Kenny Powers: Myrtle Beach Bound & Down

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“Come on, get back to it. I can’t go to goddamn Myrtle Beach with the most disgusting jet-ski man has ever seen.”

Oh, such wise words. This kind of demand is a common utterance by the redneck troubadour, Kenny Powers.

You’ll find that this article is full of these little pearls of wisdom from Powers, who is the main character of “Eastbound and Down” an HBO series that in three years has built a loyal cult following. Fans of the show have somehow fallen in love with an arrogant, ignorant protagonist who spouts sexist, racist, nonsense comments with his every-waking Budweiser-stinking breath.

Last year, Powers parked his sparkling, clean-ass jet-ski in our backyard to film the third and final season of the show. And the results of all the hubbub will be on display at 10 p.m. Sunday when the much-anticipated new season premiers on HBO.

That’s right! Myrtle Beach, the center of the Grand Strand, is going to be the backdrop of arguably one of the foulest characters ever to grace a 30-minute comedy. Why us? What made the creators of the show think we’d be a perfect location for Kenny Powers’ last hurrah? What makes us a good match for such a vile creature and how will we retain our reputation as the family-friendly Beach without Reproach while being represented by a Godzilla-like onslaught of rude and crudeness?

Sure, back in July the production boosted temporary jobs for locals and added extra traffic for local businesses in the middle of a recession. It also meant a reason for Hollywood hopefuls, fans of the show and stoners alike to stand around and stare into space as extras. But this film crew represents a whole new type of monster. They weren’t here to capture the backdrop of the vast Atlantic Ocean for a romance film. Nor, were they here to use our hotels as props for big-budget stunts in an action movie for a shining action star. No, this is “Eastbound & Down” grommets! They came to kick our collective asses. So, prepare your brain to be fire-bombed by the people’s champion, the anti-hero Kenny Powers.

“Sometimes when you bring the thunder, you get lost in the storm…” – K. Powers

The above quote is taken from the opening prologue from the first episode of the first season of “Eastbound & Down”. The show is narrated through the dirty lens of the fictional Kenny Powers who is recording his autobiography audio-book called, “Your Fucking Out, I’m Fucking In.” He’s a man who had everything and pissed it away, time and time again. But luck is always on his side and he always seems to land on his feet. Powers was a Major League Baseball pitcher but got thrown out of the game because of drug abuse and racist comments (some have speculated that the character was inspired by the Atlanta Braves big-mouthed reliever John Rocker). He moves back to his hometown of Shelby, N.C. He drinks and dumps all over his family, friends and school children that he’s been hired to teach as a P.E., coach. But somehow he manages to win the heart of his well-endowed high school sweetheart. All the while, plotting a comeback to the Majors which he almost gets but alas it falls through and he runs to Mexico. The majority of the second season is spent south of the border which is full of stereotypes and cock fights. He becomes the star of a minor league Mexican baseball team named the Charros. His stint in the Mexican minors leads him to a rendezvous with a Texas Rangers’ scout who offers him a chance to play for a team in…you guessed it, Myrtle Beach.

Fans of the show are a fevered lot – They have Web sites dedicated just to Kenny Power quotes, aka Powerisms. The main character is for all-intensive-purposes a dolt who surrounds himself with sycophants and criminals. How can this show have such a large fan-base? Danny McBride, the actor who plays Kenny Powers, recently said in a behind the scenes look at Season Three on HBO.com that he and co-creator Jody Hill “had no idea whether this [the show]would ever find an audience and the fact that it has still baffles us. And the type of people that are into the show baffles me, it’s all across the board.” Hill adds, “I think there are two kinds of people. There are the people who get the joke of what we’re trying to do and then I think there’s the people who see themselves in Kenny Powers. Those are the scary people you got to kind of watch out for.” On HBO.com’s “The Buzz,” McBride said of setting Season Two in Mexico, “The main goal was…to continue the character’s growth, continue what works about the show but to take a risk and set it somewhere else…to find a new place to offend people.”

And Myrtle Beach could be Powers’ next victim. Hill says, “Myrtle Beach is…the Redneck Riviera, Kenny’s right at home in Myrtle Beach.” McBride talks about his character/alter ego of Kenny Powers during “The Buzz,” “He uses the English language so well. He would be a poet if he wasn’t a pitcher.” And it’s with this poetic slander that he’s become so endearing yet so scornful in his treatment of his temporary homes.

The Locations – “I mean this is our hometown. This shithole helped shape us. You must guard it and protect its royal vagina.” – K. Powers

So far, the show’s locations have played a huge part of the texture and plot. In the world of Kenny Powers, not only are mullets awesome, but all the locations he’s lived in are veritable armpits. The real town of Shelby, N.C. is transformed into a place inhabited by a strict division of people – the straight-laced, boring people and drug-addled barflies. The barflies are dudes that can score you some steroids and the chicks will ride your jet-ski topless. The fictional version of Shelby is run by a used car dealer, played by Will Ferrell, who looks and talks like hybrid of a young Colonel Sanders and Ric Flair. The show has had a nice list of co-stars – Matthew McConaughey as a Texas Rangers scout, Don Johnson as Powers’ father and the Oscar-nominated John Hawkes as Powers’ brother.

In Mexico, the show amped it up – everyone is a con man. Business deals are shored up with the trading of donkeys. Every woman is a prostitute or a slut. But we digress, lets refer to the sage, Kenny Powers when he says in season two, “I was embraced by the natives. The wild landscape became my mistress. The wild women, my come-caves. I know this savage land was made for me. It’s where outlaws go to die.” And when he gets his heart broken again, he drops wisdom like this, “I thought you were the whore with a heart of gold! Instead you’re a whore with a regular whore’s heart!” Mexico is a place he refers to as “the butthole of America.”

The Local Perspective – “It seems to me an establishment such as this could go for an overhaul in the advertising spokesman game. I’m talking about goddamn me…live, un-cut, in person, bringing in the customers, lubing the deals.” – K. Powers

With every location trashed under Powers’ stomp, how will Myrtle Beach survive? Powers attacks the Carolina surf with a boogie board adorned with a confederate flag and a pot leaf. On the HBO behind the scenes promo, co-creator Hill says, “I think this is probably the funniest season we’ve shot.” And McBride adds, “This is only for the hardcore.” The problem is Myrtle Beach is not exactly a city of the “hardcore.”

Myrtle Beach municipal officials have at times had a heavy habit of taking itself way too seriously, cracking down on motorcycle rallies and outlawing thong bikinis on its beaches. So, how did a show that makes crudeness an art form sneak into a city that’s made a business out of barring self-defined undesirable elements? Mark Kruea, the Public Information Officer for the city of Myrtle Beach, says, “City Council had a frank discussion with the advance person when he came before them to request the Special Event Permit. Council members were aware of the show’s risqué style. It’s on HBO, after all.” And it still made it into the city limits?

Perhaps, the reason comes into a sharper focus when addressed by Nora Hembree, Media Communications Manager for the Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce. She says, “Each episode has an average viewership of 3 million people…Yes, there is adult humor, but there are also phenomenal shots of our coastline, the SkyWheel, our hotels and restaurants…Secondly, it’s adult humor with an immense fan base, and I believe the show’s viewers enjoy the show for what it is and are lighthearted in their approach. Lastly, the opportunity to form a positive relationship with some of the HBO crew is always a wonderful opportunity. Making a good impression and acting as good hosts to major networks like HBO solidifies the Myrtle Beach area as an accommodating and fun place to film. Who knows…Maybe we could (be) looking at Myrtle Beach ‘Boardwalk Empire’ sometime in the future.”

That lighthearted approach seems to be infectious with Scotty Brown, the General Manager of the Myrtle Beach Pelicans. The Pelicans were changed into the Myrtle Beach Merman for the purposes of “Eastbound & Down.” Brown says, “At first, we had an interest in spreading the Pelicans brand. But perhaps it’s best we didn’t associate the Pelicans with the show. We’re more about family-friendly entertainment.”

But the lighthearted approach may backfire. What if our Grand Strand, that’s made up of a diverse populace of geographical and cultural backgrounds, is made to look like the stereotypical Redneck Riviera? The city of Myrtle Beach and surrounding areas have made strides to leave this tag behind. Could 3 million people a week watching us being represented as a culture of hicks be a case of any publicity being good publicity?

Brown said there was a lot of talk in the baseball circles about how Myrtle Beach baseball was mentioned at the end of the second season of “Eastbound & Down.” Finally, Brown said he “reached out to HBO and made contact.”

But we’ve all heard the stories about a film crew wreaking havoc on BB&T Coastal Field during and after the shooting. Since this was the principal location of the shoot, surely the Pelicans’ field and locker rooms were trashed? Brown says no, “They were first class. Our season was in progress and they worked around that. It was a lot of fun to be at ground zero but when you get right down to it, it was pretty boring to watch.”

Boring to watch? Kenny Powers is boring? So we had to know…Can Kenny/Danny McBride really through the ball “fast as fuck?” Brown says, “Not from the reports I got.” He didn’t meet the actors firsthand because he didn’t want to “get in their hair.” But surely, now that reality has set in and the show is about to air, Brown has to be a little bit worried about Kenny Powers making a mockery of his organization? Brown calmly adds, “It’s fictitious in nature, down to the team’s name. There’s nothing to stop people from telling a story. It’s exposure for Myrtle Beach through HBO. It’s a popular show and if it makes people want to come and visit, everyone wins in the end. We can’t take ourselves too seriously.”

That seems to be the dominant attitude – the returns are worth the risks. And what were the risks…having too much fun or making fun of ourselves? The Chamber’s Hembree says, “It was a fun time for the community. Something many people looked forward to. So many people turned out for those casting calls, and really seemed to get excited about running into the crew when they were filming in certain locations. It was really nice to see that community buzz and excitement happening in our area.”

And it doesn’t stop there. After doing a little research for this article, we noticed that HBO is selling Myrtle Beach Mermen logoed T-shirts, coffee mugs and water bottles on its Web site. The Myrtle Beach name has actually elevated past the cheesy beachwear visors and T-shirts. We’re apart of a TV cult classic. We inquire if Brown is getting a piece of that action because of the Mermen logo? Brown laughs and responds, “No, HBO have their own licensing…But we may carve out a corner of our Pro Shop to sell some of that merchandise.”

Brown and Hembree both say the producers and crew were happy to be here and everyone was a bag of aw-shucks. Hembree goes on, “The production team at HBO are professional and self-sufficient. They also pay for everything like hotel rooms, meals and transportation on their own.”

The Stand-In – “I’m coming there as Kenny Powers the man, not the legend” – K. Powers

But Hembree and Brown both admitted they didn’t get the opportunity to meet any of the actors. So, what about the actors? To get down and dirty, we had to go to the front lines – bring in the extras…

Casey Beck is a baseball instructor at Coastal Baseball Academy. He’s lived in Myrtle Beach for the last seven years. Beck worked not only as an extra on “Eastbound & Down” but also as a stand-in for Hollywood heartthrob Matthew McConaughey. For those of you out there who don’t know what a stand-in is – it’s pretty much just like it sounds, you stand exactly where the actor is going to stand so they can set the lights and cameras for the scene. Then the stand-in leaves, the actor comes in and the magic happens.

McConaughey plays Roy, a Texas Rangers’ scout responsible for bringing Powers to Myrtle Beach to pitch for the Mermen. All Beck’s scenes were at BB&T Coastal Field. He was originally cast to be an assistant coach for the Mermen but the casting director thought he looked and had the same dimensions as McConaughey and he was given double duties. Beck tells us how he got the job, “She [the casting director]said, ‘How would you like to be Roy’s double?’ I said, does it pay more? And she said, ‘Quite a bit.’ So of course I said, ‘heck yeah I’ll do it.’” Beck explains how McConaughey had fired his previous stand-in because as McConaughey put it, the stand-in was “too fat and too slow.”

In all of the scenes where Beck played an assistant coach, he didn’t have a speaking part he says, “if you say just one word, it is an automatic $800 plus you become a member of the SAG (Screen Actors Guild) which means they gotta pay you more. Lots of lip-synching though.”

He did work closely with the actors and describes McBride as “just as funny as he is on TV.” He relates story after story that happened on the set, “They shot me…with Kenny (Danny McBride) in the bullpen….while we sat in the dugout he would talk to us about the weather, movies and just shoot the breeze….he was awesome…one scene where I was on a knee talking to him (McBride), before they shot, he said ‘Hey, don’t fuck this up’ and then right after he said, ‘I’m just kidding man you are doing great. But for real, don’t fuck this up……I’m Danny man it’s nice to meet ya!’” He commented on the looseness of the set, “There was a script, but they always freestyled what they said and it was never the same thing twice.”

Beck wasn’t just impressed by McBride, he gushes about co-creator/producer, Hill. He refers to Hill as “awesome” and “very nice and very eager to make sure you felt welcome.” But when Beck describes his double, McConaughey, his tone changes, “He [McConaughey] was the most arrogant person I ever met in my life. He did not say a word to me, nor at any time did I see him talk to anyone with the exception of Danny and Jody. While we were setting up scenes, he would sit talking to himself with his eyes closed, then pop up out of nowhere, knock out some pushups, then look right at me, almost like he was looking through me, and go back to talking to himself.”

Aha! Self-involved, holier-than-thou actors, surely this would ruin the entire production? But no, he says instead, “It was definitely worth doing and the money was unbelievable. I wish I could do that kind of stuff for a living. I would do it again in a heartbeat…Long hours but definitely worth it.” All this from a guy who’d never even watched the show before he was on set. His time working with these guys made him go out and buy the first two seasons on DVD and sign-up for HBO, just in time for the new season.

Concerning the way Myrtle Beach is going to be perceived after the new season debuts, Beck says, “If anything it’s gonna give Myrtle Beach exposure…I think they did an awesome job of incorporating all the joys and activities that Myrtle Beach has to offer….both naughty and nice.” But McConaughey? “He was a real prick! Sorry ladies.”

We could just leave you dangling, asking yourselves…What is Kenny Powers going to say about us? What sacred cows is he going to tip over here in our Mecca by the sea? Fear not, we here at Surge have obtained an advance copy of the first three episodes of the new season. And though we’re under a blood oath to not reveal any crucial plot points or surprise characters, we can give you a few fractured phrases to put your mind at ease.

So here is your scouting report: Locals are cool; Tourists are obnoxious assholes; Go Carts are awesome; Grommets are posers; The new addition to the show, “Saturday Night Live’s” Jason Sudeikis is hilarious; No one does bizarre and funny like Will Ferrell – and as Powers says, “There are a shit-ton of fun things to do in Myrtle Beach.” Hmm, do we smell a new marketing slogan?

Source & Story: Weekly Surge

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