The biggest problem with a series finale isn’t that it’s the last episode of our favorite show or that it’s the last time that our favorite characters will ever share their stories with us again. That stuff will always be replaced by new shows and new characters with a lot of new stories to tell, and a lot of the same stories as the show progresses and starts recycling tired, old tropes. Instead, the biggest problem is that once that finale has aired, it’s all we have left to talk about with our friends and complete strangers on the Internet, so we dissect it and analyze it like it’s ancient literature while determining whether or not it’s any good.
If there’s a spectrum of comedy series finales, I’d guess that Cheers is on one end as an example of the best, while Seinfeld is on the other end as an example of one that made people furious. I’m not saying I agree with that, but based on perception, that seems to be the norm. So where does the Eastbound & Down series finale that aired last night fall between Cheers and Seinfeld?
Move the f*ck over, Cheers, because there’s a new standard bearer of excellence in town.
A lot of Eastbound & Down fans thought that Chapter 21, the final episode of the third season, was a perfect ending for the series, because of the way that Kenny Powers walked away from his baseball renaissance to accept his true love, April, as his destiny above fame and fortune. And throughout this season, I worried that they were right, because I couldn’t ever tell where Jody Hill and Co. were going with Kenny on this final adventure. But we trust a show’s creator and writers because, well, we don’t have the show without them, and as much as we want to see Kenny throw that third strike or live a life pretending that he’s dead all so he and April can raise their children in peace, we let Hill and Danny McBride finish telling their story.
“I’ll be back in four and a half minutes.”
If I have one complaint about Chapter 29, it’s that we only just met Sacha Baron Cohen’s hilariously arrogant, misogynistic prick of a network executive. Just when you think that a more villainous character couldn’t be invented on a show filled with loathsome, despicable scum, Cohen whips his big boner out on a plane and dresses down a flight attendant all for the sake of showing his friend’s 13-year old son how it’s done. Soon after, he’s commanding a female production assistant to be that boy’s sexual partner, and he’s passing off that boy’s herpes like it’s a rite of passage. All the while, you’re wondering how or if Kenny is actually going to learn the most important lesson, and suddenly they intersect in a way that satisfyingly ends multiple stories, including how Kenny can make things right for Guy Young.
“I don’t have cancer in my balls, Guy.”
Ken Marino’s Guy Young was another masterful villain of this fourth season, and, much like Kenny, he didn’t deserve a happy ending. In fact, short of April, Toby, Shayna, Dustin and Cassie, nobody actually deserved a happy ending on Eastbound & Down. They could have loaded Kenny, Stevie, Guy, Gene, Dixie, and any number of other characters onto a bus, set it on fire and pushed it over a cliff, and a lot of us may not have liked it, but we would have at least understood it.
Instead, we were treated to a new take on the old Christmas spirit angle, as we watched Kenny realize what was truly important as everything came crashing down around him, between a colossal drug and alcohol binge and watching Stevie blow his chin off with a revolver. It started with Kenny firing his lawyers so he could end the divorce process with April – and silence her white honky of a lawyer – and it continued with him trying to make good with Guy.
“My son is the main star of the play.”
It’s in that brief period of delaying the divorce that Kenny finally displays some pride in Toby, as he’d previously treated Toby like an embarrassment to the Powers name. If we’re talking about closing the book on characters, though, is there a better way to send Toby out than by revealing that he tamed a f*cking wolf? Yes, actually, and it involved Alexander Skarsgård in a silent but hilarious cameo.
“You know you can come visit anytime.”
For a second, I thought that April was really going to take the kids and leave Kenny behind to be a TV star. Eastbound & Down has always appeared to be a heartless show, as vulgar and profane as we’d expect a story based loosely on professional baseball players like John Rocker to be. Yet we waited and waited for the curtains to be pulled back on Kenny’s massive heart, while we hoped that somehow this hopeless redneck actually had a shred of humanity within him. That shred was April and it took the idea of losing her forever to make Kenny realize that there was only one choice.
“I want you to break him like he’s a teenage hymen.”
Again, the network executive was a marvelous last second addition, perhaps the closer that the series finale needed to change all of our minds and make us cheer for Kenny one last time. (Did you role your eyes at the closer metaphor? Good, me too.) From taking credit for Ellen Degeneres being a lesbian to ordering Kenny to destroy Guy once and for all, Cohen couldn’t have played a more evil bastard if he painted himself red and stuck a couple horns on his forehead. Combined with the realization that he was losing April and his kids, Kenny also faced the fact that he was about to lose his soul.
“I’m a bad man.”
Four words that represented the fork in the road. One path would lead to a TV career that would make Kenny an eternal superstar and wealthier than he’d ever dreamed, all thanks to his life of excess and horrible behavior toward others. The other path would lead to ultimate redemption, both with the friend who had offered Kenny his second chance and the only woman that Kenny has ever loved.
Part of me actually wanted Kenny to take the former path. That’s what we’ve come to expect from the bad boy and antihero whose antics had left him at rock bottom more than once. All he had to do was drop the hammer on Guy, humiliate him on TV and walk hand-in-hand with the equally vile network exec into the sunset.
“Now sit down, idiot.”
In wondering how Kenny’s story would turn out, I’d all but forgotten about Gene and Dixie. Neither of these vanilla characters deserved a happy ending, nor did they deserve pain and misery. They deserved each other, because they were awful in their acceptance of the ordinary. Basically, they were their own purgatory. But then Dixie reminded us how horrible and controlling she was, and there was suddenly bonus delight in watching Tim Heidecker put a TV remote between his butt cheeks to earn a little independence. Good for you, Gene. But Wake Forest still sucks.
Saying Goodbye To Stevie
When I spoke with Steve Little last week about being a part of one of the most depraved geek characters in TV history, he told me that he couldn’t really say much about how Stevie’s story ended without giving it away, but he said that he liked the ending. I assume that’s because there were two endings, one with him by Kenny’s side, producing the story of their lives, and the other sending his best friend into the heavens.
But only after he rubbed a little Kenny on his gums, of course. That might have been the most perfect ending within an ending for Stevie.
(GIF via someone named Cockbarf. I thought that was appropriate.)
Oh, And About Lindsay Lohan
While Skarsgård’s facial reactions helped make the closing montage so hilarious, I was distracted by the fact that Lindsay Lohan was just kind of… there. Before the season even began airing, we knew she’d have a cameo at some point, and then it was leaked that she’d be Kenny’s daughter. That evolved into people writing that she was an illegitimate daughter from a random lover, and that never actually made sense within the flow of the final season. So to see her there at the very end as Shayna all grown up was such an Eastbound & Down thing to do.
The Punch, The Kiss, The Screenplay, The Right Ending
Kenny Powers’ ending, as it turns out, was perfect. They couldn’t have written a better voiceover, and Kenny couldn’t have expressed it better. I can’t accurately describe the final montage to anyone who hasn’t seen it, but I’d compare it to the opening aging montage from Up, if that montage was all f*cked up on heroin. This series was at no shortage of amazing quotes and hilarious one-liners, but set to one of the most amazingly ridiculous montages that has ever been written, filmed and aired on television – that I can’t just embed here because of copyright laws – Kenny’s final voiceover is what we’ve all been waiting for.
If you ask me, the secret to success is to have a diverse portfolio. Too much of any one thing is no bueno. Of course, sometimes balancing can be hard, but all things worth having are worth fighting for.
Sometimes hard work pays off.
If a man doesn’t have a dream, well guess what? His soul begins to die.
So after you’ve accomplished your dreams, the best thing to do is to come up with new dreams. That way, as the years roll on, as they will do, you’ll always look to the future with hope.
But of course the future is sure to hold its fair share of miseries. All kinds of shitty sorrows. I find solace in the fact that from each sorrow comes a little bit of knowledge. And with knowledge is wisdom.
If you’re lucky, you get a second act in life. But sooner or later, death will come. Unannounced, old man reaper comes to claim your soul. All you can hope for is that the people you love will cherish the time they’ve spent with you.
In the end, you judge a man by how he influenced the world. You judge him by the seeds he left behind. And you judge the seeds by the harvest. Kenny Powers’ harvest remains unknown, but I’m pretty goddamned proud of my seeds.
Cut to black.
Audience goes f*cking apesh*t.
It’s been a hell of a ride, Kenny Powers. Maybe we’ll all meet again at the bottom one day.