After four years, HBO’s Eastbound & Down ended its run last night. It was actually the second series finale for Eastbound, after co-creators Danny McBride and Jody Hill surprisingly brought the show back for a fourth season after ending it in season three last year.
I talked to Jody Hill last week about Eastbound’s fourth season, the new HBO high school show he’s working on with Danny McBride, and whether we’ll ever see Kenny Powers again.
When you decided to bring the show back for a fourth season, what was the stuff that was most appealing to you guys, that you most wanted to explore?
Honestly, it was that we were able to get Katy [Mixon] for the fourth season. We always envisioned the show ending with their relationship. In the third season, she had a commitment to Mike & Molly, and we were only able to get her for a little bit. We actually had a plan [for season three], and then we changed it to — we call it “the Kramer vs. Kramer scenario” where she drops the kid off with him. We were kind of done, but then when we got there, we were like, “what the story was originally about has yet to be told completely,” so that kind of gave us the motivation.
So everything else just came after as you were working that out?
Yeah, that was kind of always the plan, that we were gonna have them together. The Sports Sesh show, that idea came as we were working on the season.
Did you guys have to watch a lot of those SportsCenter-type shows to figure that out, or were you familiar with that stuff already?
Sort of. Danny and me, we don’t really know anything about sports. We don’t watch sports or play sports. We had to watch a few of ‘em, but I think we just really watched the bare minimum and then kind of guessed. We’ve heard people say that it feels like one of those legit sports shows. I’m glad it works.
Danny has talked about possibly doing a fifth season years from now. Have you guys discussed that, or is the show over?
I think it would be cool to do it. I think it would need to be years from now. Eastbound & Down is a character piece and it follows this guy as he takes on life. I think you could pick it up in like 10 years with whatever he’s dealing with then. He’s probably going through some crisis. I think it might be cool to do that in the future or a movie or something like that. Yeah, why not?
Is it difficult to stare at the blank page, knowing you have to write the finale for a show that you’ve been working on for years?
Yeah, of course. Honestly, we just don’t want to blow it ever. [We] want to make something that’s really good. With the last scripts especially this season, it took us months of writing. We have a stack of drafts that probably reaches the ceiling in our office, just drafts that we haven’t used or failed attempts. We’re usually under a lot of pressure, but it’s usually just self-imposed pressure that Danny and me place on ourselves.
What makes you guys put that kind of pressure on yourselves?
At first, we probably had something to prove and wanted to make a really great show. Now, people like the show, and we were just hoping that in the final season, we didn’t blow it. [Laughs] “Okay, we can’t make them hate us as we walk out the door.”
How’d you guys arrive at that ending?
I’m trying to think what I can say about that because I don’t want to give it away. I can say fun stuff, but it would be pretty lame stuff like, “It ends the way Kenny would want it to end.” That’s about it.
What were some other endings that you were thinking of trying out for the season?
Well, we had this whole storyline where Kenny is on a quest to get to the Hall of Fame ‘cause we figured that would be the next stage — that after baseball, that’s what he would want to achieve. We actually worked on that for probably four or five months. We were midway through [writing] the season, and we realized that the Hall of Fame quest didn’t give you any room to play, so that’s when we came up with the Sports Sesh show and did away with the whole Hall of Fame thing. That was one thing that we were going towards the whole time, and then we bailed on it.
Is that a tough decision to make — to bail on it — when you’ve already done so much work?
Yeah, it was because it was really late in the day, but honestly, once we did that, everything became so much easier. We were having to invent so much shit for him to do. The Hall of Fame is all letter-writing campaigns and trying to get sports writers on your side and shit like that. It ended up being real fake. We were trying hard, like struggling with it, because it just seemed so natural that that’s what he would want to do. Then, we just were like, “Nah, he would rather be a celebrity.”
Did you write the new characters with any specific actors in mind, like Ken Marino or Tim Heidecker’s parts?
No, but they’re guys that we’ve been fans of forever. I’ve been a huge fan of Ken Marino’s for a long time. Ken’s one of those dudes — it’s really hard to find kind of jock-y guys who are funny also. He’s not really like this in real life, but onscreen, he has this jock-y kind of persona that he’s real good with playing with. He was the first name that popped into my mind as the guy who would be perfect for that role. Tim Heidecker is another guy who I’d been a big fan of for a long time. I’d only met him a couple times. I dig Tim & Eric, and we were producers on The Comedy, which is a movie he made. I was dying to work with him, so luckily, he agreed to do it.
I feel like you and Danny have such a specific voice. What’s it like trying to find other writers to work with you on the show?
It’s tough, you know. We used to write it all ourselves, and then, one of our buddies from college [Shawn Harwell] came aboard. He was really good. John Carcieri, who’s our head writer, is a roommate of ours from college. Danny and John and me all live together at one point in college. We had four writers this year in addition to Danny and me. They were kind of the best group I think we’ve had. They were all really funny. I think a lot that has to do with — I think we know what to look for a little bit more now. I still don’t think we’re that comfortable with — like, we don’t have one of those massive writing rooms where you pitch jokes and stuff. It’s really a core group, and we keep things close to the chest.
Do you look at writing submissions? How did you go about finding those new writers?
Yeah, we look at writing submissions. Honestly, we do a writing submission — that’s the first step — and then we meet them. Honestly, that has a lot to do with it too ‘cause you’re in a room ‘till late at night, sometimes six days a week, and if the person sucks to hang out with, you just don’t want to be around him for that long. We try to figure it out, like, “All right, can I stand watching this dude eat his lunch?” This makes us sound like assholes. I don’t mean it in a bad way; it’s not about how cool you dress. It’s just about like, is this guy gonna contribute to the vibe in the room? But we try to fill it out like, this guy’s really funny, this guy’s great at the drama part, this guy’s kind of weird — maybe he’ll be good for that kind of stuff. We try to fill it out for what kinds of roles people play, but honestly, it’s all a crap shoot. Sometimes you get good ones, sometimes you get bad ones. We were lucky this year.
So you guys are developing a high school show for HBO right now, right?
That’s right, yeah. I don’t want to say too much about it because it’s still getting worked out with HBO, but yeah, we’re developing a high school show. It just focuses on different parts of the high school world. It’s based off a script that Danny and me wrote a long time ago, and we’re kind of evolving that into our show.
So it was a feature script you wrote originally?
Yeah, a long time ago. It was just something that we had together.
Is that your next project, or are you doing a movie next?
I’ll probably do a film next, but that’s not to say the show won’t come out first. It’s kind of up in the air right now, but we have things that we’re working on so we’ll see.
So you and Danny met in college at UNC, right?
Yeah, that’s right. We lived actually next to each other in the dorms our freshman year.
When did you start working together?
We were definitely great friends in college. In college, there are so many different small projects, whether it’s student films or whatever. I guess in a way, we’ve always worked together. The same goes with John Carcieri, who I mentioned is the head writer, and David [Gordon] Green, who’s the other director on the show. Just a lotta guys who are on the crew, our editors, we’ve all been together since college pretty much. There has never been a time when we haven’t been working on projects or calling each other to do different things whether it’s act or play some music or whatever.
You probably didn’t think back in college you’d be working together this long.
No, hell no. It’s crazy, dude. I’ve known that guy for forever and been working with him for forever. It’s longer than a lot of people have relationships for. [Laughs] We’re probably more family at this point.
Were there any guests that you wanted to get back for the new season of Eastbound that you weren’t able to get?
Not really this season. Honestly, the biggest one was Katy Mixon third season, not having her. But this season, I think we got everybody we wanted to pretty much. There were some people we wanted that we couldn’t figure out a way to write them in. We would love to have Don Johnson and his brother Casper show up or something, but oh well. Lily Tomlin, those people, but we just couldn’t fit ‘em in.
I noticed Will Ferrell wasn’t back this season.
I love Will Ferrell, I think he’s just a genius. He’s obviously the producer on the show, but we’ve figured we did as much as we could with him. We tried. We tried to think of so many different things.
It’s kind of hard to top the craziness of that last one with the geishas and the cannon.
Yeah, I mean, they burned him, you know? [Laughs]
It seems like you guys follow Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey with the show. How strictly do you adhere to that?
Yeah, yeah. Honestly, it’s kind of just a way of thinking about things sometimes. I think a lot of that comes from not wanting to do a sitcom where there’s restarts and you can pick up wherever. Eastbound was done on a relatively-small scale. This year is probably the biggest year, with TV [and] some exposure [for Kenny Powers], but really the journey he’s on is a personal journey. We thought that if we approached it and he approached it like it takes on these mythic proportions, we just thought that was a cool way of thinking about things and would give us this larger than life philosophy that would capture the spirit of him and give you this journeyman quality.
It seems like each season is kind of like it’s own mini-movie. Is that the way you write it?
Yeah, and a lot of times, we’ll reference different movies. Like, [the] Mexico [season] had kind of a Spaghetti Western thing going on. Third season was kind of Kramer vs. Kramer. This season, there’s a lot of Face in the Crowd. We’re always talking about old movies. They’re probably much higher art than we’re making. [Laughs]
I felt like this season, I heard Kenny Powers making some movie references himself.
City of God.
Yeah, City of God. I feel like there was one more too, something like “mise-en-scene.” It was something like that that I was surprised that he said.
I know what you’re talking about. I can’t remember, but I know what you’re talking about. You’ve got some coming up in the eighth episode too. I don’t want to give it away, but there’s a few. He talks about his Criterions in season three. Like, “Why would he watch Criterions?” I think it’s kind of funny that Kenny has weird knowledge of certain things. When you watch Lockdown, they’ll have prisoners who know a lot about a certain movement of heavy metal and stuff like that. Kenny already thinks he’s a writer, so he just knows enough to make himself sound silly when he says the references.
On some level, he’s kind of a smart and motivated guy.
Yeah, he’s got that artist side to him. [Laughs] He’s a writer.