The right actor, in the right role, regardless of if you like him or not, can be a dangerous thing. Danny McBride is the kind of actor who may be somewhat fresh to the scene, but already feels like he's been there forever, with his random, small bit parts in films keeping him in the collective unconscious as he climbed the ladder to get more featured roles. Love him or hate him, he's pretty hard to miss, and he has a unique presence. With the wrong role ('Land of the Lost'), his shtick can grow tiresome; plugged in to something more in his range ('Pineapple Express'), and he can steal scenes, providing some of the more believable acting.
HBO's 'Eastbound & Down,' a show created by McBride, Ben Best ('Your Highness'), and Jody Hill ('Observe and Report'), is not a show for everyone. The collective filmographies of that trio may be evidence enough of this fact, as their writing and starring credits are often polarizing affairs. However, there is a bigger audience to this show than just baseball fans looking for a series featuring their favorite sport mixed with a set of crude, redneck sensibilities. McBride's Kenny Powers may be one of the more fascinating characters seen in a comedy show in some time, taking equal (bad) parts John Rocker (the parallels are almost beyond coincidence) and Jose Canseco, blending them with Ron Burgundy-esque egoism and a mullet that could put any Billy Ray Cyrus ape drape to shame.
After leading Atlanta to a World Series win, Powers, his 100+ MPH fastball, and his extreme antics found fame. Foam middle fingers, books on tape, millions of dollars, he was made. But as his career shifted to New York, then San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle, Powers became known more for his racist diatribes and outright poor behavior, with allegations of steroid use and a rapidly declining power pitch resulting in the infamous pitcher being dropped from the major league rosters. Several shitty years later, Powers finds himself back in his hometown, living in his brother's home, working as a gym teacher at Jefferson Davis Middle School. As the dominant personality tries to readjust to small town, smalltime life, his attempts to woo his ex-girlfriend (Katy Mixon) and make a few bucks lead Powers on a series of ill-thought-out misadventures.
The first season of 'Eastbound & Down' is an interesting experience, no doubt about it. The show regularly mixes it up, going from crude humor to dark humor, to the embarrassing and self-effacing shenanigans that work oh so well as Powers is most believable when he's at his lowest. It's like watching a slow motion self destruction, as Powers refuses to acknowledge his new position in life, and since he doesn't adjust to the small pay and lack of adoring fans, it's like a fish out of water comedy, only the fish gets angrier and angrier, more and more vulgar, instead of gasping for air. The selfish, egocentric nature of the character makes 'Eastbound & Down' a one man show, and due to that, it works.
It isn't that the show doesn't have a wealth of supporting characters. If anything, the smaller parts are what make Powers what he is, as no one steps up to him, no one can reach him and pull him off his high horse. Not even Reg Mackworthy (Craig Robinson), the man whose dingers helped put Powers out of the big leagues for good, can put the unrepentant redneck in his place. As executive producer Will Ferrell's Ashley Schaeffer character finds out as he attempts to get Powers to promote his BMW dealership, there's nothing more dangerous than a man with nothing to lose, and everything to prove. Steve Little's turn as band teacher Stevie Janowski, a high school classmate of Powers', is pure, uncomfortable comedy gold, while Best's turn as bartender/dealer Clegg steals scene after scene with some of the most insane antics ever contrived.
For a show about baseball, 'Eastbound & Down' doesn't feature a whole lot of on-field action. Rather, the look at the golden boy in the gutter focuses on all the lows of life after the show. After the opening episode, which masterfully sets the stage for the entire season by introducing each and every plot point to come, there are five more episodes of pure insanity on tap. From dealing with the family he never wanted, to bringing his callous, cocky nature to each and every meeting, class, and room like he were still on top of the world, Powers fits the bill perfectly as that character who is impossible to love, yet equally difficult to hate, despite his glaring flaws. His hair brained ideas and antics are a real gem to watch unfold, as HBO's sports comedy runs through its amazingly short runtime with perfect poise and pace. It's rare to see so much get accomplished, so many stories told in such a short runtime, but the first season of 'Eastbound & Down' power pitches some serious heat down the middle, with some of the greatest wild throws conceivable.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Eastbound & Down: The Complete First Season,' previously available on DVD, arrives on Blu-ray day and date with the second season on a two disc Region A locked set. There is no pre-menu mumbo jumbo, and the trademark full motion video with audio loop HBO menu is on tap here. There is a short slipcover (that doesn't cover the blue bar atop the case) that features different art from the paper insert, and the discs replicate these dual covers. Each disc houses three episodes/chapters of the show.
Perhaps I'm too used to FUNimation's anime product, but I must say I don't recall any Blu-ray release quite like this one, where disc one is a BD25, and disc two is a BD50.
HBO's 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encodes for 'Eastbound & Down' start out pretty rough and somewhat ugly, but as the show progresses, they bear less and less resemblance to McBride's hindquarters. That's a good thing.
The opening few episodes have some very strong noise bursts and noticeable edge enhancement (it's really hard to miss in some sequences), all while grain levels fluctuate mightily. Artifacting can be seen readily in Powers' darker shirts, so there are surely other areas that aren't as eye-catching that feature this error. Through it all, though, picture depth is solid, if not fantastic. Detail levels are strong, and get stronger as the show goes along. Colors are solid, with nary a moment of banding, not even in the harsher bright red shirts that pop up from time to time. Skin tones fluctuate, but the lack of crush or flat moments are a fantastic constant.
The first disc on this release would earn three stars, and the second would easily earn four and a half. Just stick with it. Much like the show itself, when it clicks, it's unstoppable.
The audio for 'Eastbound & Down' isn't as mood-swingy as the video, as the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks for this six episode first season are all somewhat uniform, with only one element changing dramatically from one disc to the next. This distortion free show features accurate dynamics, constantly crystal clear dialogue, proper prioritization, and somewhat proper ambience noise levels. The constant yelling from Kenny Powers doesn't sound harsh, not once, and there's never a need to adjust volume between angry and more sedated moments. The show is somewhat front heavy, but when scenes fill a room, the rears start to get moving with random noise, that's somewhat just there. The soundtrack has great range, and is very cleanly defined, but doesn't always spread through the room. Bass levels, I'll admit, start out pretty weak, but just in time for the more active, music-heavy, intense scenes, there's lots of rumble in store. I'd say the audio found on this release is a very proper representation of the somewhat peculiar show. It's somewhat moody, sure, and a bit reserved at first, but once it's comfortable in its place, it starts to get busy.
The first season of 'Eastbound & Down' is a real hoot. Sure, it has a few down moments, and some odd tonal changes, but this highly irreverent six chapter arc is full of tons of laughs, some great characters, and plenty of crude and rude comedy. Fictional baseball hasn't had a character this spicy since 'Bull Durham.' This Blu-ray release features video that improves dramatically over the show, as well as audio that does the same, just with a higher starting point. Extras? More than enough! Sure, this may sting to fans who bought the DVD release two years ago, but this is absolutely great news to those of us who were sitting in the wings waiting, fingers crossed, praying to get some Kenny Powers on Blu-ray. This one comes highly recommended.