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TELEVISION REVIEW

Put-down comedy is just a downer

Danny McBride plays former Major League pitcher Kenny Powers in HBO's new comedy. Danny McBride plays former Major League pitcher Kenny Powers in HBO's new comedy. (FRED NORRIS/hbo)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / February 14, 2009
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It's funny to watch a totally obnoxious dude insult every man, woman, and child who comes within spitting distance. It's funny, I mean, if said dude is Larry David and the show speaks to the totally obnoxious dude within us all.

Otherwise, the obnoxiousness is just a shortcut to a headache. HBO's new series "Eastbound & Down" falls into the grating category of totally obnoxious dude comedies, at least based on tomorrow night's premiere, at 10:30. Maybe the series, whose producers include Will Ferrell, will improve in coming episodes, but it's hard to see how.

Danny McBride stars as former Major League baseball pitcher Kenny Powers, who has fallen from grace with the world. Once a national hero, he ruined his career with arrogance, rude behavior, and steroids. Now down on his luck, he's in North Carolina freeloading off his gentle brother (John Hawkes), who lives an otherwise calm suburban life with his wife and kids. And he is teaching physical education at his old middle school, alongside his old girlfriend, April (Katy Mixon).

Don't think Kenny is repentant, even though his comedown has been so dramatic and his situation is so sad. The guy still thinks he's better than everyone in town, he still swears like crazy in front of children, he still treats women - including his sister-in-law - like dirt. He leaves a trail of crushed empty beer cans wherever he drives in his pickup, he snorts piles of coke with a local bar owner, and he cruelly castigates his innocent little nephew for touching his beloved jet ski. If there's a good guy locked away in there, he's locked away but good.

Maybe if Ferrell were playing Kenny, we'd detect something human in him. McBride, though, is too relentlessly nasty and rednecked-out to evoke anything but irritation. And "Eastbound & Down" fails to offer anything redeeming in terms of the script. If the show weren't so loaded with R-rated language, you could easily confuse it with one of those brainless, dashed-off, high-concept network sitcoms. Kenny hasn't mastered the art of the put-down; he's just a dolt with a big mouth.

Perhaps the best thing about "Eastbound & Down" at this moment is the contrast it provides to "Flight of the Conchords," which airs before it at 10. You can't help but appreciate the subtlety and originality of the latter, when faced with the empty bluster of the former.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

EASTBOUND & DOWN Starring: Danny McBride, John Hawkes, Katy Mixon, Jennifer Irwin, Andrew Daly

On: HBO

Time: Tomorrow night, 10:30-11

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