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Eastbound & Down Co-creator Jody Hill on the Show’s Most Cringeworthy Moments

When Eastbound & Down co-creator Jody Hill started making the show with Danny McBride, he remembers HBO voicing reservations about the constant F-word-ing. “HBO was like, 'You don't want to say 'fuck' all the time because it loses its impact,'" Hill tells Vulture. "And we had to have a talk with them and say, 'We don't want it to have an impact, we want this to be the language of the show. That's how it works.’ It's just kind of a messed-up show.” True to his word, the show's four seasons (the series finale airs Sunday night) have seen a lot of things far more messed up than any profanity. (Quick sampler from recent episodes: Kenny treating his toddler to a viewing of The Human Centipede, and right-hand man Stevie sucking on his wife's supersize breasts in the middle of a shopping mall.) We asked Hill to walk us through six moments he found to be the most-cringe-inducing, telling us which made for the most awkward shooting days, and which one broke his heart. And as a bonus, he told us about the one scene he wanted to do but couldn't get an actor to go along with.

Dinner at the Schaeffer Plantation (Season 3, episode 2)
It was Will Ferrell’s take on a Southern accent for his megalomaniacal, Edgar Winter–like car dealer Ashley Schaeffer that inspired Hill and co-creator and star Danny McBride to conjure up the villain's mansion, an old-style plantation where all the servants are black, including a maid named Mammy (as in “Mammy’s dumplings will make you come”). “We used to joke that Will’s accent was like Gone With the Wind, the kind that doesn’t even exist today. Like Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,” Hill said. Some viewers apparently thought this confederacy-style manse and all its racist trappings (Schaeffer’s made Stevie into a Geisha) was too much — especially since the first half of the episode focused on Kenny’s much tamer babysitting high jinks (i.e., carrying his 1-year-old around zipped up in a book bag). “The episode becomes like a bad guy out of an eighties movie,” Hill said. “We figured it was justified because it’s the product of Schaeffer’s fucked-up head. But we also kill a man with a cannon.”

Shane’s death (Season 3, episode 4)
After Kenny's equally abrasive teammate and best pal Shane (Jason Sudeikis) ODs on cocaine, Kenny steals his car, takes cell phone pictures of his body at the wake, and intros his eulogy with Candlebox’s “Far Behind.” But what made Hill cringe wasn’t Kenny’s behavior. It was the fans’ subsequent outpouring of sympathy. “What was weird was that a lot of the response we got from our friends and family was how sad they were that Shane died,” he laughed. “We’d thought, Shane is a fucking meathead. Nobody’s gonna care that Shane died. And we got a lot of, ‘Man, episode four is dark.’ Uh, it’s not that dark! The whole thing was just really surprising.”

Filming Kenny with his college-age girlfriend (Season 3, episode 1)
Casting directors initially tried to cast the role of Andrea, Kenny's naïve, sexually active, and way-too-young girlfriend while he's playing in the minors in South Carolina, with older women who could play young. “They were giving us girls who were like 26. We kept making them go back because it needs to look shocking when they walk around together, like a borderline crime,” Hill said. To emphasize how far Kenny’s fallen, “it had to be a really young girl. He’s the old guy on the team in Myrtle Beach and this is his last chance.” They wound up with 17-at-the-time Alex ter Avest, who is first seen about to have sex at the beach with Kenny, as he gives her this preemptive game plan: “I will be able to break it off a little bit. I’ll be able to slap it, but I’m not going to have time to flip it and rub it down. Translation: I’m not sure both of us are going to come.” Says Hill, “What you don’t see is that off-camera her mom is standing there the whole time. Danny hated doing that scene. He was miserable. He had to say all that terrible stuff about playing with her butthole right in front of her mom.”

Matthew McConaughey’s prayer (Season 3, episode 8)
As gay pro baseball sports agent Roy McDaniel, who made good on his promise to rescue Kenny from the minors, Matthew McConaughey improvised a vulgar prayer session with Kenny before his first big game back. A brief sampling from the almost-two-minute speech (in which you can see McBride trying his hardest not to break): “The fact that we sit with you now, Lord, in this clubhouse is proof that Kenneth Powers has successfully sucked his dream’s dick ... Kenny sucked, Kenny stroked, Kenny learned to breathe through his nose while doing it … ” Hill says all credit goes to McConaughey, who was in a mood to improvise. “We’d written a small version of it. He wanted to go long. We just let the camera roll and he started doing his thing. The tickling the balls stuff, all that he came up with,” Hill said. “Funeral scenes, prayers, anytime you can bring in religion, people are shocked by it.”

Kenny's son overhears him debating whether or not to accept a blow job from another woman (Season 4, episode 3)
Flush with success from his talk show gig on Sports Sesh, Kenny takes his family and friends to a water park where he’s offered a blow job by a pretty girl in a bikini. He refuses the offer, but later, while April is passed out next to him, he asks God aloud if he should go ahead — and then it's revealed that his young son, Toby, is awake in the bed next to him and listening. Hill says that the to-cheat-or-not-to-cheat wavering was based on something that happened to a friend of his who had a family (“I won’t say his name, but it’s his story”), but the kid was an unplanned addition. It wasn't scripted; the episode’s director, executive producer David Gordon Green, just happened to get a shot of Toby (played by Steele Gagnon) staring at Danny. “That was one of those happy accidents that just happened on the set. The kid probably didn’t know how to take what Danny was saying, but he looked like he knew something was up. And you’re never sure if he did. It’s just left unspoken.”

Kenny leaves April at the gas station (Season 1, episode 6)
After finally winning back April but discovering he wasn’t getting called up to the majors, Kenny leaves her at a gas station rather than be humiliated. Hill says for his money it’s the worst thing that Kenny’s done. “It’s not shocking or crude, but it really makes you wince,” he said. “We set up that whole first season with Kenny heading towards this big change, and then he does not change at all. It’s pretty heartbreaking. It’s an ending where you’re just yelling at your TV, hopefully, saying, ‘Don’t do it! Don’t do it!’ And then of course he does.”

The Stevie moment that never happened
Hill remembers only ever scrapping one thing for going too far — though it wasn't he who drew the line, but Steve Little, the actor who plays Kenny’s loyal sidekick Stevie. Hill has been trying to get Stevie naked since the beginning; last season, when Kenny found Stevie so distressed over the loss of Maria that he had shaved his head, Hill wanted Little to emerge not only bald but naked. He then wanted Stevie to puke on his own penis. Little refused. Hill tried again in last week’s episode when Stevie was threatening to commit suicide in a motel room. “That seemed like it would fit in a gonna-kill-yourself scene. It seems like you get naked to do that. But he just would not do it,” Hill said. Instead, Stevie accidentally shoots off his new chin while wearing tighty whiteys, which is only moderately more dignified.

Photo: HBO