The Blog Formerly Known as Rebel Prince

Cult TV, Gen Y rants, and endless opera.

Eastbound & Down: “Chapter 7”

Posted by therebelprince on September 29, 2010

“I can’t believe you would look at me, and the word ‘gringo’ would even come to mind.”

— Kenny Powers

HBO has really pulled out all the stops with the unconventional comedy this last few years. I’m a massive Flight of the Conchords fan, and Bored to Death is great fun if still uncertain in its moves. Eastbound & Down is a very funny show, even if sometimes I’m not sure whether I should really be laughing or not.

I’m glad Danny McBride isn’t resting on his laurels: in the opening sequence of the season, Kenny leaves behind the life he had temporarily set up (and which we as viewers had come to know), and heads south of the border. I don’t assume it’s the last we’ve seen of his cohorts (after all, everyone from last year is back for the opening montage) but it’s nice to see a fresh start for the guy, and to see Kenny in an environment which is both more accommodating, and yet also more alienting. Here, Kenny is literally an outsider, and the setting provides McBride and co with ample opportunity for gags.

Eastbound & Down isn’t generally what I’d call my type of comedy, but this was definitely a half-hour filled with laughs, and I think that the series has found a funnier way of portraying the main character. In America, plenty of people were willing to give Kenny their opinion. We had Will Ferrell and every small-town stereotype willing to rebuke Kenny in their own bigoted manner. Here, the Mexicans laugh amongst themselves instead, and so – with no one to temper him – we get to see Kenny’s relentless ego full throttle. This is a show that can end an episode with our hero signing himself to a baseball team while making a triumphant film-climaxing speech, to which none of the characters care, or even understand him. (As a non-American, it seems a satisfying parody of the US stereotype he embodies, but I’m sure it’s intended more as a rebuke to typical hero characters instead.)

On the other hand, I’m never sure where the line should be drawn between Kenny’s ignorance and the writers’ realities. I’m not offended by Kenny’s racism, since that clearly exists only within the show’s world; Kenny getting angry at Mexicans in Mexico for perpetuating a “language barrier” is the funniest bit so far on TV this season. And, even though the little person gags were piled on heavily (hey! they’re really small! and incongruously masculine!), Deep Roy was hilarious and his persona well characterised. But when it comes to the women…

Look, very few get off unscathed in Eastbound & Down. With the exception, really, of John Hawkes last year, every character is utterly slaughtered for humour’s sake. Sure, we see the midget in a low-riding sidecar, but we’ve also got Kenny himself waving his baseball card in the air as a sign of his own superiority. At least with Mexicans and little people, we get that they’re in on the joke. I don’t know the other work of the show’s creators, so I’m watching this show in a bit of a vacuum, but I think it’s fair to say the show’s portrayal of women has so far been sub-standard at best. This is a show whose first season finale, after all, opened on a close-up of massive breasts. I’m not being accusatory – I honestly do not know where the line is drawn between Powers and McBride – but hopefully this season will tip the scales. We didn’t get any major female characters in “Chapter 7”; the only ones we did see were relentlessly objectified – a woman breastfeeding, another identified as his “cumcake” (hilarious, let’s be honest). Kenny’s attitude to women is as shockingly funny as his racism, and it’s a ‘comedy’ misogyny that we as viewers know would never degenerate into violence, but I’m hoping it isn’t symptomatic of something uglier at the series’ core.

But, let’s not be negative: Kenny Powers is back, and well-deserved is it.

Diverse observation:

* Is there any reason why Kenny, in the closing sequence, was trailed by the same stationwagon? Did I miss something?

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