There have been plenty of obstinate and hopelessly self-involved male characters at the center of popular TV programs, but it's safe to say there has never been one quite like Kenny Powers, the struggling baseball player played by Danny McBride on HBO's "Eastbound & Down." Often a delirious exercise in raunchy jokes about the male libido, "Eastbound" is remarkably hard to categorize. Although technically a half-hour comedy, it can easily shift gears mid-episode and turn into a sad, introspective drama before reemerging with a renewed wacky energy.
To truly understand the roots of "Eastbound," you have to turn to its creators' other work. The show -- which concludes its third and supposedly final season on Sunday night -- is the product of an ongoing collaboration between a close-knit group of former college buddies from the North Carolina School of the Arts, including Ben Best, McBride and Jody Hill (another NCSA alumnus, David Gordon Green, serves as a consulting producer and has directed three episodes each season).
Hill, who directs most episodes of "Eastbound," first made his feature-length debut with the 2006 Sundance hit "The Foot Fist Way," starring McBride as a proto-Kenny Powers type vainly attempting to assert his karate mastery. That movie landed distribution through Will Ferrell and Adam McKay's production company, which also produced "Eastbound." Hill's next project, the 2009 studio effort "Observe and Report," starred Seth Rogen in a darkly irreverent turn from his usual affable stoner roles.
But the last two years of Hill's career have been all about "Eastbound." The third season displays considerable ambition, with Kenny stumbling through the minor leagues while attempting to take on fatherly duties for his illegitimate son, at one point trying to ditch the infant with his equally foul-mouthed mother (Lily Tomlin in a brilliant if all-too-brief supporting role). On Sunday, "Eastbound" finally lurches to a halt so that Hill and his colleagues can focus on other things -- or does it? Hill took a crack at explaining the reasoning behind walking away from a popular series and why this might not be the last we hear from Kenny Powers.
Now that the third season has ended, are you planning on taking a break?
Well, I'm doing this new movie that hasn't been announced yet. The show's awesome but definitely takes up all my time. I've been able to do commercials and small things like that, but haven't been able to make a feature. The last two seasons we basically rolled into each other with two months of downtime in between them. Now we're definitely taking a break.
About a year ago, you and Danny started saying publicly that the third season of the show would be its last. But HBO hasn't confirmed that. Can you set the story straight?
[laughs] I don't know if I'll give you a straight story, but we always pictured the show as lasting three seasons. It's a kind of trilogy. I think we achieved what we were trying to do when we set out. But I also think "Eastbound" is such a character piece that it could be one of those things where you follow [Kenny Powers] at different points in his life. It doesn't rely on some big plot point so much that you could never do "Eastbound" again. Right now, we're not sure. We think it's going to be the last one, but never say never.
At this point, do you need the green light from HBO before even considering another season?
They definitely want it. It's all about if we want to do it or not at this point.
How long do you have to decide?
Um... I don't know. (laughs) We've been lucky with "Eastbound" in that they've afforded us some luxuries in terms of being creative and how we want to approach it. HBO's been cool about all that. Right now, I'm going to go make a movie and Danny's probably going to do the same thing. I guess we'll see where we're at after that.
The decision has been made not to show the season finale of the show to any members of the press in advance of the air date. I take this to mean you must kill off Kenny Powers. Otherwise, why the secrecy?
Well, we can't tell you. [laughs] There are definitely some things we're going to reveal in the next episode, but I can't tell you what the secret is.
Seriously. I wouldn't put it past you to kill of Kenny Powers.
I wouldn't put it past us, either. It'll make sense once you've seen it.