When we last left former major-leaguer Kenny Powers, he was faking his own death on what star and co-creator Danny McBride had promised was the series finale of HBO’s Eastbound & Down. But it turned out that the show’s death wasn’t real either: In a surprise move last summer, HBO ordered eight new episodes, the first of which airs Sunday at 10 p.m. The fourth-season premiere finds Kenny married to April (Katy Mixon) and endangering the welfare of their two children (“Oh, big surprise. My son got scared by [The Human Centipede]. Shana didn’t have a problem with it. Shana, you liked when they ate the caca, right?”). We spoke with McBride about why he revived Eastbound, and what it was like shooting with Lindsay Lohan.
Where are you calling from today?
I’m calling from the postproduction offices of Eastbound & Down in beautiful, sunny, crime-ridden Hollywood, California.
How close to the end are you?
We just turned in the fifth episode to HBO. So we’re working on the last three.
It’s really hard to end a serialized TV show in a satisfying way, and Eastbound & Down has already ended perfectly three times. Why risk it with a fourth?
Katy Mixon was one of the main factors. We had always imagined that the last season would involve Kenny getting what he wanted, which was the woman that he loves, April Buchanan, and seeing the reality of being domesticated and committed to another person. We were deep into writing last season when we found out we were only going to have Katy for two episodes because of her role on Mike & Molly. So we came up with the story line where she dropped the kid off with Kenny instead. When HBO came to us for a fourth season, we said the only way we would do it is if we could explore the stuff that we didn’t get to do last season, and they were able to pull some magical strings to make it happen.
Is Kenny finished with baseball?
Kenny is retired from his baseball career. This whole season is kind of like what happens after the hero rides off into the sunset — what happens when someone’s been wired to compete and win, and suddenly their body doesn’t run as fast as it used to, and they have to hang it up and go back into civilian life.
You did a lot of pitching in the show’s first three seasons. For this fourth one, since Kenny is retired. Did you get to skip training camp?
Well, if you really took a hard look at any of my pitching, I think it would be obvious that I never went to training camp.
Who are the poor child actors you hired to play Kenny’s son and daughter, and what kind of releases did their parents have to sign?
We got them through local casting. Whenever you’re working with children actors, not only do they have to be great, but also their parents have to be equally great and understanding. You know, I have a 2-year-old son now. I used to not really give a shit about cussing in front of kids, but this year I was like, “Hey, maybe we’ll just wait and do these lines after the kids are gone?” And [Eastbound co-creator] Jody [Hill] looked at me like, What the fuck has happened to you? You’ve turned into a pussy since you got a kid.
Kenny is pretty hard on his son, Toby. How did that actor react? Did he know it was pretend, or was he crying all the time?
Oh yeah, he’s great. Steele [Gagnon] is just incredible, and he really gets it. I think a lot of that probably has to do with his parents. His older brother [Pierce] is the Rainmaker in Looper. They know what’s up on sets. Last year we were dealing with a baby [as Toby] that you really couldn’t do anything with, let alone even get through a scene. Most of last season, scenes would start with a character bringing Toby in and quickly setting him somewhere where the camera couldn’t see him.
In these first couple of episodes, Kenny is as restrained as we’ve ever seen him — he’s a Dockers-wearing, NPR-listening suburban dad. Was he less fun to play that way?
This was the very first season where we shot all the episodes in order. Last season, we were shooting stuff from the first episode, from the seventh episode, from the fifth — which was kind of a nightmare from an acting standpoint. But this year it was difficult, because for two weeks you’re getting pounded on, and then you’re just like, God, I’m just so ready to fucking lash out at someone.
We know Lindsay Lohan makes a cameo this season. Is she as diligent a worker as everyone says?
She was actually great. What was most interesting was the news stories that followed. She was kind enough to come in and do a very small thing for us, and there was coverage on it for a week — even made-up stories about the crew’s reaction to what she had done. She was great and did a good job, but it was just very interesting to see how that news cycle works around her. I can’t imagine how you would get used to that.
One of the stories that I assume was made up is the one about you casting her in a new HBO pilot.
Yeah, that was completely false. Not that I wouldn’t do that. She was totally cool, and we enjoyed working with her, and if something was right we’d definitely do it again. But I saw that and was like, That’s fucking insane — that’s a completely made-up story. But at least I’m in made-up stories that have to do with work and not ones about cheating on my wife or anything.
But you do have an HBO pilot in development, right?
Jody and I have set up our follow-up show on HBO, and that’s something that we’ll probably get into writing next year. We’re keeping the details close to the chest, because we’re still developing it. But it’s like an epic Rashomon set in high school.
Do you think Eastbound & Down will have a fifth season, or is this it?
I think this is it. I’m cautious to say that, because we really thought we were done after last year. But once we put our pens down and stopped working, this flurry of ideas came. We love this show. We love writing for this character. We love the fan base. But we wouldn’t want to overstay our welcome.