Writer and director Jody Hill seems to be one of the best talents working on television as well as cinema’s best kept secret. His films The Foot Fist Way and Observe and Report were darker than black comedies that studied the hubris and the egos of their delusional protagonist’s as they went through a redemptive arc of sorts. Some were turned off in a major way, Observe and Report even went so far as to make light of date rape and be criticised for it with people rejecting the film outright, but the key thing is that Hill is not afraid to push boundaries, press buttons and make sure you don’t forget a film he has been involved with. We need people like Hill just like we need the stand-up comedians who are not afraid to tell it like they see it. Comedy is not known for its ability to provoke thought necessarily but that’s not something that should be discouraged in works of comedic narrative. On the small screen on cable channel HBO, Hill has perhaps found the perfect outlet for his particular brand of comedy and with Eastbound and Down he has created a black comic masterpiece.
Season 3 picks up immediately after season 2 with egomaniacal, delusional baseball pitcher Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) having made his way into mid-tier baseball team the Myrtle Beach Mermen in South Carolina and also fully aware and in denial that he has a son with the love of his life April (Katy Mixon). Powers spends his time enjoying minor celebrity status in the town, surfing and indulging in debauchery with his new team-mate Shane (Jason Sudeikis in a brilliant guest role). This being Eastbound and Down you know that something is going to come along to challenge Powers’ manhood and playing in the minors won’t be enough for him for long. So predictably April ditches Powers with his son Toby and leaves him to care for the child, which he does but in a hilarious dark fashion that includes keeping the child in a rucksack with some lettuce. Powers therefore calls on good old Stevie (Steve Little) who also then goes on his own redemptive arc having been rescued from car dealer/arch criminal Ashley Schaeffer (Will Ferrell in one of his best roles). Powers also has to contend with the hot new, young pitcher from Russia who takes his place on the team.
Season 3 of Eastbound and Down is pretty much a high point for the show, lots of plotlines come to their satisfying ending and the humour is darker than ever. In fact there is a line that Will Ferrell utters towards the end directed at a baby which may be a step too far for some. The burgeoning relationship between Powers and his child is really well-played, never going full saccharine and never going down the blatant child abuse angle ever. It’s well balanced and written and could have been a disaster in lesser hands but approaches the sentiment with well-judged character moments and events. The last twenty minutes of the series are some of the most emotional I have ever experienced in a television comedy show. I don’t want to spoil it for you but if you have watched the show from the start then a lot of your devotion will be paid off in spades. Even this almost generic, cliché finale is not quite what should be done on a TV show and so Jody Hill takes it off in self-aware and surprising directions just to make sure that his TV masterpiece doesn’t conform.
All the usual bit part players and characters are back in some way, Don Johnson returns as Powers’ shady father, Matthew McConaughey gets a laugh out loud and creepy moment towards the end as Powers’ agent, John Hawkes re-appears as his brother and Craig Robinson even appears once more as Powers’ rival from the first season looking for revenge. Most welcome of all is the new addition of Lily Tomlin as Powers mother and suddenly a lot of his behaviour and mannerism’s make sense.
At the end of this season, the story seems finished, it ends in the perfect place where a balance has been struck in Powers soul and of course even this doesn’t quite work out. This is why it’s baffling to me that there will be a fourth season; it seems finished, wrapped up perfectly in a distorted and hilarious package. The ratings are there though and ultimately in art vs. commerce, commerce ultimately wins out.