Is it a truism now that the times you ignore your email are when an email you should read arrives? Let’s go with that premise because, when I did finally notice I had a new message, confirming my place on the list for a screening of the new HBO comedy series “Eastbound & Down,” I had twenty minutes to get to the appointed venue. (Sorry to whoever the plus-one I would’ve invited might’ve been if I’d had more notice!)
Worse than rushing somewhere to not be late is trumped by arriving to find a stalled line in front of the 40/40 Club. Two lines, actually, one for VIPs, and one for, uh, regulars, each stantioned off. So I filed in line on the green carpet (astroturf), and waited as a third unorderly clump, “people who seemingly know people,” squeezed in the door.
Once inside, the club was decorated with promotional swag, Kenny Powers (the lead character) trading cards, foam fingers, seat cushions, all branded with the show’s logo. The Budweiser was free, and nestled in a logo’d beer cozy. Testosterone rock and stadium anthems blared while the crowd continued to stream into the main room.
At some point the smell of meat wafted through the crowd, and white snack boxes appeared, though through the throng it was hard to see from where. Suddenly ravenous, I tried to make my way to the source, only to be shut down. The patient waitress circulating assured me they’d be bringing more out. The staff opened a back room and second bar to accommodate the crowd, and in there yet more people were clutching the white boxes, scarfing the burger sliders, fries, and hot dogs contained within. From this back room there was a direct channel to the kitchen where a savage scrum formed, salivating over the food until we were shooed away by a server. The only choice was to keep drinking the free beer, and wait. The guy next to me, gripping his drink, seemed stoked. “This is like the best game ever. Free beer and free food? Who cares which team wins?”
It is maybe fitting that “Welcome to the Jungle” came on as I finally snatched a snack box from the Lego-like tower a downcast looking server appeared with, retreating to an empty corner with my meal like a feral beast with a fresh carcass. It was probably overkill to take the box of popcorn that circulated just minutes before the screening started, but by that point a Liz Lemon-y urge for food had been awakened.
But to the show! “Eastbound & Down” stars Danny McBride (Pineapple Express, Tropic Thunder) as Kenny Powers, a redneck baseball player with an achy breaky mullet and a stalled career due to steroid use (timely!), some impolitic statements about race and gender, and an unhealthy love of self. Returning home to live with his brother’s family, he takes a job as a substitute gym teacher while waiting to make his comeback. The character is an emotionally-stunted man-child in the Will Ferrell vein — Ferrell and his partner Adam McKay produced the project, and he is slated to make several appearances as “a local car dealer with marvelous hair” — who listens to his own self-help tapes to psych himself up, hits on his engaged ex-girlfriend, and though he feels bad for shouting at his brother’s kids won’t stop yelling because it’d mean he lost the argument. Even moments where Powers starts to have a glimmer of self-awareness careen into cringe-worthy (and thereby funny) hubristic declarations. (Note his potty-mouthed monologue of affirmation, which he broadcasts over the school’s PA system to the horror and delight of faculty and student body.)
One wonders why this slight half-hour comedy ended up on HBO rather than one of the networks, save for maybe the R-rated scenes of coke-snorting and F-bomb dropping and the occasional bare breast were deemed “integral” to the story. Still, there is no doubt that there is an audience for the doltish, self-centered man on the verge of redemption. Just look at the grosses for any Ferrell comedy. Moving this type of humor from the silver screen to cable is a natural extension of the Ferrell/McKay comedy brand, and McBride seems rightly anointed to bring that style to television.
Eastbound & Down [official site]