When Season Two of Eastbound & Down was announced, I think the response was twofold; sure, it was great to hear that Danny McBride's caustic former pitcher Kenny Powers was going to come back for another season of adventure and darkly comic events. But there was also the wonder of how the show was going to come back from what was a first season that could not have ended more perfectly. Where exactly were they going to go? And as it turns out if you had Mexico in the betting pool, you have some winnings to collect.
In Mexico, Kenny has abandoned his previous life, and we see him with cornrows, participating in cockfights and collecting his winnings with the help of a sidekick and some muscle. He lives in a small apartment above a Mexican family and talks to the only American-speaking one there occasionally, a husband and father named Catuey (Efren Ramirez, Crank 2) and speaking into a tape recorded that serves as a follow-up to his autobiography, which is heard on audio tape through the first season. However he hasn't dropped off the grid completely, as he took his assistant Stevie's (Steve Little) credit card and has been spending his way down across the border. Stevie comes down to find Kenny and hopes to continue to be his assistant in this new stage of his life, and Kenny decides to attempt a comeback with the local Mexican baseball team. With the help of the manager Roger (Marco Rodriguez, Due Date) and the team's owner (Michael Pena, Battle Los Angeles) Kenny gets that opportunity. And in Vida (Ana de la Reguera, Nacho Libre), he feels like he has a solid foundation and a new life. But the connections he made back home in North Carolina remain in his mind, and Kenny eventually has a decision to make.
David Gordon Green returns to direct the show, and Shawn Harwell taking a larger role in the show's writing this season. One of the first things I noticed when watching the show is the change in tone from the previous season. With Kenny in Mexico, there is not as much opportunity to make others feel uncomfortable because of the language barrier. There are the obligatory jokes regardless because Kenny would simply not be Kenny without them. The language barrier does force Kenny into an introspection and discovery that he might not have undergone elsewhere, which makes for surprisingly poignant moments. Green certainly knows how to capture those moments based on his dramatic resume, and McBride taps into the core of Kenny well, going past the macho façade. Knowingly or not, Kenny's trip to Mexico is one of discovery, trying to find redemption in self and re-discovery of others. While in Mexico, Stevie manages to locate Kenny's Dad (played by Don Johnson, Miami Vice) Kenny discovers almost immediately that his Dad is a shit-talker like he is, but as he finds out more about him, it would appear that his Dad is a bit of a scumbag, continuing to shirk responsibility and growing up despite raising a family of his own (complete with a grown son) in Mexico. It's hard to know whether Kenny's decision to return to America was motivated from this, but the ball certainly started rolling once he decided to set out on his own after not receiving the type of adoration from him that he was looking for. Johnson's casting is just right in terms of appearance and performance, and it's hard to imagine anyone else filling the role, point blank and period.
Additionally, because Kenny's family isn't in the second season, seeing Stevie's entrance into the season and his emergence as someone that Kenny can play off of is encouraging, and Little's performance is daring and brave in parts. And seeing Stevie evolve from the assistant role and discovering happiness on his own might be another thing that Kenny uses as motivation to come home regardless of the circumstances.
There are a couple of small picks to nit when it comes to the second season of Eastbound & Down. First, while I appreciated the variety and general bad-assery of them, the amount of music was a touch excessive. I can respect and appreciate a girl with a nice butt singing to a Spanish interpretation of "Night Moves," but later in the season the songs mixed into the episodes felt unneeded and a bit on the victory lap side of things, and AC/DC's "For Those About to Rock" was a little out of the blue, considering the context of the show's soundtrack to date. That said, the Kurt Vile song "He's Alright" that plays out the second season is as good a selection as you can get, considering where Kenny is at that point in his life and the show. The other thing is McBride's performance. This is less a gripe and more of an acknowledgement. The last two episodes find Kenny in a new place and in his life, and this uncertainty is something that shakes his confidence but places him in touch with his emotions, and he manages to accomplish this superbly for a show normally known for its yuks. However, there appears to be an increasing backlash over McBride in general, with the argument being (I believe) that while he does his thing very well, he's basically a one-trick pony, simply fleshing out more of what his character was in The Foot Fist Way. I can understand that feeling to some degree, though I think with Kenny Powers, he has shown more emotional vulnerability than Fred Simmons did, and with the third season coming, Kenny is very much a work in progress. Are the jokes and humor sensibilities similar? A little, but the underlying stuff is markedly different.
It's the underlying journey and emotions that come with it that helps move Eastbound & Down from very good into outstanding. The uprooting of Kenny and putting him with a virtually entirely different cast than the first season was bold yet fruitful decision, and as Kenny continues to find out more about himself, his friends and family, one can only expect better things in the future. Considering how the first season ended, not only was Season Two a bigger hit, it might have evolved into a better comedy than anyone expected.
The Blu-ray Disc:
The seven-episode second season run comes to Blu-ray in an AVC encoded 1.78:1 widescreen presentation. The improvement in production values from the first season is noticeable (and is also mentioned in the commentaries with things like the switch in film stock), with the show's color palette looking much more vivid than the first season, and the film grain does remain present, albeit to a lesser degree. There is also an improved layer of image detail in things like facial pores and clothing. Blacks are more solid than the first season and flesh tones are replicated accurately. It is nice to see that there was some more thought and consideration put into the show and it comes through on these two Blu-ray discs.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound option is strong but ultimately similar to what came on the first season. The Slits' cover of "Heard it Through The Grapevine" and Mew's "Comforting Sounds" are a couple of the many songs that sound clear through the soundstage and even pack a little bit of low end 'oomph' to them. Directional effects and channel panning are present and sound clear and effective, and dialogue sounds consistent and well-balanced. I didn't expect the track to reinvent the wheel, but it did what was asked of it very well.
By and large the caliber of the extra material is the same compared to the first season, though there are some tweaks here and there. The number of commentaries has improved from three in the first season to five here, with McBride, Hill and Little contributing tracks on Episodes 7, 10 and 13 while Green and sound mixer Christof Gebert chip in with their own tracks on Episodes 11 and 12. The tracks aren't hugely earth-shattering, as Green and Gebert get into some scene breakdown and how they worked with the new cast members, and Gebert recounts working on the show from a sound point of view while Green talks about working with (and securing) Johnson for the show. McBride, Hill and Little touch many of the same points, though McBride addresses the story aspects a little more, such as the decision to start this season n Mexico and how they ended the show like they did this season. The tracks are fine but don't provide much complement or appreciation to the episodes.
The other extras are on Disc Two, with "Invitation to the Set" (8:30) serving as this season's 'On Location' piece with thoughts on the season by the cast and crew. "Big Red Cockfighting" (4:18) shows us the nature of training the birds in fighting and how it's specifically shot for the show. 12 deleted scenes (16:00) are a bit lengthy and redundant, while the outtakes (11:39) include Pena making a hilarious fart noise to crack everyone up.
The second season of Eastbound & Down abandoned some but not all of the laughs, and the result was the story of a man looking for validity in his choices but found out he hadn't made any real decisions yet, and as Kenny continues to evolves McBride's range evolves with it. Technically it is slightly improved from the first season (giving more of a justification to buy the Blu-ray discs straight away) and on the supplement side of things, and the way the show has been set up those who haven't seen the first season can step into this one without missing much. Great viewing while we all wait for the final season.