The third season of Eastbound and Down was meant to be its last, and in its finale Kenny Powers finally achieved his long-in-the-making comeback, only to realize he was ready to give up baseball for his family (“I’m in a Cameron Crowe movie!”). But then HBO decided they wanted more. A surprise fourth season was ordered, and in its finale, after realizing yet another quest for stardom (this time as a TV host), Kenny once again decided to stick with his family. The encore, with its Six Feet Under–esque climax, was excellent, and series co-creator Jody Hill promises that this time it’s really the end. Vulture spoke to him about the genesis of the idea for the finale, having to bring Eastbound to a close twice, and the possibility of revisiting the Powers family on the big screen. (Spoilers follow for those who haven’t watched the finale yet, of course.)
The series’ Six Feet Under–style climax flashes forward through the milestones in Kenny’s life (children growing up to be played by Lindsay Lohan and Alex Skarsgard, April getting fatally shot, Kenny moving to an African village and getting remarried), but they all just turn out to be the end of the autobiographical screenplay that he’s writing. Was there ever a version of the finale script where those events really happen to him?
No, it was always part of the screenplay. That’s how we were going to frame the whole season and tie it up. We introduce his screenplay at the top of the season, and we wanted to bring it back around. What you’re seeing there in the montage are different jokes we had throughout the season, and some potential story lines we never got to do. We threw them all into the end. At one point, Kenny was going to be working on an independent film throughout the season. There was gonna be a whole episode where they were casting the film, and Kenny and Stevie were fighting because Kenny thought the actor [with Down syndrome] who played Stevie in the finale captured Stevie’s essence more than the other actors.
At the end of the third season, he chooses his family over his last chance at a baseball career. This year he actually becomes really successful as a TV personality, but it once again turns him into the worst version of himself.
Kenny’s the kind of guy who is always going to need to learn a lesson, but the lesson is always just for whatever his issue is at that moment. There’s a difference between being a narcissist and being a megalomaniac, and that’s the choice Kenny was faced with this year. Putting away the monster of it all is what this season was about. I think it’s a little different than what we did last year, but family’s always at the heart of it.
Were there ever plans to bring back Kenny’s parents (played by Lily Tomlin and Don Johnson) for the end?
Yeah, I mean we talked about all of that. I think a lot of it was about availability. I can’t remember if we checked on it or not. I would have loved to bring back everybody, Will Ferrell, all the guys, but I think schedules didn’t allow us to do as much as we wanted to. We did what we could.
There’s some discussion online about where exactly Kenny’s screenplay takes over the story. Is everything that happens after he and April make up just part of the screenplay?
Yeah, that is all part of the screenplay, but at a certain point, it crosses over into what’s just in his mind. Into stuff that didn’t happen. People can debate over where that line is. A lot of it is his imagination. I do think it’s funny that in Kenny’s perfect life scenario he outlives his wife.
I was stunned when she got shot.
[Laughs] He has a new lease on life!
I had just finished crying when they got back together.
Yeah, Eastbound works as a drama. We’ve always said that. It’s a drama and then we just write funny things. That’s supposed to be a legit moment between a guy and a girl. I wanted it to work not in a broad comedy wrap-up way, but on an emotional level.
It did. It’s why, for a minute, I had very mixed feelings about him getting remarried in the end. Obviously, I had no idea what was going on.
[Laughs] It’s totally self-absorbed. The whole lesson this year is that he chooses his family over this selfish desire he has to rule the world. And then even in his fantasy, he has this selfish desire to outlive his wife and becomes this tragic hero. He can’t help it.
What was that look between Stevie and Kenny’s African wife all about?
I’m so glad you caught that. That’s one of my favorite parts. They have an understanding. They both know Kenny in a special way. There’s kind of a bond between the two of them. His appearance, by the way, was influenced by Logan’s Run.
Where did the idea to cast Lindsay Lohan and Alexander Skarsgard as Kenny’s kids come from?
God, where did we get the Lindsay Lohan idea? I think we wanted to give people something to talk about, but it also fits. It’s Kenny’s idea. He’s writing this screenplay, so it would make sense that he would cast Lindsay Lohan. We just put ourselves in Kenny’s head and asked whom we thought he’d want to play his daughter. And for Alexander Skarsgard? Maybe he was like, “I love True Blood.”
How did you approach her? Was she a fan of the show?
I have no fucking clue. I think we just asked her and she agreed to do it. She likes the show, and she was an awesome sport. She came down, did a good job, no issues whatsoever. She knew what she was doing. She knew everyone was gonna be like, What the fuck? Lindsay Lohan’s his daughter? Alexander, too. He really got into it. He had this whole idea where Toby loves his father unconditionally. So much. Like Kenny’s the best dad ever, and he’s the perfect son. I think he had a lot of fun with it. He totally got his role and didn’t try to ham it up. He knew if he played it legit that it would be funnier.
Young Toby played Johnny Appleseed in his school play, but there was also a turkey and a reindeer and a bunny onstage. What was going on in that play?
In terms of who the vegetables are and shit onstage, I don’t know [laughs]. It’s supposed to be the story of Johnny Appleseed, us getting a little fancy about how Johnny Appleseed’s seeds grew and why he’s remembered, which Kenny references at the end of his screenplay. Thematically, that turns into what Kenny learns. [“In the end, you judge a man by how he influenced the world. You judge him by the seeds he left behind. And you judge his seeds by the harvest. Well, Kenny Powers’s harvest remains unknown. But I’m pretty damn proud of my seeds …”] The scene is also supposed to show you that Kenny’s proud of his son, and that’s the first time you see it.
Did you ever envision a darker ending for Kenny? In which he doesn’t have a positive, life-changing epiphany?
Of course. We’ve talked about every ending under the sun. This one was the one we all settled on and that seemed to be the best. Whenever we write this show, we write so much. We write so many drafts of every script. We pretty much considered every ending you can imagine.
Any reason you went happy again?
This one just seemed most natural to the story. In a way, A Face in the Crowd is a reference for this season. Guy Young represented that megalomaniac character. We felt that while Kenny is a narcissist, there is a line there he doesn’t cross.
In the last scene, Kenny is sitting in what looks like his home office. In your mind, what is Kenny up to in Santa Fe?
I don’t want to say too much. I know he’s in Santa Fe with April and I imagine that his passion now is writing. It’s always been his passion, but he’s probably gone full-steam ahead on that. Thus, the writing glasses he’s wearing. I didn’t read anything where anyone picked up on the glasses, but we thought that was so funny. Kenny has writer’s glasses now. That’s a take on Stand By Me.
You still sure this is the end of Eastbound and Down?
Yeah, we’re done. We’re done. We could do a movie. We could come back in ten years. I don’t think we have to say, “That’s it forever,” but, like, next year I’m not gonna do another Eastbound and Down, but at some point Danny and I could do it. It’ll be like our Before Sunrise.