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Eastbound & Down Recap: Chapter 11

October 25, 2010

Is there any show that stays as true to its principles as Eastbound & Down?

Last night we finally met Mr. Powers, Kenny’s dad, and he’s played by Don Johnson as pretty much the same trash-talking vulgarian as his son. I knew EB&D wouldn’t go in for cheap sentimentality when they reunited father and son, but I was in no way prepared for this one.

First off, this is easily the funniest episode of the season, which has been hitting hard all throughout. Johnson finds just the right note for Mr. “Eduardo Sanchez” Powers as a crude Jimmy-Buffet-like layabout, and right from the introductions, you know he and Kenny share blood. Likewise, I don’t remember the last time an episode had so many quotable lines (“She keeps me on time, and I keep her wet in her underpants” is just a sampling), and they flew by as Powers and Powers sling bullshit while everyone just sits back and watches.

Even the initial scene where the two are reunited, the conversation is all one-upmanship: “Yeah, I saved up all the money from playin’ ball and invested wisely in stocks and bonds and fine pieces of arts,” “Well, I store all my valuable stuff in holes around here, and only I know where they are,” “Well I know where this one’s buried,” “Nope, because it’s a false hole—I started diggin’ it when you drove up.” The outright obviousness of each man’s lies and their mutually adolescent maturity levels pay fantastically well off—it’s funny and totally convincing.

Mr. Powers treats Kenny to a tour of his small house, including an introduction to his trophy wife and Kenny’s 14-year-old half-brother, who looks a lot like Ian Gomez, and already much more mature than the other two Powers men.

Nevertheless, it still ignites a furious sibling rivalry within Kenny (which culminates in him urinating on his brother’s keyboard), which isn’t so much the result of any injustice, it’s just that Kenny can’t even anyone in the way of his bonding with daddy.

And daddy also takes his son to work—Dirt Devils—a roadside 4-wheeler rental shack he owns. The family takes the wheelers out for a spin through scenic Mexico, and Kenny’s walking on air, his father turning out to be everything he idolizes and could have imagined. He even drops the big word during a talk, “And I don’t tell a lot of guys that I love them”—and, because this is Eastbound & Down, the most tender moment is when father and son discuss the erection-inducing qualities of 4-wheelers versus jet skis. To Kenny, it’s heaven.

But, also because this is Eastbound & Down, nothing good can last for too long. After a father-son dinner where Kenny pours his heart out to dad, confessing that he blew all his money, threw away his career, and even the sweet car he showed up in is stolen. Kenny flatly explains that after his professional career went to hell and he lost everything, the only thing he wanted was a kindred spirit to offer some advice.

And dad ends up calling the cops on Kenny, just because he wanted a reward which wasn’t even offered.

Even though he’s thrown in jail, Kenny’s making excuses for his dad (“I shoulda seen it coming—it’s what I would have done”) when his step-mother posts bail and reveals the simple truth about the elder Powers: He’s just a lazy bum who’s been sponging off her for years. He doesn’t even own the wheeler rental.

Kenny, in a moment of reflection, accepts it, because he probably knew it all along. He curses out his dad, and the episode ends with the reveal that Stevie was lying about April getting married—and now Kenny’s coming to get her.

In all, a perfect episode.

McBride and Johnson play off each other so well it’d be a crime not to pair them again, and McBride in particular has the toughest job of the episode, going from a son desperately seeking his father to a wide-eyed admirer to a surprisingly mature and open Kenny Powers to a boy who just had his every dream shattered. That asks for a lot, and McBride delivers beautifully.

I can’t imagine how difficult this episode was to write because it touches on so many notes and it does everything so well. Among EB&D’s many strengths is its earnestness—the characters never go against type for a cheap laugh, and they’re deep enough to ellicit a lot of sympathy and feeling—and still be very funny.  It’s a comedy first, yes, but there’s a seriousness and self-respect in it that makes EB&D more than a string of bad words (“That ain’t what your pussy doctor said!”). And the brutal reality about Kenny’s dad is a perfect example of that.

It’s no joke to say this is the best episode of the season; it’s not even a joke to say this is the best episode of the series.


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