I may regret saying this but ..."Eastbound and Down" has grown on me. Kenny Powers, the foul-mouthed, bellicose cretin at the center of the show, has grown on me. I can't explain why.
I pretty much sat slack-jawed through the first episode, not believing what I was seeing, or hearing. It's hard to describe specifics without giving too much away, but suffice it say that Powers, played by Danny McBride, is an ex-Major League pitcher in the mold of John Rocker. He's not just politically incorrect, he's just wrong on every level of his life.
We meet up with the mullet-headed Kenny a few years after he's been drummed out of the game for a steroid scandal, and he's hitting near rock-bottom. All he's got to his name is his truck, his jet ski and his audio book of the Kenny Powers guide to life, a relic of the brief moment when he was a big wheel in baseball.
He's now reduced to moving back to his North Carolina home town and moving in with his well-meaning older brother, his churchy sister-in-law and their three young kids, and he takes a job as the P.E. teacher at his alma mater, Jefferson Davis Middle School.
Powers' old flame from high school days now works as a teacher there, and she's engaged to the nebbishy principal, but he's determined to win her back, etc. He also reconnects with his hard-living, beer-swilling old friends, including the owner of a local dive bar, Clegg (played by series co-creator Ben Best pictured left), who helps Powers self-medicate.
The premise isn't all that unusual, but the setting is. You can tell that the show is shot North Carolina with local extras. The tweens and teens in the middle school scenes don't look like L.A. kids who are angling for their SAG cards.
McBride, Best and "Eastbound" co-creator Jody Hill have talked about inventing a new genre dubbed "Hicksploitation" that introduces the rest of the country to the best and worst of small-town Southern culture. In the same way that the small-town Texas setting of "Friday Night Lights" was such a breath of fresh air, so is "Eastbound's" Anytown, North Carolina. (Not that I am remotely comparing "FNL" to "Eastbound" in any other way. Not by a country mile.)
Overall there's an unpredictability to "Eastbound" -- given the latitude of its pay TV platform -- that is oddly engaging. Powers is lewd, crude, sophomoric and at times just mean. I didn't find the show laugh-out-loud funny on the first viewing, but certain scenes came back to me about 36 hours later that did seem funny, and in a strange way, endearing for the character.
"Eastbound" at first blush would seem to be a very polarizing show --- either you revel in this sort of beer-and-babes-and-mullets humor or you hate it. Certainly it's been so for the top brass at HBO; some of them are fans, some are not. But maybe after the initial jolt wears off, "Eastbound" will be more of a slow build (though not too slow, it only has a six-seg order. And HBO only sent out the first seg in advance for reviews.)
Powers is clearly a man in pain. It could be interesting to watch him work it out -- or not -- in his own painfully insensitive way.
"Eastbound," which hails from Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and Chris Henchy's Gary Sanchez Prods., bows Sunday. I'd love to hear what other people think.