Going Hard and Falling Fast

A reflection on T.V. show: Eastbound and Down 


Eastbound and Down, for those unfamiliar with it, is an HBO comedy series of four seasons. The show follows the pitfalls and triumphs -mostly pitfalls- of an ex-baseball player of the majors. Some would call it a sports comedy (Wikipedia), which it is, as this ex-baseball player struggles to get back in the game, while dealing with life. And there’s the hook. The life stuff. Kenny Powers, now perhaps past his prime, is a loud, vulgar, and of average intelligence egomaniac, who tries so hard to be accepted.

Here’s where it gets interesting.

As a person who thought completing a college graduation was just the steep climb and not the peak, I am amazed at how much I connect with Kenny. Trust me, this is strange. I am a girl, of higher intelligence than Kenny (I hope), and I suck at baseball; in fact, I dislike it. Yet, this Kenny Powers dude reveals a raw humanity at his worst moments, which I perceive as inspiring. At the height of his career, Kenny Powers was getting all the accolades of celebrity stardom, in other words, he was receiving that recognition he thought he deserved. Just the same, in my college years I was hitting all the marks, but something changed after graduation. No longer was I sure of my abilities or where my next step would lead me. Where was the job that should had been waiting for me? Wasn’t my hard work (morphed in Bachelor’s Degree form) supposed to guarantee a good job and good money? All these questions and no recognition. I was done, or so it seemed.

I maintained a job, but it wasn’t the job of my dreams. I worked hard, but I wasn’t sure why I did it. My passion, literature and writing, was left stale under the kitchen junk. I came in and out of jobs, hoping and settling, and hoping some more that my true job would come along. Soon, almost a year passed and I hadn’t penned a useful word. At first I was hesitant to pick up a pen, then lethargic, then just apathetic. That was the worst. I was scared to write something down. I knew this lack of practice had made me suck. I was Kenny Powers, who instead of throwing the ball at an old fan, rudely shouts in his face to leave him alone. No one was going to watch him fail because he knew there was a great possibility he had lost practice and suck. Kenny especially did not want to prove himself right.

Was Kenny good enough to start with? Well, his steroids scandal certainly gets the rest of his colleagues and audience thinking he cheated his way in. But fast-forward into Season 3 and we see a talented bowling player he has as a mother, hinting that this athletic talent was passed down. A gifted throwing arm, as Kenny’s dad comments. However, she also has a substance abuse problem, which she seems to deal with pretty well, even sharing and exchanging drugs with her son. So, Kenny is a cheat, but he also might be a talented cheat. From the start you know he is not an ethical player, but to me that’s not exactly important. It’s his passion to be the best, to do the best, and to leave the rest that appeals greatly to me as human, comedy, and inspiring.

As flawed and offensive as he can get, he still seeks acceptance from his family, friends, and peers. When things get bad he’s first reaction is to leave. He excels in running away from problems. At one point he goes all the way to Mexico, just so that he does not have to explain his failure to those that know him. This pride hurts when all you’ve done in your life has been escalating only to confusedly and anticlimactically stop.

Eastbound and Down excels in its story arc, particularly that geographic transition from North Carolina down to Mexico. We leave the awkwardness of home to a strange town where Kenny is another gringo “finding” himself. But for all his cultural insensitivity, Kenny learns how to become part of a team, appreciating his chance to be the comeback kid. And through all the twists and turns, he gets things done. There’s so many things he misses or doesn’t understand right away, like Stevie’s (his sidekick) loyalty and devotion or his father’s indifference. Yet, he learns in the most basic way.

We in turn learn a couple of things about Kenny. He attempts to sound smart while narrating his book and giving speeches, which are hilarious. He also adopts sordid empty traits of a jock: partying, booze, large breasted women, and drugs. The show parodies these traits in an older man, who should have his life together by now, but does not know it yet. To him, it’s not just a lifestyle, but a language he adopts to communicate honest feelings and, purportedly, philosophize. He talks earnestly about being a tit man or an ass man, underlying his turmoil over a new love interest or his desire for his high school sweetheart. This metonymy comes off as sexist, an objectification of women; but there’s also the covered truth that Kenny is a dumb abrasive Southern guy, clumsily insensible about expressing his feelings. It’s a strange form of comedy. For instance, Kenny begrudgingly takes care of his infant son, but once the mother comes to take the kid away, you see Kenny in melancholy, softly tapping the nipples of a plush boob toy his son used to play with, clearly missing his son; the moment undercut again by Stevie’s sharply thin eyebrows at the door.

Like Kenny, I thought success went up in a straight line, and immediately felt defiant and lost when I wasn’t standing at the peak. But this success story is not over yet, not if you have ambition and heart. I’m about to embark on Season 4, Kenny post-baseball days, or so I think. I will continue to laugh at Kenny, but always with the solidarity of a fellow human trying to win big in life. Kenny is not a smart man, though he talks like a man philosophizing his life. He trips and falls hard, but is aware enough not to give up, but soldier on with his own kind of language and heart.

[You can watch Eastbound and Down on Amazon Prime. And for similar shows: BoJack Horseman]

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