This week we said goodbye to one of the most controversially entertaining characters in recent years: the incomparable Kenny Powers of HBO’s Eastbound & Down. The story of a down on his luck ball player trying to get back to his former glory is not a new one in the sports entertainment genre but Danny McBride’s portrayal of Powers was something completely unique.
Powers was inspired by the real life personality of Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker, whose racially charged comments to a Sports Illustrated writer in the 1999 effectively began the downfall of his career. The beginning of the series resembles many of the comments Rocker made. But in this art-imitates-life moment, there was a major difference between the two. This time we laughed. We laughed a lot.
As a character, Kenny Powers was so over the top that you couldn’t help but not take him seriously. He embodies everything wrong and bad about professional athletes, yet we kept watching. Danny McBride’s performance over the three seasons of the show was pin point accurate. He gave you the laughs with his ridiculous opinions and observations, but over time he showed himself to be lovable – a victim of his own success and upbringing. Kenny Powers was the flawed hero you love to hate, yet still rooted for.
The show itself also brought many hilarious supporting characters that bolstered the overall appeal of the show. Co-creator Will Ferrell as Ric Flair-esque car dealer, Ashley Schaefer, was no doubt the highlight of the supporting roles. A true comic genius, Ferrell turned a role that could have been forgettable by most comedic actors into a one that has become a cult favorite. Steve Little’s creepy performance of Stevie Janowski provided a great balance to McBride’s “Powers” and recurring performances by Craig Robinson as rival ball player, Reg Mackworthy, Don Johnson as his deadbeat father and Matthew McConaughey as the Texas Rangers’ gay scout, Roy McDaniel, brought the show a level of offbeat and vulgar humor but with a sweetness about it that makes you care more about your hero.
So often shows overstay their welcome and while 21 episodes over three seasons seems to be very short, Eastbound & Down will go down as a show that didn’t overstay its welcome. Three short seasons and the out the door (much like Kenny’s career in many ways) prevented the show from getting stale and will keep it in higher regard in the memories of loyal fans for years to come. If there is anything that producers could learn from this show, it is that sometimes less really can be much more.