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Eastbound & Down Review: "Chapter 18" (Episode 3.05)

March 22, 2012  |  5:00pm
<em>Eastbound & Down</em> Review: "Chapter 18" (Episode 3.05)

Kenny’s late-inning collapse continues.

We’re over two thirds of the way through Eastbound & Down’s last season and I’m officially worried. It’s been good (just look at those high scores I’ve given most of this year’s episodes) but beyond a few absolutely perfect scenes it hasn’t quite lived up to the greatness of the first two seasons. I don’t expect Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) to be thoroughly reconstructed and respectable at the end of this series (and let’s hope that doesn’t happen in the final episodes), but the last two episodes have really doubled-down on the first part of the “cringe comedy” tag.

Kenny is a horrible human being. At this point he clearly doesn’t deserve to be redeemed and I’d have no problem with the series ending with him dying obscure and unloved. I’d definitely admire the bravery of McBride and series creator Jody Hill if that’s the direction they’re headed in. Watching that downward spiral on a weekly basis can be tiresome, though, because we’re used to it. There was nothing surprising or unexpected about Kenny’s party flopping tonight, or his embarrassing attempt to crash the dance party thrown by Ivan “DJ Blu-Ray” Dechenko (Ike Barinholtz). Kenny’s speech at Ivan’s party made me laugh, and Kenny riding a jet ski in an Uncle Sam outfit is a funny visual (as is the brief background shot of his stepbrother Caspar [Erick Chavarria] getting serviced by one of the prostitutes Kenny hired for his Fourth of July party), but the resulting embarrassment felt trite. The endless series of indignities is deserved but too predictable.

The fifth episode of the first season genuinely surprised by ending with that gleefully destructive orgy of excitement after Kenny knocked the eyeball out of Reg Mackworthy’s (Craig Robinson) socket. Even his triumphs are sick and damaged. It’s not the triumph that makes that scene amazing but how completely unexpected it was. Obviously the show can’t end with a surprise every week (it ain’t Lost, and there was actually a surprise of a different sort this week anyway) but every episode this season has ended with Kenny facing failure and humiliation.

Like I said, Kenny Powers deserves it. Any viewers who for some reason look up to the character or identify with him absolutely deserve to ride this take-down train as well. Humiliation loses its power and relevance when it happens so regularly, though.

Okay, all that said, there was a lot to like about this episode. Don Johnson, playing Kenny’s deadbeat dad Eduardo, might have been the best part of the second season. The fake-out start to “Chapter 18”, with Eduardo and Caspar trying to steal not from a Mexican gift store but from the inexplicable South of the Border tourist trap, concisely introduces Kenny’s z-grade con-man father to anybody who missed the last season. He’s the dude who steals from freakin’ South of the Border. That’s like dumpster diving for Krystals.

Eastbound has a track record of excellent guest casting, from Adam Scott to Matthew McConaughey, but Don Johnson has probably been the best. Obviously the guy’s always been charismatic (he made a horrible cheese-ball like Crockett seem cool) but he’s both legitimately hilarious and emotionally engaging as Eduardo. Even when, like Kenny, we can tell Eduardo’s just trying to manipulate people, Johnson plays it with enough sincerity to open up a small sliver of doubt. And his supreme selfishness and constant scheming explain away so much of Kenny’s personality.

Eduardo tracked Kenny down to Myrtle Beach because he wants to get in touch with Kenny’s heretofore unseen mother. When he finds out he’s a grandfather he knows he can use that as an excuse to stick around and hopefully get those digits from Kenny at some point. This leads to that legitimate surprise I referred to above, as the episode ends with the reveal of Lily Tomlin playing Kenny’s mom. These final two episodes may not see the total destruction of Kenny Powers, but at least we’ll gain some insight into why he is the way he is.

So yeah, this wasn’t a bad episode at all, and it’s setting up what promises to be a genuinely revelatory conclusion. It’s just that the major comic set-pieces felt a little too obvious.

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