Stepping up to the plate in this six-episode HBO series, comedy's newest It Boy, Danny McBride (The Foot Fist Way
, Pineapple Express
, Tropic Thunder
), hits it out of the park as Kenny Powers, a former baseball phenom, who, after spending his millions and burning all bridges, returns to his high school to teach physical education. The delusional Powers (he still wears a mullet!) insists that he will return to the majors. Until then, he makes a play for his former high school flame (Katy Mixon), now an art teacher who is engaged to the boring, by-the-book principal (Andrew Daly). He runs roughshod over his brother and his disapproving wife (John Hawkes and Jennifer Irwin), who allow Powers to live with them and their children. He lures the idolizing nerdy band teacher to the dark side. Eastbound and Down
has an odd sense of humor. To say that the foul-mouthed, substance-abusing Powers is "inappropriate" is an understatement. He makes Billy Bob Thornton's Bad Santa
look like Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street
). When one of his students repeats his father's claim that Powers ruined baseball, Powers tells the class, "Anybody want to pick on anybody in class, aim for him, because I ain't watching."
Eastbound and Down benefits from some big league talent. Will Ferrell, who helped get The Foot Fist Way into theatres, appears as a car salesman who wants to exploit what's left of Powers' celebrity with predictably disastrous results. Episodes were directed by McBride collaborator Jody Hill (Observe and Report), David Gordon Green (Superbad), and Ferrell's partner in comedy, Adam McKay (Talladega Nights, Anchorman). There are other obnoxious characters on television, but Kenny Powers is in a league of his own, and he may take some warming up to. But McBride imbues this extreme character with an uncompromised integrity that is oddly admirable. Despite what his brother tells him at one point, Powers is someone you like being around. --Donald Liebenson