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'Eastbound and Down' recap: Don Johnson is yo' Daddy

October 18, 2010 | 11:20 am


In 1862, Ivan Turgenev's "Fathers and Sons" was published. It did not win an award for the "feel good" book of the year. It was, as you might expect, not about mothers and daughters, but about fathers and sons. It's the type of work, given its themes of transgression and redemption, that is very popular with the egghead set, a group that refuses to "friend" me on Facebook or invite me to their annual meetings. The novel is set in Czarist Russia and there are few things eggheads like better than brutally cold, bleak surroundings, horribly dysfunctional families and the inexorable march toward a tragic and/or pointless death -- because that's the way life is, little people!

And like all great works of art, nothing in the book is simply what it is -- everything is something else. (Don't ask why; that's how eggheads roll.) For instance, the father in the novel represents the traditionalist way of life, while the son symbolizes the nihilistic response among the young to the world of their parents. At least, that's what wikipedia says and I have no reason to question Mr. Wiki or his friend Mr. Pedia.

You may wonder what does some dead and buried Russian dude have to do with Kenny (you know what word belongs here) Powers? If you'd seen Episode 10, you wouldn't ask. All I can say is whoa Daddy!

We finally meet the man whose coming has been foreshadowed for weeks: an hombre who supposedly holds "answers" for Kenny. And that man is Eduardo Sanchez, the father of Kenny, played by Don Johnson! This is simply the most awesome casting in the history of television.

If you had to choose one man who spawned the beast Kenny, Sonny Crockett would have to be that man. (I guess, if pressed, Jesse Ventura -- even Judi Dench -- could have also played the part, but not as well.) Because Don Johnson doesn't have to say one word (and he barely gets out more than a sentence in this introductory episode for his characterr) and we know him and we know how Kenny got to be Kenny. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, as they say.

This, by the way, explains the mystery of Don Johnson's presence at the Season 2 premiere party for "Eastbound and Down" on the Paramount lot last month. Also in attendance were Seth Rogen, Gina Gershon and Marilyn Manson, who may show up as Kenny's mother for all I know. (I welcome your speculation about how these colorful personages might be woven into the Kenny Powers narrative tapestry.)

So, answers. Kenny may be in store for some. And while no matter how simple the answers may be presented to Kenny, they probably won't penetrate his incredibly thick, mullet-covered skull. But the audience will know and there's some satisfaction in that. Because this season Kenny has been asking in his own unconscious, father-anger kind of way all the big life questions that the Russians, their neighbors the Palin family and everyone else asks: "Who am I?" "What is a good life?" and "Is it OK if my lady friend goes topless on my jet ski on the first date?"

The revelation about Don Johnson isn't until the last seconds of the episode and other than establishing the relationship itself, we don't get much information about the father and son. Though it seems safe to assume that Don won't be singing John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy." One key point is revealed, however, and that is that it appears Don was hiding a curly-headed mullet under that straw hat of his. Once again, I will invoke the holy word of the proletariat: awesome!

The moment's promise is so overwhelming that you almost forget what the episode was about -- and Kenny's uncontrolled descent into utter-Kenny-ness. Just paste Kenny's mug over the faceless ad man's in the opening credits of "Mad Men" and that's been his trajectory. Kenny is on his moped, racing toward self-annihilation.

The show opens with Kenny's id holding the microphone as per usual and delivering the typical bravado. He states -- well, let me paraphrase -- that as long as he's "winning" he doesn't give a darn about much else. Apparently not, because Kenny is drowning in a pool of self medications including wine, women and song.

Even his infinitely patient coach is losing patience with Kenny's self-destructive ways. After Kenny comes out on the field in a cart drawn by a jackass, he is kicked out of the game (he doesn't handle the rejection well) and his coach scratches him from the next lineup card. OK, so his job isn't going very well.

His love life isn't much different. After putting his relationship with Vida (and her teen-age son) on the fast track, this week it gets completely derailed. Kenny hooks up Vida with the Charros owner (wonderfully played by Michael Pena) and so they can make beautiful music together. They do, just not the kind Kenny hoped for. Late one night at the recording studio, Kenny catches the couple doing something that only a pre-Monica Lewinsky Bill Clinton might not considering cheating.

Kenny does and it gives rise to one of the season's best lines. "Vida, why would you do this to me?" asks a broken-hearted Kenny. "Here this whole time I thought you were a whore with a heart of gold. Instead you're just a whore with a regular whore's heart."

And then, in perhaps Kenny's darkest moment, he returns to his lair to find Stevie and Maria have become the beast with two backs. If Kenny can't have love, nobody can, and he orders Stevie to break up with her -- now. Stevie begs him not to demand this, but Kenny explains there can be no girlfriends when you're working "black ops."

The deed is done and who knows what kind of father figure anger it will breed in Stevie toward Kenny. Maybe only a Russian could tell us.

-- Martin Miller

Photo credit: Matt Sayles/Associated Press


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