Kenny Fucking Powers is such a likeable sonofabitch/folk hero/God among men that it can be easy to forget that he is a horrible person, a monster of id and ego whose complete indifference to the thoughts and feelings of others, especially those unfortunate enough to love him, borders on pathological, if not downright sociopathic.
The only love Kenny seems to experience, April’s sweet jugs aside, is self-love and even that is doomed to fight a losing, eternal battle with self-hatred. In most episodes, Kenny’s misbehavior proves harmless. It’s stupid, self-destructive kid stuff: using drugs and saying the wrong thing and calling constant attention to himself at the expense of everything else.
But every once in a while Kenny will say and do something so cruel, so vicious, so thoroughly unnecessary that it permanently tempers our affection for him. That happened last night when Kenny stumbled upon his sidekick Stevie having sex with a zaftig local girl. For Stevie it was clearly a godsend to have sex with someone who didn’t charge for the privilege but Kenny was having none of it.
Mad with heartbreak, or at least a severely bruised ego, Kenny ordered Stevie to break up with what Stevie pathetically pleads is his first real girlfriend, in the curtest, coldest manner imaginable. With uncharacteristic dignity, Stevie begs Kenny to reconsider and for a split second it appears that Kenny might back down, that some nascent streak of empathy might lead him to put Stevie’s happiness and companionship before his own. It doesn’t take long for that momentary spark of hope to get extinguished.
To his credit, Danny McBride never asks to be loved. On the contrary, he seems to dare audiences to hate him, most notably in Foot Fist Way, where he plays a narcissistic karate instructor, sort of a proto-Kenny Powers with all the ego and anger and none of the talent. So while Kenny Powers might have an insatiable need to be worshipped, feared and loved, Eastbound & Down never shies away from depicting him as a massive prick. Perhaps even a big-dick American pitcher who will impregnate all the women of Mexico with a race of Kenny Powers.
It was the best of times and the worst of times for Kenny P this time around. As he crows unconvincingly in his opening narration, everything is seemingly coming up Milhouse for old Kenny; he’s having sex with a beautiful woman, throwing lots of heat, winning games and rocking jet-skis, jet-skis, jet-skis. But none of it matters much.
He’s still hurt that his generous offer to commit wholeheartedly to Vida and her amusingly skeptical son was politely but unmistakably rejected and what’s the point of winning if the crowd merely claps meekly, then goes home rather than elevating you to the level of a golden god and festooning you with diamonds, rubies, high-end call girls and shoeboxes of Columbian marching powder?
In a bid to worm his way further into Vida’s heart, Kenny begins getting Phil Spector at recording sessions where the possessor of the most spectacular ass on pay cable churns out depressingly generic dance pop so heavy on auto-tune that the song could be the product of a cynical computer as much as a flesh and blood human being.
The recording sessions do little but push Vida into the eager arms of the rich asshole who owns Kenny’s team and by extension, Kenny. It is a moment of profound humiliation when Kenny catches his sexy songbird fucking his boss. This leads to an inevitable downward spiral, as Kenny’s world comes crashing around him.
He emotionally abuses Stevie, gets fucked up and crashes a game and waves a gun around menacingly. For a moment, it appears that Kenny might go all Travis Bickle and give his existential crisis a body count but the episode’s tone veers sharply from tragic to comic when Kenny throws his gun into the crowd and a little girl catches it and a sprightly song on the soundtrack gives Kenny’s self-destruction a more playful and less soul-numbingly depressing vibe. This, in the pitch-black world of Eastbound & Down, almost qualifies as a happy ending, or at least a not entirely depressing one.
“Chapter 10” underlines just how little baseball matters in Eastbound & Down. The baseball elements are mere window-dressing for a pitch-black exploration of the male psyche at its most grotesquely egotistical and the mind-warping effects of fame. Does anyone care if Kenny Powers’ team makes the playoffs? Or if he makes it back to the majors? I found it telling that what would be a big moment in every other baseball movie or TV show—the coach’s pep-talk—barely registers, though the sight of Kenny Powers on a donkey-pulled cart certainly does. I’m not complaining, it’s just that Eastbound & Down is less a great baseball show than a genius comedy that just happens to be about a baseball player.
—Don Johnson, huh?