x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Eastbound & Down: comedy with a sharp edge

As the boorish former baseball pro Kenny Powers returns to our screens, we look at what to expect from this obnoxiously hilarious show.

If you like your comedy rude, crude, loud and lewd — as raw as a quivering, freshly shucked oyster and slathered in "redneck" sauce - then you've come to the right place with Eastbound & Down.

This HBO show premieres its third season on Tuesday with the continuing misadventures of Kenny Powers (played by Danny McBride), a former professional baseball pitcher who, after an up-and-down career in the major leagues, is forced to return to his hometown in Shelby, North Carolina, as a substitute physical education teacher (in season one) and to head south of the border to play some surreal ball in a Mexican league under the alias La Flama Blanca (in season two).

With the fearless Will Ferrell as a producer - and with his clear affection for southern US stereotypes (Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby) - it doesn't get much more disgusting than this.

"Kenny Powers is a very offensive man, so wherever he goes, he offends everyone he comes into contact with," says Ferrell. "It's a show that kind of pushes the envelope in every direction. Danny McBride is one of the funniest guys I've been around in a long time."

Making matters worse, Powers is supremely unaware of his shortcomings. One has to question whether there's even a mind behind that awesome mullet. "You have major problems inside your brain, my friend," one character dryly informs the ageing pitcher.

"Powers is perhaps the sharpest - and certainly raunchiest - satiric portrait of a redneck ever to be loosed on television," writes Martin Miller of the Los Angeles Times.

"I think this season's the funniest season that we've shot. This season Kenny's playing minor league baseball for the Myrtle Beach Mermen," says the writer and director Jody Hill. "If you don't know anything about Myrtle Beach [in South Carolina], it's kind of the 'Redneck Riviera'. Kenny's right at home there."

It's a tourist destination rife with fireworks stores, mini-golf and underage drinkers - and Powers soon settles into a life of bodyboarding, jet-skiing and partying with his catcher Shane (Jason Sudeikis of Saturday Night Live). A detour to Shelby to attend the first birthday of his son Toby reunites Kenny with April (Katy Mixon).

Even as he sets himself up as the King of Myrtle Beach, Kenny struggles to come to terms with growing older, both in his personal life as a new father - who thinks nothing of putting his baby into a zipped backpack and punching breathing holes into the cloth so he can carry his boy around.

So just what, one may well ask, are the redeeming qualities of this show?

Surprisingly, there are many. For one, with guest stars such as Ferrell himself, as the egomaniacal car dealer Ashley Schaeffer ("Look at me! I'm beautiful! My shoes are worth more than your house!"), Matthew McConaughey, Lily Tomlin, Don Johnson and more, this series is a magnet for top talent who want to get in on the fun.

Also, while the first take of each script is shot as written, Eastbound & Down then reshoots each scene in multiple takes with some of the sharpest, most caustic and most startling improvisation happening in North American comedy today, by wit-masters who know their craft.

Mix in a grungy indie-film sensibility with a hefty dose of 1980s action-movie bombast and it's easy to see how the creators and core crew of this series - who've been friends since college - love coming to work each day. While HBO's Game of Thrones can draw four million viewers an episode to Eastbound's one million, its cult following is fiercely loyal.

"It's such a good sign when you're working on something and you can't get through a take without laughing," says Ferrell. "It's really an atmosphere of best idea in the room wins."

Eastbound & Down is broadcast at 11pm on Tuesday on OSN Comedy and at 1am on Wednesday on OSN Comedy +2.