Eastbound and Down
Take a gander at the sign in the background: "Kenny Powers: He'll sign your balls." If you don't find this at least moderately amusing, then Eastbound and Down will never lodge itself inside your brain (and I probably wouldn't want to have a nice spaghetti dinner with you). Of course, I find it to be hilarious. This is not surprising. Produced by the preeminent comedy writing/directing team of our time in Will Ferrell & Adam McKay (currently upending Broadway in their brilliant You're Welcome, America), the show is an exemplar of their improvisational approach to lowbrow shenanigans.
In Danny McBride, Jody Hill, and Ben Best, they've found their dick joke soul mates. A trio of friends who met at school in North Carolina (David Gordon Green is a fellow traveler, who also directs a few episodes of the show), they collaborated on the indie The Foot Fist Way in 2006. In it, Danny McBride plays a Ferrellian karate instructor, an overweight blowhard who'd rather kick a kid in the head than impart a lesson. Ferrell & McKay loved it, and picked it up for distribution by their Gary Sanchez Productions.
Soon the NC boys pitched the story of a washed up, jackass ex-ballplayer who returns to his hometown of Shelby to be a gym teacher. Thus Kenny Powers (McBride) was born. Probably the biggest a-hole to ever grace the small screen, Powers is monumentally self-regarding, ignorant of his physical degradation and resultant fall from fame. He's shocked when his old bat sells for seven bucks on E-bay. Expecting a hero's welcome when he returns home, he's treated as an afterthought, especially by his ex-flame April (Katy Mixon), a teacher at the same school engaged to the principal (a yuppie glad-hander played by Andrew Daly). The majority of Powers' vanity is focused in her direction, from awkward come-ons to an ecstasy fueled dance of seduction.
McBride utlizes his ungainly frame and curly mullet to spectacularly uncomfortable effect, waddling into every frame with supreme confidence like he's Victor Mature in a swords 'n sandal epic. The show ultimately works because of its cast, which is rich in character work, especially John Hawkes and Ben Best, who play his put-upon brother and coke-fiend best friend, respectively. All play off each other with ease, shown in such small details as Hawkes spitting out his toothpaste into the toilet (while he's on it), McBride's attempt to "dunk" his tray of food into a garbage can, and Will Ferrell's absurd platinum blonde wig. It's this buildup of incidental bits of slapstick that makes the show great.
*Zachary Campbell shows more love for Termite Art's favorite actress Anna Faris over at Rouge, complete with quotes from Raul Ruiz.
*Spinster Aunt and I contributed to the "Varieties of Cinematic Experience" section in the new Believer. Buy it!