THE TV SHOW:
They say that too much of a good thing is bad. This is exactly how I (used to) feel about perennial second banana Danny McBride. When he is used sparingly, efficiently, and non-traditionally, he is an amazing presence (see Pineapple Express, Up in the Air, or As I Lay Dying). When meant to be the main attraction or sidekick the star, he can be interesting (Drillbit Taylor), ingratiating (This is the End), or, more times than not, downright irritating (Your Highness). There was a time when he seemed to be everywhere. Now, luckily, he's limiting his exposure before he becomes a pariah to the very people who pay his salaries - meaning fans like you and me. On the other hand, there was no better outlet for his unusual approach to comedy than his recently ended HBO series, Eastbound and Down. Playing an over the hill baseball player hoping for a final shot at glory, McBride was perfect - arrogant, clueless, and consistently hilarious.
After three seasons, it looked like the series was DOA. Then McBride and his collaborators decided to try something different and pitched season four. Once put into production, a plan was devised specifically to give McBride's Kenny Powers a more "normal" life. There was also a desire to bring co-star Katy Mixon back into the mix. As long suffering spouse April, she is the emotional heart of the otherwise over the top creative character assassination. Previous seasons saw our hapless anti-hero trying to fit in as a substitute high school PE coach, reconnect with both the Major and Minor Leagues, escape to Mexico for a while, and deal with the constant twists of fate which seem to undermine his chances of success. This time around, the series moves a few years in the future. Kenny has settled down a bit and seems ready to play at a "normal" life when an opportunity comes knocking that he just can't resist.
Here's a brief synopsis of each of the eight episodes that concluded the season and series:
Kenny (McBride), now sort-of retired from the game of baseball and living the quiet suburban life, gets another chance at fame when a former teammate, Guy Young (Ken Marino), offers him a spot on his popular sports talk show.
With his first appearance on Young's show a dismal failure, Kenny seeks advise from the one man he knows can help him master the art of trash talk, his buddy Steve (Steve Little).
An overnight trip to a waterpark turns into an evening of debauchery.
After making good on his threat to neighbor Gene (Tim Heidecker), Kenny must find a charity to promote during one of Guy's goodwill boat races.
Kenny is becoming more and more popular on the talk show, Guy is getting a little envious, and April (Katy Mixon) gets her man to enter couple's therapy with her.
April has reached the end of her rope with "Famous" Kenny while Guy conspired to undermine his new "star's" stock.
Steve helps Kenny keep up appearances after a series of revelations and personal problems hamper his work environment.
Kenny may get his own talk show, but only if he agrees with management and completely destroys Guy on-air.
When you consider that McBride - and by connection, Kenny Powers - are at their best when being simultaneously sanctimonious while being buried under an avalanche of outright hate (usually from all sides of the situation), seeing a softer side to the character might not be everyone's cup of tea. On the other hand, having a true treasure like Ms. Mixon back full time means we do indeed get a lot more emotional heft here. Sure, there is still the standard HBO pushing the envelope elements, but this is a more mature and meaningful Eastbound and Down. It's almost as if McBride and his co-creators Ben Best and Jody Hill, have decided that, since the show is indeed coming to an end (at least as a weekly entry) that they might as well give Kenny a third dimension. Yes, his talk show stuff is brilliant, but it now seems antithetical to what we want for this character and his future. The new focus also allows the ancillary players, including Little, Marino, and Heidecker a chance to show their stuff as well.
First, from a sight and sound standpoint, the fourth and final season of Eastbound and Down looks terrific. Granted, not as good as it would if it were on Blu-ray (read Ryan Keefer's review of the high def release here - http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/63759/eastbound-down-the-complete-fourth-season/) but still pretty impressive. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image is maintained, with colors that pop and a lot of noticeable details. This is especially true in the close-ups and whenever we are dealing with the vivid vistas and backdrops. Aurally, there is no TrueHD or lossless option with your standard DVD presentation. Still the Dolby Digital 5.1 is perfectly acceptable, delivering both easy to understand dialogue and multichannel ambience around every speaker set-up.
As for added features, we are treated to a collection of deleted scenes (some of which are absolutely hilarious), equally funny outtakes, and commentaries. Almost everyone is here to discuss the writing and filming of these last episodes, including McBride, Hill, and many of the actors including Marino, Little, Heidecker, and others. These discussions are insightful because they typically touch on the process behind the scenes instead of merely dishing dirt on what happened during production. Sure, there are the occasional goofing off and random anecdotes, but for fans of the show, these full length conversation are must-hear material.
As mentioned before, Season Four was conceived as a way to show McBride and Kenny Powers in a more positive, nay "normal" light. It succeeds in spades. Of course, if you've followed the character throughout his tenure as a volatile stick of tripwire TNT, this last hurrah may seem a bit...'sedate.' Still, Eastbound and Down understood where its strengths always lied (read: the characters) and thus his final showcase gave individuals both old and new a chance to shine. Earning a Highly Recommended rating, the only downside to this release is that - aside from its availability on Blu-ray - this may be the end of Kenny Powers as we knew him and know him now. While we aren't willing to say "swansong" quite yet, we'll be happy if this is indeed the end.
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