Friday, September 24, 2010

Why I love Danny McBride

When HBO premiered its foul-mouthed dark comedy "Eastbound & Down" a few years ago, I wasn't sure how I felt about it. Yes, it was original. It had moments of true hilarity. But it was so mean! And its main character -- the superhumanly obnoxious former ball player Kenny Powers -- was so unlikeable in so many ways.
Yet, I stayed with it for two reasons. For one thing, its raw, anarchic spirit was kind of intoxicating. But its main draw is star Danny McBride, who plays Kenny. A protegee of Will Ferrell, McBride isn't just funny. He's also a pretty good actor, and one of the few performers who can manage the delicate task of getting us to laugh at an oblivious jerk like Kenny, while also making this larger than life buffoon seem like a real human being.

In the show's second season, which starts Sunday at 10:30 p.m., we find Kenny at a massive low point in his life. After fleeing his beloved April (Katy Mixon) and his family at the end of last season, he's ended up in Mexico, running a fairly successful cock-fighting ring. And yeah, that's funny -- particularly since, in our first glimpse of Kenny, his famous mullet has been shaped into some fairly ill-advised cornrows. But McBride also lets us see Kenny's pain. When he tells a former one-night stand that his life is empty, it's the truth. Dumb, drug-addled and ego maniacal as Kenny is, McBride doesn't make him a caricature. He's a person. He has feelings. He gets depressed. Yes, he has a funny hairdo, but he also has a soul.
That's important. It's fine to make Kenny difficult, but we have to like him at least a little bit if we're going to keep watching the show. And I do like Kenny. I want him to grow up, pull himself together and turn his life into something decent.
That's because of McBride. His ability to do that AND be damned funny puts him a step above a lot of comedic actors.
And make no mistake -- McBride is hysterically funny. The way he straddles a moped as if it were a Harley and swaggers onto a Mexican ballfield as if he were still king of the game shows his gift for physical comedy. He's also adept with Kenny's profane dialogue, almost none of which I can reprint here.
If I sound a little gaga over McBride, well, I guess I am. He's made an impression on me before, as the bonkers special effects guy in "Tropic Thunder" (the one who proclaims "I almost blinded Jamie Lee Curtis on 'Freaky Friday!'") and as the indestructible drug go-between in "Pineapple Express." But Kenny Powers is his role. "Eastbound & Down" is still a bit uneven, and Kenny's jaw-dropping lack of self-awareness still makes me squirm, but McBride will likely keep me coming back for some time.


Bill Scurry said...

OK I hear you -- but have you ever gotten the impression that McBride only has this type of boor in him? How many times can he play a variation on that theme?

IScreen said...

I don't know. He does manage to find surprising levels in Kenny Powers, so I think he could stretch if he wanted to.
Besides, he's so GOOD at playing these goofy, uncouth guys, I haven't really seen a reason to complain yet.