When Eastbound & Down, starring Danny McBride, arrived on HBO in 2009, the politically incorrect series filled the edgy comedy void left by Larry David’s oft-hibernating Curb Your Enthusiasm. The series ended in 2013, but Eastbound & Down’s creative team — actor/cocreator McBride, cocreator Jody Hill, and director David Gordon Green — have reunited for a new show, Vice Principals, which jumps off July 17 on HBO.
While Vice Principals revolves around a fictitious high school and the incompetents who run it, Eastbound saw major league baseball player Kenny Powers (McBride) downgraded in life (thanks to his big mouth) to mere middle school PE coach, rendering Powers broke and famous. Powers is his own worst enemy, his outsized ego the source of his misery. His insatiable ambition to get back on top strains his relationships with patient love interest April (Katy Mixon), put-upon brother Dustin (John Hawkes), and even servile lackey/closeted crush Stevie Janowski (Steve Little).
Across four years, the over-the-top Eastbound managed to improve each year, pitting Powers against bizarro car dealer Ashley Schaeffer (Eastbound executive producer Will Ferrell). Season 2 saw ugly American Powers (cornrows!) endure his lost year south of the border, simultaneously sending up American arrogance and Mexican culture with mucho gusto).
There was no better kickoff than Season 3’s, when Powers goes on a mission to infiltrate Schaeffer’s compound to save a humiliated Janowski (guised as a geisha to be ogled and fondled by visiting Korean businessmen) but ends up getting trapped with Janowski and condemned to die by cannonball fire before Janowski’s overweight bride, Maria (Elizabeth De Razzo), rescues them.
Season 4 topped everything, opening with Powers struggling to start anew at a car dealership. A chance run-in with fellow athlete Guy Young (Ken Marino) leads to Powers’s salvation. Unlike Powers, Young is a picture of success. His first mistake is giving Powers a spot on his cheesy Sports Sesh talk show as Powers quickly transforms from a gig-jeopardizing, flop-sweat generator to dominating the program and masterfully getting Young fired.
True, not everyone digs McBride, the obnoxious embodiment of the worst parts of American culture. Yet Kenny “F*ckin’” Powers may be the most lovable racist/misogynist/homophobe since Archie Bunker. Sure, we don’t support his antisocial sentiments, but, as with Carroll O’Connor’s bigoted All in the Family patriarch, neither does Powers. Deep down, he’s a decent guy. Although it takes him damn long to circle around his ox-headed stubbornness and do the right thing, he eventually does (in spite of himself).
Vice Principals appears pregnant with potential. McBride and Walton Goggins play titular douchebags Neal Gamby and Lee Russell, intensely toggling in unfriendly competition for the high school’s top job. (Bonus: Bill Murray plays the pilot’s departing principal.) They shout, spit, bust furniture, and draw weapons.
Will Vice Principals top Eastbound? Dunno. I’m just happy to see the asinine, subversive, and always ridiculous McBride persona — misguided arrogance intact — back in action.
Vice Principals premieres July 17 on HBO.