Eastbound and Down: Season 2, September through November on HBO, Season 1 on DVD.
Gone are the days when everyone watched the same two or three comedies. It used to be, everyone watched Seinfeld or Friends or Married with Children, and everything else was just so much Caroline in the City. The point is, there were shows we talked about, that everyone talked about. TV comedy is much more fractured now. There’s a lot of great stuff on — too much, in fact — but there’s nothing approaching the kind of shared cultural experience that TV comedy was even just five or ten years ago. Part of the problem is that the major networks are content to ride awful laugh-track shows like Two and Half Men all the way to the bank for the time being, even if everyone knows they’ll be obsolete in less than a decade. One of the few places that you’ll still find an audience that includes my parents’ friends, the rednecks who never left my hometown, yuppies I know from college, and the twee-est, most obnoxious hipsters riding fixed gears through my neighborhood in the city is on HBO. Somehow HBO has been able to maintain its cool factor to a lot of different people, and one of the shows everyone seems to be watching is Eastbound and Down.
There are a lot of comedies I enjoy, but Eastbound‘s appeal seems to cross the most class, age, and political boundaries. The humor doesn’t rely on pop culture familiarity, camp, or appeal to a love of awkward pauses or improv spontaneity. Not only is it apolitical, it doesn’t it seem to much matter whether you identify with or even like the main character, the inimitable Kenny Powers. Every time I watch it, I imagine what a room full of network execs and focus groups would say if they were allowed to dissect it. “Shouldn’t we want to root for the protagonist? Couldn’t it be more affirming? What is its message? Does the show have enough of a heart?”
Thank God HBO doesn’t run it like that, because it would kill what IS the beating heart of Eastbound and Down: the one-liners. Whether I believe or even enjoy the story arc of any given episode becomes irrelevant, because I know that no matter what, there’ll be at least three lines that’ll end up sticking in my head for the next month. Some of my favorites:
“I’m just trying to catch a buzz and look at some b***holes.”
“Tell your wife to put that thing away, it’s starting to look like National Geographic out here.”
“He’s not scary like the Negros in America, unless you’re the competiciones, then he’ll strike you out and sh*t all over your face.”
“Look at the g*dd*mn sax player from ‘Lost Boys’ trying to rub the language barrier in my face.”
And the icing on the cake is that there are no rules. Nudity, swearing — it’s R-rated and it’s on HBO, so anything goes. There’s just something refreshing about a show being allowed to work as blue as it wants to be, and not because they’re being exploitive or trying to offend, but because that’s honestly what makes the writers (the so-called NC Mafia, Jody Hill, Danny McBride, Ben T. Best, and Shawn Harwell) laugh. Eastbound and Down is the closest any show has ever gotten to the kind of humor you see in The Aristocrats, where comics say absolutely anything to get a rise out of each other. It’s nice to see not only that that sensibility can live outside of the back room of a comedy club, but that the world at large is actually responding to it.