With each announcement of a new season of Eastbound & Down on HBO I became more and more apprehensive. Mind you, not because it was prolonging some sort of pained experience as each episode unwound, but because there were many good moments in the show that prolonging it increased the likelihood of some creative misstep. There had been previous seasons of laughs and understated poignancy in others and it seemed like fate would be tempted once again.
The brainchild of Ben Best, Jody Hill and Danny McBride finds its star Kenny Powers (McBride) in the midst of suburban life in North Carolina with his wife April (Katy Mixon, Take Shelter) and two children. April works as a realtor and Kenny at a car rental business, and they have loads of suburban friends in the neighborhood like Gene (Tim Heidecker, Bridesmaids). Compared to past years the life Kenny leads here does seem a tad neutered for sure. On a chance encounter, Kenny runs into Guy Young (Ken Marino, Party Down), an ex-teammate of Kenny's who now hosts a high-energy talk show with other retired athletes. Kenny is given the offer of appearing on the show, and his desire for another shot at stardom is tough to reconcile with his life as a family man, all the more so given his past behavior when he was famous.
One of the first things mentioned in the episode commentaries on this set is that McBride and Hill agreed to do a fourth season but only if they were able to get Mixon back into the mix and that decision was a wise one. We tend to see Kenny's softer side in his moments with April and by extension McBride gets to show off a little more range in these scenes (early in the show when Kenny learns he is going to be a father, McBride hits an emotional chord that is surprising and effective). More importantly, the viewer knows that this is going to be it, and that Kenny manages to drop the obliviousness or more exactly the obnoxiousness that comes with notoriety is convincing. However, how he manages to go through the process over the season is intriguing. He evolves from a belief that he is being ‘held down' on this road to fame to one where he thinks that he can use his fame and rediscovered wealth to solve problems with his family. But there is another one where he realizes that people love him for him (rather than the persona he has built through the years) is an understated but fun part of the Kenny Powers experience.
None of this is to say that Kenny Powers from previous years has been eschewed of course, we see him appear at various points in the season and his reemergence makes for some laughs. The funniest episode of the year may be the second, where Kenny appears on the show and talks some smack to one of the co-hosts, and the show ends to Simple Minds' "Alive and Kicking." It is funny through Kenny's rebirth yet there is some nostalgia in knowing or feeling that this will be fleeting.
With more on Kenny's plate, we do not see many of the characters of previous seasons, but thankfully Kenny's assistant Stevie (Steve Little, Identity Thief) is one of them. He undergoes a…interesting transformation over the course of the season, one where he actually had the ‘normal life' before abandoning it to be the stereotypical hanger-on for Kenny. One would think that his transition would be easier but it is not. There are moments where things are a tad slow during the story arc, but it is not without some laughs and is generally complaint-free.
The new cast for the Season is also up to the task. Marino is the antagonist for the season and his choice to not be one full of bluster, one where the bear does not strike back disproportionately unless poked is a welcome one. In addition, seeing Heidecker is a welcome sight, and the subtle degradation of his character's marriage is not bad at all. The show has had a knack for picking the right people for the roles (including a random appearance for a comedian in the last episode that I will not spoil) and does so again here.
Like previous seasons, Eastbound & Down ended the season on a solid note, but this time combined a desired exclamation point (from Kenny's utopia) with the reality of what occurred (for his betterment). There were occasional moments where the viewer could sense in the fourth season that the show almost said ‘Can we go now?' but nothing which was pervasive through the fourth season. Eastbound & Down went out though not completely on its own terms, but we all remain enriched by the Kenny Powers experience.The Blu-rays:
The final season of Eastbound & Down runs eight episodes and is spread over two Blu-ray discs, with the AVC-encoded 1.78:1 widescreen transfer looking about as one could expect when compared against the initial broadcasts. Image detail is good, the scenes in many darker lit areas such as a club or in the nighttime scenes all have strong black levels, and in brighter moments, yellows and oranges in life rafts and greens of the North Carolina exteriors all look vivid. It all looks good.The Sound:
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround for all eight episodes and the thing I was taken with was just how dynamic it was compared to prior seasons. Any Hill project generally has quite a bit of music in it, and this season's mix of club music, gangster rap, ‘90s R&B and modern hard rock all sound great, with the subwoofer announcing its presence early in the year and never really leaving. Dialogue is consistent all the way through and the channel panning and directional effects are much more than I expected for a little pay cable comedy. It was a nice experience all the way through.Extras:
Commentaries on all eight episodes of the season with McBride and Hill on all of the episodes and a mix of the following (depending on the episode): Little, Marino, Heidecker, Elizabeth De Razzo (who plays Stevie's wife), Jillian Bell (who plays Gene's wife), writers John Carcieri, editor Jeff Seibenick, and Jennifer Irwin (who plays Cassie, Kenny's sister-in-law). The commentaries are decent as the various groups recount the writing process and production anecdotes of the bunch, along with the time Marilyn Manson came to North Carolina to do a guest spot. In terms of new information on the show, there is not too much to glean from the tracks but they are nice to have. There other extras are on the second disc, with 18 deleted scenes (23:19) that do not add much, save for an interesting wrinkle with Guy and April. The outtakes are long (11:00) and generally funny. There is also a code for digital copies of the episodes in the season that can be downloaded to UltraViolet and iTunes services.Final Thoughts:
The final season of Eastbound & Down wrapped a bow on what was a laugh-filled show that may have exhibited a brief moment of weariness yet managed to reach its goal of seeing its character through. In the process, Kenny Powers became a mainstream breakthrough for Danny McBride and some others on the show and gave us a nice look into the comic sensibilities of McBride, Hill and Best. Technically, the show is excellent and solid on the bonus material side of things. You can get into the season with not much ramping up to Kenny Powers, but it certainly helps.