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At a time when even a PBS salute to George Carlin can be scrubbed of naughty language with bleeps and self-censorship, it’s f-ing refreshing to see a comedy as divertingly politically incorrect as HBO’s new “Eastbound & Down,” about a self-destructive major leaguer who has hit rock bottom.
What’s initially so sublimely hilarious about the series is its protagonist’s utterly clueless refusal to conform to polite society, yet he’s somehow likable — lewd-crude hubris and all. Credit the performance of Danny McBride, a budding star who makes it clear in the premiere that he will spare no foul-mouthed rant or offensive diatribe in depicting an arrogant anti-hero of monumental self-delusion and hostility. It’s the kind of work that single-handedly could land HBO back on the comedy map it has struggled to revisit since “Sex and the City” blew town.
McBride is Kenny Powers, a big-league fastball pitcher who quickly flames out in a drug-addled blur of nastiness and limitless egomania. Fresh out of options, Kenny is back in his North Carolina hometown living with his brother (John Hawkes) and struggling with how quickly all has come apart.
Worst of all, he’s now facing the indignity of teaching phys-ed at his old middle school, where former flame April (Katy Mixon) is an art teacher who’s engaged to the dopey principal, Terrence (Andrew Daly). But this development alters Kenny’s tactless behavior not at all. He’s a gargantuan loser trying his damnedest to masquerade as a megastar on hiatus — and the less he acknowledges the bitter truth, the funnier it is.
What further elevates the half-hour is the deadpan, deer-in-the-headlights fashion in which his co-stars orbit around McBride, who seems instinctively to understand that being a delirious bastard means never having to say you’re sorry.
Bottom Line: A boorishly irreverent homage to a man for no seasons.
Airdate: 10:30-11 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 15 (HBO)
Production: Gary Sanchez Productions and HBO
Executive producers: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Chris Henchy, Jody Hill, Danny McBride, Ben T. Best
Creators: Ben T. Best, Jody L. Hill, Danny R. McBride
Producer: David Blake Hartley
Writers: Ben T. Best, Jody L. Hill, Danny R. McBride
Director: Jody Hill
Coordinating producer: Peter J. Barnett
Associate producers: Peter Phillips, Maureen Milligan
Director of photography: Amy Vincent
Production designer: Richard A. Wright
Costume designer: Leigh Leverett
Editor: Tom Castain
Music: Wayne Kramer
Casting: Juel Bestrop, Seth Yanklewitz
Cast: Danny McBride, Katy Mixon, John Hawkes, Jennifer Irwin, Andrew Daly, Steve Little, Ben Best
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