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Eastbound & Down: Series Finale

By Carl Stoffers · November 20, 2013

The saga of Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) finally came to an end (for real, this time) on Sunday night, as HBO’s venerable Eastbound & Down aired its finale.

The Will Ferrell-produced series, created by McBride, Ben Best and Jody Hill, originally ended in 2012 with Kenny finally making it back to the major leagues, only to walk off the mound and inexplicably fake his own death. But fans and the network were so unfulfilled that McBride and his cohorts were persuaded to create a fourth season, wrapping up the saga of the washed-up former big league pitcher who has hit rock bottom more times than a lobster.

From the beginning, Eastbound & Down’s theme was redemption. The writers did a masterful job of developing Kenny Powers into a character that had just barely enough decency that the audience didn’t hate him, pushing him to that fine line between hero and villain several times. Sure, he was ignorant, self-centered, boorish, petty, dishonest, materialistic and, at times, just plain rotten. But Kenny also had a heart, even though he didn’t show it very often.

In the series finale, Kenny is once again approaching that razor’s edge, about to go over the cliff and turn into a pure lowlife. This time, it appeared that the writers were actually going to allow it to happen, where so many times before Kenny’s decency won out at the last minute.

He’s lost April (Katy Mixon), the one person during the show’s four seasons he ever showed any feelings for (including, for the most part, his children) and vanquished his enemies with ruthless efficiency. He’s on top of the world.

“Here we are, at the pinnacle of success,” he says to Stevie (Steve Little) before the premiere of his own talk show, “Our journey ends here, at the top.” He stares at a giant billboard of himself and then reflects, “It’s crazy, instead of wonder, I feel only isolation.”

When a network TV executive (played with creepy efficiency by Sacha Baron Cohen) orders him to humiliate his former nemesis, Guy Young (Ken Marino), Kenny initially agrees. It appears hope is lost and the show will end with Kenny’s five-year quest for redemption falling short, dooming him to a life of loneliness and anger.

But, as has happened before in Eastbound & Down, Kenny realizes that he’s not that villain. His good side wins out and he does the decent thing. It’s one of the great things about the story arc of the show: even a foul, racist, sexist, obscene, drug-addled jerk can redeem himself.

McBride, Best, and Hill do an excellent job of using the dynamic between Kenny, April, and Kenny’s hapless lackey Stevie Janowski to insert both comic relief and a message of hope. April is Kenny’s moral compass, a decent woman who, for some reason, has always loved him. Stevie, often used and abused, finally stands up for himself after years of abuse, putting Kenny in his place and forcing him to turn a personal and moral corner.

The finale also exhibits another trademark of the show’s writing: the complete departure from reality into bizarre, uncharted fantasy. We get a glimpse, through Kenny’s memoirs, of what the future holds (or what he imagines it holds), featuring cameos by Lindsay Lohan and Alexander Skarsgard as Kenny and April’s grown children, April’s murder (in a scene reminiscent of the murder Bruce Wayne’s parents in Batman) and Kenny remarrying an unlikely bride after another fall from grace. Not since his surreal visit to Ashley Schaeffer’s (Will Ferrell) plantation in season three has there been such a bizarre plot departure. But it works, because Eastbound & Down is that kind of show.

In the end, Kenny ends up where he belongs, where we always hoped he would: with April, happy and content, far away from the material stardom he thought he craved. The writers have finally allowed the character to grow up after four years.

“I was never unhappy with you guys,” he says to April in an unprecedented moment of vulnerability. “I just wanted to be a success, turns out, I was a success the whole time.”

Kenny Powers finally gets it. He’s found redemption.