and a Little Baby style humor with Kenny Powers were unfounded, as… okay, well, yeah, there actually is a lot of that “manly dude strugglin’ to handle a baby’s poop” type of stuff at the start of this episode, but it involves Kenny Powers, and somehow that makes it all feel fresh and new again. This isn’t just some anonymous Ted Danson stand-in, but perhaps the most fully realized fictional depiction of bro dude delusion and extreme self-obsessed immaturity dealing with the most basic rigors of fatherhood. An over-his-head dad ordering a Hawaiian pesto pizza for his hungry baby might not be inherently funny, but it becomes hilarious when McBride barks out that order with Kenny’s facade of absolute confidence.
Realizing he’s in over his head, and unable to find the disappeared April (Katy Mixon), Kenny tracks down his former personal assistant and loyal sycophant Stevie, who’s now working at Schaeffer’s Kia dealership. Along with Stevie’s wife, Maria (Elizabeth De Razzo), Kenny rescues Stevie from Schaeffer’s dinner before he can be raped by a Korean businessman. Kenny’s largely a destructive presence in Stevie’s life, but Stevie is one of the few people in Kenny’s orbit capable of exerting anything resembling a positive influence, and if anybody can actually help Kenny raise Toby it’ll be Stevie and Maria. Like last season, the true Eastbound & Down doesn’t begin until Stevie’s back in play. I can’t wait to see how he handles living in Myrtle Beach with his own personal hero and icon.