Warning: Spoilers ahead.
Kenny Powers isn't dead, everyone just thinks he is. And now a character who's defined as much by society's ideals as his own bravado can rest in peace. A staged car-accident on last night's supposed series finale of Eastbound & Down found the world mourning his loss while he slipped quietly into domesticity, entering the home of his true love, April, to raise his child with her. It was, definitively, a happy ending, just like America likes, with the realization that everything Kenny needed was in his backyard, just like America's always known.
It was the perfect ending to a show that tirelessly skewered and obsessed over what America holds dear. A simultaneous fall from grace and comeback story framed by the great American pastime that is baseball, Eastbound was an attempt at the great American novel. (In a post-Sopranos world, television is a reasonable place for that aspiration.) In addition to the aforementioned themes, things like coming-home stories, high-school sweethearts, fuck buddies, mancrushes, the familial cycle of substance abuse, the repetition of the mistakes of one's parents, public breakdowns, rude American tourists and deadbeat dads all figured heavily into Eastbound's trajectory. It fixated on the ugliness of American culture, like Garbage Pail Kids doing Norman Rockwell. The state of contemporary Americana oozed out of Eastbound in Jet Skis and mullets and used-car dealers and vulgar T-shirts and blacklight posters and white people in cornrows and laserdisc references and strip clubs ("This is me every night, dude, just starin' at buttholes and gettin' a buzz on") and steroids and public urination and Oprah's Book Club.
For a show so invested in the concept of dumb humor that it repeatedly used a man getting punched square in the face as a gag, Eastbound respected the intelligence of its viewers tremendously. Maybe as compensation for asking people to follow a brute, a thread of higher operation ran through Eastbound. Kenny referenced things he should have had no interest in and knowledge of: the Criterion collection (twice this past season, actually), Star 80, the virtues of TIFF files over JPEGs, Roots. He was kind to animals (he removed a bunch of cocks from a truck before blowing it up). His one-liners were precisely idiotic, aware of the bigger picture, specifically hilarious and coherently quotable. "Here all this time, I thought you were the whore with the heart of gold. Instead, you're the whore with the regular whore's heart," is one of my favorites, which must number into the hundreds.
Eastbound traversed more ground in 21 episodes than most decade-long sitcoms have. While it felt initially like a cultural force/quote factory when it debuted in February 2009, the sense of essentialness waned as Kenny traveled from Shelby, North Carolina, to Mexico to Myrtle Beach. Maybe it was too intense for people (certainly, Kenny's horrendous parenting and graveside eulogy to a teammate this season found him at his least likable). Political correctness is still considered by many to be correct, and Eastbound was so, so wrong. The abject is the abject for a reason, and Eastbound fearlessly engaged with it, as steadfast and full of bravado as its protagonist. Maybe, like the people that surrounded Kenny, audiences just tuned out.
Indeed, out of all of the horrors that Eastbound offered, none were more pointed than the complicit acceptance of Kenny's family and peers, who rarely called him on his shit, especially when it involved him merely spouting off. Racism, homophobia, sexism, AIDS jokes and a general sense of inconsideration were allowed to thrive unchallenged. His setbacks temporary, Kenny thrived unscathed (even after faking what seemed like an inevitability to his narrative: death). The show testified to the great value of confidence, of believing in yourself even if you shouldn't, of faking it till you make it. It spoke to the root of how this country operates.
How perfectly American it is that when all was said and done, Kenny stood on family values. In the process of giving America its beloved happy ending, Kenny Powers remained what he always was: an average guy with exceptional hair. Consistency was his gift and curse: Last season ended similarly, with Kenny and April reunited, seemingly mutually devoted to their family. That fell to shit, and so might this. I hope that Kenny will live on in domestic bliss and that this really is the end, as McBride has suggested because overstaying one's welcome is one of the least amusing American traditions. When you're out, you're fuckin' out.