Television Revision: Eastbound and Down – Season 1

Television Revision: Eastbound and Down – Season 1. Starring Danny McBride, Katy Mixon, and John Hawkes. Rated MA. By Andrew Williams.

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Television Revision is a weekly feature in which our tuned in TV critic trawls through the best the box has to offer, giving you a primer on some of history’s finest shows (and warning you away from the specific episodes – or even seasons! – that might have ruined their reputation).

Now, this is a story all about how… Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) is a washed-up Major League pitcher forced to retire to his small hometown of Shelby, North Carolina, to work as a substitute PE teacher while living with his brother Dustin (John Hawkes). There, he tries to woo his former high school flame April (Katy Mixon) and gains a devoted follower in Steve Janowski (Steve Little), all while trying to regain the pitching ability that made his career in the first place.

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Happy days? Every so often, a film will spawn a spiritual successor in the world of television. Sometimes there’s a creative link (Aaron Sorkin’s The West Wing is basically an adaptation of his American President) and sometimes it’s just the canny aping of a successful formula (breakout 2012 hit Arrow, which is essentially Batman Begins meets Gossip Girl). Eastbound and Down joins this illustrious company, because if there was ever a spiritual successor to the litany of Will Ferrell sports comedies, this is it.

Unsurprisingly, Ferrell and Adam McKay are producers on Eastbound. Created by and starring McBride, Kenny Powers is very much a Ferrell type; an aggressive ignoramus who has taken his success for granted and becomes angry and disoriented when that success is snatched away. It takes a special kind of actor to make a character like that work, and Season One of Eastbound sees McBride only manage it in fits and starts. He’s joined in that inconsistency by the writing, which veers between bitingly clever and tediously tawdry. Despite those issues, there are several elements that give me hope: an outstanding guest star roster and fantastic use of music among them.

The final frontier: Season One of Eastbound & Down is a profane, bitter, and occasionally hilarious show with enormous but primarily unrealised potential.

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Top three episodes: 2) Chapter Two. Ferrell himself guest stars as BMW dealership owner Ashley Schaeffer and gives the show the jolt of antagonism it needs, despite the fact he’s almost out-acted by his wig. 4) Chapter Four. David Gordon Green (McBride’s frequent collaborator) directs an episode containing a surprising level of melancholy for a show of this genre; the character hasn’t earned our investment yet. Still, I like the weird direction. 5) Chapter Five. Craig Robinson and Will Ferrell in one episode. That can’t be a bad thing.

Worst episode: 3) Chapter Three. Meandering, dull, and forces its characters in unconvincing directions, even for a show such as this.

Season MVP: Apologies to John Hawkes. I’m plumping for Katy Mixon, who could have given love interest April a trashy, insincere veneer but stands out by underplaying where everyone else (bar Hawkes) is overplaying.

Eastbound and Down – Season 1 is available on DVD and Blu-ray. It can also be streamed instantly on Quickflix PLAY until January 18, 2013.

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