Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Alex Rodriguez and Kenny Powers.....kindred spirits? I think so.

By no means am I trying to sound profound here, or as if I'm attempting to elevate something that's simply crude-yet-intelligent comedy into something much deeper. This is just something I've thought about a bit today. So, bare with me.

If this were 1993, I'd be heartbroken right now. In my grammar school days, I was somewhat of a baseball fiend. Played upwards of 120-or-so games a summer on various traveling all-star squads. Watched games, mostly Yankee ones due to a familial bond with the Bronx Bombers, nightly with my pops. Indulged in some innocent games of Wiffle Ball with my dad in our backyard, contests that'd frequently escalate into bitter rivalries of shit-talking and momentary friction (all in good father/son fun, of course). ESPN's Sportscenter morning telecasts accompanied my usually-cereal breakfasts prior to continuing the grade-school-blues, and the baseball game highlights were show-stoppers. Spoon, put down; Cinnamon Toast Crunch, feeling soggy from neglect.

Imagine that version of yours truly, now, waking up for some tasty Apple Jacks goodness, ready to watch good ol' Sportscenter, and being greeted by Alex "A-Roid" Rodriguez openly admitting to past steroid use, six years after the fact and only because his tail is firmly tucked between his legs and now-diminishing Hall-of-Fame dreams. Parts of my baseball-loving soul would've been shattered, deflated. I would've laughed only when my father would vehemently insult A-Fraud, but otherwise I'd be a bit disappointed. Not as much as I would be if it were the almighty Frank Thomas, or Tim Raines (my all-time fave baseball player based off the simple reason that his was the first baseball card I ever held on to), but still scarred.


I reflect on such an imaginary/nostalgic scenarion for one basic reason: the me of 2009 really doesn't give a shit. Gone are the days when I heart-ed baseball and everything about it. And gone are the feelings of slight-idolatry that I projected onto MLB stars. So the fact that A-Rod has been revealed as a steroid user induces a clear "Well, fucking duhhh!" reaction from my brain more than anything else.

The most intriguing aspect of this whole A-Rod mess is something that I'm probably alone in finding such interest, and that's the strangely-perfect timing that the controversy shares with HBO's days-away new half-hour comedy show, Eastbound & Down. A show that I've been totally looking forward to for a pair of months now, since the day when I interviewed its co-creator/co-writer/pilot-director Jody Hill. Our phoner chat was centered around his upcoming Seth Rogen-starrer Observe and Report, but we managed to cover Eastbound & Down some as well, mainly because I had heard about the thing and was highly curious. The way Hill described it left me expecting comedy gold, further proof that the man is pretty awesome at writing laughers full of straight-up pricks, assholes, and douchebags doing little other than being pricks, assholes, and douchebags. It's unapologetic, unsympathetic comedy, and I'm a fan. The first dose of this Jody-Hill-and-friends formula came with last year's little-seen cult fave The Foot Fist Way, which I admired more than adored, and was actually adored by the likes of Will Ferrell, Ben Stiller, and Judd Apatow. Definitely worth a look.

Danny McBride, Jody Hill, and a guy who thinks they're the next big things....so much so that this guy got McBride to ride shotgun with him in this summer's Land of the Lost

So what's the connection with A-Rod, you may be wondering? The plot of Eastbound & Down (executive-produced by Will Ferrell and his creative co-defendant Adam McKay) is one that feels unexpectedly-timely now, in the wake of Rodriguez's image: Danny McBride (show-stealer in Pineapple Express, and Foot Fist Way lead) stars as Kenny Powers, a Johnny Rocker-ish former baseball stud/relief pitcher who earned an unfavorable reputation as a loudmouth, angry, violent scumbag, and who, after having seen his career crumble and public image disintegrate, now has to move back to his random hicktown, North Carolina home and mentor little kids.

It's a premise that screams "laughs on tap," and based off the first episode (which I've had the priv of seeing already, and airs this Sunday, 10:30, on HBO), I'm right as a turn. The Kenny Powers character is truly despicable, cursing people off and acting generally awful at all times. He sports a wicked mullet and an even more-wicked ignorance that shows itself through arrogant slurs and cold-hearted jokes. I don't want to give any jokes away or anything, so I'm trying not to quote it much here, for now. All I can say is---give it a shot, especially if you share a similar sensibility for comedies as I do. It's unlike any television comedy you've seen in a long-ass time....never playing it safe, and resting uncomfortably over the line of good-taste-scrimmage.

In all reality, Alex Rodriguez shouldn't watch Eastbound & Down and start worrying. First of all, he's amassed a large enough fortune that he'll never have to establish residence in a bumblefuck town, like Kenny Powers does. And odds are, this present dilemma of his won't be a career-ender; he'll continue playing, and will still out-earn every other player in the league. The negative ramifications of this situation won't extend past possible Hall-of-Fame "no go," even more/louder BOOs at both home and away games, and a slight ostracizing from his peers. All shitty things, but much better off than Kenny Powers has it.

In an era when more and more superstar, overpaid athletes are watching their once-diesel images get battered and bruised by the performance-enhancing choices they've made years ago, though, Kenny Powers could be seen as a fictional "don't let this happen to you" template for the MLB. Similar to how Randy "The Jam" Robinson should have Vince McMahon's employees fearing their impending twilight years. Of course, Eastbound & Down has no intentions or pretensions to come across this way; this is only a Barone's World perspective. Grains of salt not included.

I'm linking an interview with Danny McBride that I read earlier today over at The Onion's AV Club below, in which McBride says how, while neither himself nor Jody Hill or Ben Best (another of the show's co-writers) really follow sports all that much, Eastbound & Down was inspired by the flood of tarnished baseball-player-images and an influx of fallen-sports-heroes. So it's kind of ironic that this A-Rod shitshow would surface the same seven-day-stretch that their show premieres within.

Or maybe I'm just looking too far into this. Who knows. Whatever. Wanna fight about it?

Bottom Line: I'm saying that you should check out Eastbound & Down this Sunday, for whatever that's worth. This first season is only six episodes long, so it won't require a super-long commitment, and that's always a bonus, no? I'm rooting for Danny McBride/Jody Hill/Ben Best, because I feel like they're really trying to bring something a bit edgier, meaner, happy-ending-less into comedy, and that's pretty damn cool.

Danny McBride interview from today: The Onion's AV Club

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