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Monday, September 30th, 2013

'Eastbound & Down' Season 4 Justifies Resurrecting the Show

It came as a bit of a shock last year when Eastbound & Down was renewed by HBO for a fourth season. For years, showrunners Danny McBride and Jody Hill had been planning on ending Eastbound after its third season and they even wrote/shot/aired the last episode as a series finale. But after a few months, the duo decided to do one more season. Last year, they had wanted to show Kenny Powers as a settled-down family man with his new wife April, but actress Katy Mixon's busy schedule on CBS's Mike & Molly meant they couldn't get her full-time for their third year.

Scheduling worked out so that Mixon could be a regular on the fourth season, allowing McBride and Hill to end the story how they originally intended. After seeing the fourth season premiere, which aired during a busy night of TV yesterday, it's clear that there's still plenty left to explore with this show, and that the new side of Kenny Powers we get to see was worth bringing the show back for a second ending in and of itself.

The new season picks up a few years after we left off, with Kenny Powers reborn as a completely different type of guy: a well-behaved, NPR-watching father of two who works at a rental car agency. It's fun to see McBride play this completely opposite side of Kenny Powers, although his old personality is constantly bubbling up underneath (he showed his young kids Human Centipede). Overshadowed by April's real estate success, Powers is coaxed back to his old hard-partying lifestyle after a run-in with his former MLB teammate Guy Young (played by Ken Marino), who's now the successful host of the talk show Sports Sesh. Marino is just one great new comedy person joining the show this year, along with Tim Heidecker (of Tim & Eric fame) as playing Kenny Powers's impotent neighbor.

Every season of Eastbound & Down has brought a major shift in the plot of the series, with Kenny Powers finding himself in completely new surroundings each year. This season is no different, with suburbia and the sports talk world serving as fun new china shops for Kenny Powers to bull around in.

With the show's shifting locations and focus each season, it's also had a shift in characters every year, making Kenny and sidekick Stevie Janowski (Steve Little) the only characters who have been in the series on a regular basis all the way through. I always felt like Eastbound never found a set of characters who were as funny or as great of foils for Kenny Powers as its first season regulars like Andy Daly's wimp principal Terrence Cutler, April (who's back this season after playing a recurring role over the past two), and Powers's brother Dustin (John Hawkes) and sister-in-law Cassie (Jennifer Irwin). While the show has added a lot of funny people like Jason Sudeikis, Ike Barinholtz, and Michael Peña, who've all been great on the show, I still preferred that first batch of characters. Ken Marino, though, as athlete-turned-sportscaster Guy Young is the first new character who's felt as natural to Kenny Powers's world as the original bunch, and he's a welcome presence on the show. Along with the return of April and ever-present Stevie, this is the most effective ensemble the show's had in years, based off of the two episodes screened for the press in advance of yesterday's premiere.

There's no telling where this season's arc will take Kenny Powers, or whether the show's second ending will be more fitting than its first. (This will probably be it for the show, even though Danny McBride has said "maybe one day we'd come back and do another one,") The start of the fourth season, though, definitely justifies resurrecting the show to see this new side of Kenny Powers, April involved in the series in a bigger capacity again, and Ken Marino's Guy Young are all make it more than worth it.