Eastbound & Down: Chapter 16

I’ll begin this review with a brief apology.

To all my loyal readers and Kenny Powers fans,

Due to some unforeseen circumstances (read: college midterms), my coverage of Eastbound & Down as been spotty at best. I’m terribly, terribly sorry.

Please accept this review of Chapter 16 as a token of my sincerest regrets.

I’ve been thinking about just what makes Eastbound & Down feel so unique. At this point, I think I’ve got it narrowed down to two major factors:

  1. Production values- EB&D is shot and edited with the kind of cinematic flourishes usually reserved for dramatic shows, and the music is above and beyond almost anything else on TV. Because of this, the show looks and feels like it’s on a higher level than most TV comedies. The production values themselves also carry a little bit of symbolic meaning- Kenny’s an overblown jackass with delusions of grandeur, and the show itself is a crude, raucous comedy shot with an artistic eye.
  2. The storylines consistently subvert our expectations. Think back to season one- did you really expect everything to end with Kenny losing his dreams at the last second and abandoning his love interest at a gas station? The same goes for the end of season two, and even the end of this episode. A big part of what makes this show unique is that the world around Kenny Powers often rejects him in ways that seem unexpected in an over-the-top TV comedy.

Alright, let’s dive into the actual episode already. Here I was, expecting the Shane vs Stevie conflict to stretch out over the whole season, and then blammo- Shane hits the carpet, dead of a cocaine overdose.

Killing him off makes sense, though- Stevie’s been the heart of this show (more or less) for a while now, and when you compare Stevie’s rousing speech about moving to Myrtle Beach with Shane’s coked up, Top Gun tomfoolery, well… it seems pretty obvious that Stevie will win in the end.  But a dead Shane throws a significant monkey wrench into all of this- now it’s not so much Stevie vs Shane, but Stevie vs Kenny’s memory of a man he considered his best friend. I’m guessing Kenny will remember Shane as a martyr and a demigod, and that Shane will end up a far greater nemesis to Stevie in death than in life.

But throughout “Chapter 16,” I was realizing that as much as this show focuses around Kenny’s growth into a somewhat reasonable adult (he at least has the sense to bury his son in a hole rather than just leave him unprotected on the beach), it’s about Stevie’s growth as well. Stevie’s gained a wife and a fair degree of confidence since joining up with Kenny P., and it seems like Stevie and Maria will actually be the ones raising young Toby. Could this series end with Stevie finally realizing that he can live a full life without being a hanger-on to his favorite pitcher?

Probably not. But I have the feeling he’ll end this show somewhat resembling a fully-functioning adult.

And there’s more than just friendship and cocaine death in “Chapter 16”- we’ve also got the introduction of Ivan Dochenko, the Russian Olympic pitching phenom and the Ralph Macchio to Kenny’s Mr. Miyagi.

This had to come about at some point- Kenny’s getting older and older, and eventually he’ll have to cope with the fact that he may never get the comeback he truly thinks he deserves. Still, in true Eastbound & Down form, Kenny and Ivan’s first showdown didn’t go at all like I expected it to. Kenny gains some serious confidence from Stevie in a speech that was both rousing and slightly unsettling, and Stevie showing up to proudly display young Toby for all to see was just the right move to give Kenny that killing edge.

But it just wasn’t enough. There’s a palpable sense that something’s wrong with Kenny in this scene- the camera lingers on him just a little too much, and there’s a little more delay between each pitch then there should be, creating the sense that Kenny’s hesitating or feeling a bit uneasy. But I assumed that Stevie’s support would push him towards greatness. It seems I was wrong.

Still, like the conflict between Kenny and his creepy half-brother Casper last season, I can’t wait to see these two pitchers push each other’s buttons in increasingly hilarious ways. And obviously, the quintessential Kenny Powers training session involves whirling a trident outside of an abandoned cement factory.

And thus ends another wonderful chapter in the Kenny Powers saga. I’ll see all of you in Myrtle Beach real soon.

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