I’ll admit, I had my doubts about this season of Eastbound & Down. It’s meandered so much more than I thought it would, veering off course multiple times to spend entire episodes at Shane’s funeral, Ashley Schaeffer’s southern plantation, and the house of Tammy Powers. There were only eight episodes left in this final season- how could there be enough time to truly develop Kenny to his rightful conclusion if there was so much wasted time?
And “Chapter 20” initially appeared to be more fuel for the fire. Once again, we bring in a new conflict that’s not central to either Kenny’s major league comeback or his son- the return of Reg Mackworthy (Craig Robinson, a man with the comedic chops and star power to be about one hundred times as famous as he currently is) and Ashley Schaeffer. Considering that the last time we saw Mr. Schaeffer was probably the show’s weakest episode to date, I was just a little bit hesitant.
How wrong I was.
I take back all of my doubts after seeing “Chapter 20” in its entirety. In all honesty, this is probably the most I’ve enjoyed an episode of Eastbound & Down since my all-time favorite, “Chapter 5” (it can be difficult to keep track when every episode title sounds the same, so that was the one with the pitch-off between Kenny and Reg McWorthy). There’s even a somewhat circular nature between the two episodes, with the appearance of Craig Robinson, Kenny displaying legitimate, overwhelming talent in dispatching a baseball rival, and a big ‘ol piece of emotional pay dirt with April.
Reintroducing so many characters this late in the game might seem a little off-putting at first, but in the context of the season (and considering we’re one episode away from the last EB&D to ever air), it makes a little more sense. When Kenny patches things up with Reg and witnesses what I assume is Ashley Schaeffer’s grisly death, he’s letting go of all those past struggles and demonstrating that he’s actually matured somewhat over the course of the show. Kenny will always be immature, brash, and just a little bit stupid, but from now on when he and Stevie/Freddie Kruger confront a dangerous biker gang, they’ll be doing it with the best intentions. By the end of “Chapter 20,” there’s a real, palpable feeling that Kenny’s finally started to grow up and is ready to move on with his life.
And that sense of closure feels even stronger when every conflict in the episode is a physical one. Confronting the Grim Creepers (as a quick side-note, Craig Robinson wears the hell out of that badass skull helmet) and winning the big game can only be accomplished with brute strength and power, and Kenny’s done that. With all the big physical obstacles out of the way, it feels like Kenny’s over the hump. He’s cleared the worst part of this journey. All that’s left now is to win back his son (and potentially, the majors), and while that might seem anti-climactic, it fits in with the way this show traditionally handles season endings. Each past finale of Eastbound & Down has been about goodbyes- to his teaching career in the first season, and to Stevie in the second- and with a lot of the big stuff out of the way, next week could very well be another low-key goodbye of a finale. I think we’ve earned that at this point.
“Chapter 20” is also a shining example of one of the strongest aspects of EB&D– its ability to be a big goofy broad comedy and still be incredibly engaging on an emotional level. The buildup from Toby’s kidnapping (beginning with a perfectly edited, visceral punch to Stevie’s face) to the confrontation with the Grim Creepers was tense and exciting and genuinely drew me into the story, and the same goes for Kenny’s triumph over Ivan on the mound. Having Ivan’s downfall be his lack of experience with hecklers was a little convenient, sure, but this way Kenny wins because of his personality, not from his baseball talent. I like that.
And it all culminates in a genuine feeling of loss once Toby’s gone. Yeah, that whole ending scene became pretty predictable once April showed up, but Danny McBride sold it so well that I didn’t really mind.
And while this outing was also hysterically funny, but I won’t waste time in listing every single instance of me laughing at something onscreen. Instead, I’ll ask something of you- what moment of “Chapter 20” struck you as the funniest? For me, it was Bob Duato, hands down.
And that should just about do it for this penultimate episode to one of my all-time favorite shows. Before I sign off, there’s a couple quick points I’d like to cover.
- A round of applause for whoever designed Stevie’s toupees in this one. Awful in the best possible way.
- I just realized that Toby’s room says “Tboy” on the door… is that supposed to be “T-boy,” or just a purposeful spelling error? Either way, it’s kind of endearing.
- The preview for next week’s episode touted it as a season finale rather than a series one. I’ve always assumed from interviews like this one and the general consensus of bloggers like Drew McWeeny that this was the end for my beloved Eastbound & Down, but I’d be delighted to be wrong. The the level of love and respect McBride, Jody Hill and David Gordon Green have shown for their characters, their show and their audience are more than enough evidence that if this show comes back for one more round, it’ll be for the right reasons.
- I’m not one to complain (oh, who am I kidding, of course I am), but I’ve been watching EB&D on HBO Go, and the last two episodes have had some serious sound and picture problems on multiple computers/tv sets. It was bad enough that the video actually skipped over three minutes of the big Grim Creeper confrontation. Complaining won’t actually fix whatever problem is up with the video, but it makes me feel better, so complain I shall.
And with that, I wish you all a fond farewell.