Kenny Powers had earned our pity by the end of Eastbound & Down's first season. A star in his own mind, and a blatant blowhard, Kenny mostly offended and grossed us out. (While also hilarious, his antics are too crude to enumerate here.)
And yet, we found ourselves sympathizing with the guy. The washed-up baseball player had suffered humiliations — most of his own making — that tugged at our admittedly easily tugged-upon heartstrings. Then he hit a new low in the finale: rejected by Tampa and compelled to drive off into the sunset alone.
But when Eastbound & Down returns Sunday at 10:30/9:30c on HBO, Kenny will be reborn. We talked to executive producer and star Danny McBride about relocating Kenny to Mexico, cockfighting, and finding the heart in a total tool.
TVGuide.com: So Kenny's moved down to Mexico. Why Mexico?
McBride: At the beginning of the season, we find Kenny living a whole new life — with cornrows. He thinks he's living the life of an outlaw. Where do outlaws go? Down to Mexico. We feel like Kenny envisions himself as Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven, a gunslinger who's hung up his guns. He put his old life behind him, and yet the old life comes calling to him.
TVGuide.com: He's also taken up cockfighting.
McBride: Yeah, of course! If Kenny's down in Mexico, he's not just going to be braiding hair or friendship bracelets. He's going to be cockfighting.
TVGuide.com: Those were pretty gruesome to watch.
McBride: No cocks were hurt in the filming of this show. We actually had someone from the Humane Society there with us through everything. We had this guy Eric, who we referred to as the Cock Whisperer, on the set during all the cockfights. They were all choreographed. He puts a little harness on each of the cocks and fishing line and then he'd get the cocks riled up — but they never actually made contact with each other. You put in fast cuts, and music, and suddenly it seems very violent.
TVGuide.com: Was the person from the Humane Society laughing with you guys?
McBride: No, I'm pretty sure she didn't want to be there. I think she thought, "I'm condoning this? Are you kidding me?" ... The cock we used throughout, Big Red, had actually been trained. He could play dead and do tricks. It was really incredible. He was an actor, you know?
TVGuide.com: Cornrows. Cockfighting. Eventually, he'll get back to baseball, right? How does that happen?
McBride: Yes, this is our take on a classic sports story where the guy who is overqualified joins a team of underdogs and tries to turn it around — but of course, it's Kenny Powers, so nothing is going to come out the way it should in that sort of story. It's Kenny just trying to deal with the mistakes he's made in the past and move forward, all under the guise of playing for this Podunk team in Mexico.
TVGuide.com: Will anyone from Season 1 turn up? His family? April?
McBride: I don't want to ruin anything for you, but you might see a few of those characters pop up. They all definitely weigh on Kennys mind. As hard as it was to relocate the show — because we loved working with the other characters and we loved writing for them — we forced ourselves to take it out of its comfort zone, go somewhere brand new and invent characters that hopefully would be just as memorable as the ones from Season 1. I think the show's better for it. It takes Kenny to an even darker path.
TVGuide.com: It's safe to say Eastbound & Down is not a show for everyone. Who do you think is watching? When you're writing, who do you think is enjoying Kenny Powers?
McBride: When we made the first season, we really had no idea if anyone would watch it. We made it for ourselves, and for our friends. It was stuff that we thought was twisted and funny. So we were really shocked when it found a following. The people who have followed it, I have to say, are across the spectrum. Last week, we found out that Marilyn Manson is apparently a fan, and then there's Don Johnson.
TVGuide.com: From Marilyn Manson to Don Johnson, that's pretty good.
McBride: Yeah. Someone posted pictures of Marilyn dressed up as Kenny Powers. I was a little freaked-out by it at first, but then I dug it. I thought it was cool.
TVGuide.com: When you write the show, are you and the other writers, Jody Hill and Shawn Harwell, ever worried about going overboard? Making it all potentially too offensive or obnoxious for the audience?
McBride: We wanted to tell a story that gets the audience behind a guy who, for all intents and purposes, is the villain. We wanted to figure out a way to root for someone who is as despicable as he is. That's definitely a tightrope to walk. You don't ever want to make him too soft, and you don't want to ever make him too hard. ... He wants redemption, he wants to be loved. He just has a totally different way about trying to find those things.
TVGuide.com: You've said that ideally, Eastbound & Down wraps in three seasons. Have you thought about what the last season looks like?
McBride: We have thought about that, but just in the same terms we thought about Season 2, wanting to take Kenny out of the country. We have an idea of how we would wrap it up. But in case no one likes this season, we wanted to make it stand on its own as well. We have a loose plan. If not, this one ends in a way that could kind of be an ending.
TVGuide.com Has HBO alluded to a renewal yet?
McBride: HBO has been amazing this year. They've given us full creative freedom. They've let us push the envelope a lot, and they've done it with a smile on their face. But we don't know yet.
TVGuide.com: When you say "push the envelope" past Season 1, where was there left to go?
McBride: It gets much darker than Season 1. Kenny has a long way to fall still.