Danny McBride, Jody Hill, David Gordon Green, and company always claimed Eastbound & Down was less a series than a self-contained feature film chopped into six 25-minute chapters, which is why the second-season premiere feels so much like the first reel of a sequel — bigger and badder and something separate entirely. Even more than the last season of Friday Night Lights or whenever Weeds decided it didn’t want to be about a suburban mom dealing pot anymore, Eastbound has blown itself to bits and started over. People who’d never heard of Kenny Fuckin’ Powers before his omnipresent K-Swiss subway ads — and there may be a lot of those people — will have no problem picking up the series from here, and if that means the audience expands, great. But it certainly won’t be because the series, or its protagonist, has gotten softer. And this is a character whose greatest life-changing epiphanies are owed to premature ejaculation and knocking out an archrival’s eye with a fastball.
When we last saw Kenny, his offer to pitch for Tampa Bay was rescinded, dooming his unlikely comeback campaign for good. But not before he’d said a typically scorched-earth good-bye to his hometown of Shelby, North Carolina, and convinced his long-badgered high-school sweetheart, April, to come along for his return to Major League glory. Turns out, Kenny kept heading south after ditching April at a gas station and wound up in Copales, Mexico, where he’s bunched his trademark mullet into cornrows and taken up a mildly lucrative career in cockfighting, shaking down welchers with the help of a fun-size sociopath named Aaron (Tim Burton mainstay Deep Roy).
Only he’s not Kenny anymore, he’s Steve — partially because he thinks he still has an identity to protect, but really because he’s been living off the ATM card of his besotted ex-assistant, Stevie Janowski. (In a brief, clever montage, the season-one regulars are happier than ever since Kenny rode off into the sunset and took the sunset with him, with the exception of Stevie, North Carolina’s most psychologically untethered barista.) The leased Denali he skipped town in is on blocks and he’s masturbating to April’s yearbook photo while watching Pale Rider. Pretty much the way he drew things up.
After their prize cock Big Red is killed in a bout, Aaron and their silent (literally) partner Hector cut Kenny out of the operation altogether — he doesn’t belong in Mexico. Which leaves Kenny alone, pining for the simple mayhem enjoyed by his neighbor Cathouey (Napoleon Dynamite’s Efrem Ramierez, all butch now) and his extended family. And as for the lounge singer he made sex to: If Bob Seger’s back catalogue sees a spike in sales today, he’s got her to thank.
For all his bluster and megalomania, he does want a new life, tabula rasa, and when he’s approached mid-piss by Roger Hernandez, the manager of the local baseball team, the Charros, Kenny rejects the exact sort of recognition he used to cravenly demand. Well, mostly he’s just embarrassed. But having bottomed out by episode’s end, he’s riding his moped onto the diamond during the Charros’ practice and announcing his return by hurling a ball into the press-box window. Roger has the look of a man who knows he should have just let Kenny Powers pee in peace.
Eastbound & Down has raised the stakes by removing them. Kenny’s never been further from the Majors and his ego’s taken a near-fatal blow, but that’s only made him someone to root for rather than someone to merely watch implode. Whereas last season was about Kenny inflicting himself on others, he’s been put through the ringer himself by now, but not more so than he necessarily deserves; it’s a sadism we can all enjoy. As Kenny says, sometimes you gotta wash away the paint and reveal the jackass who’s hiding underneath.
Two takeaways: First, it’d be a crime if this was the last we see of Aaron — HBO could show a half-hour of Deep Roy coked up and picking fights and they’d have their biggest hit since The Sopranos. And second, there may be no insult more cutting than calling someone the sax player from The Lost Boys.