Here's the best news we've heard so far this baseball season: the second edition of "Eastbound & Down" is charting a course due south.
That's a bold and exciting direction for the wildly unpredictable HBO show, which hasn't generated the recognition it deserves – perhaps, in part, because it’s not easy to categorize and because it focuses on a character not easy to like.
The first season, told in six chapters, traced Powers’ return to his North Carolina hometown after too many years of fast living took too many miles per hour off his fastball.
He's relegated to living with his family-man brother and teaching gym at the local middle school, where he confronts childhood rivals, sycophants – and the love of his youth.
Star and co-creator Danny McBride played this larger-than-life character broadly at first. But the show, co-produced by Will Ferrell, evolved into a serio-comic look at a man all-but done in by his ego, appetites and insecurities.
Powers is reduced to listening to the foul-mouthed motivational book-on-tape he recorded in his glory days (“I'm the man who has the ball. I'm the man who can throw it faster than f---. So that is why I am better than everyone in the world. Kiss my a--…,” is one typical excerpt). He ultimately ends up boozing and weeping, knowing he can no longer live up to his own words.
By the end of the series, he regains his fastball (taking out a rival’s eye in the process) and wins the girl. But what he thinks is a guaranteed ticket back to the Major Leagues turns out to be a cruel joke and we last see him drive off – alone – to parts unknown.
The series could have ended there and McBride would have had much to be proud of, if only for getting us to root for this reckless, flawed blowhard.
But HBO, thankfully, is giving us another chance to catch up with Powers – just as it's bringing back "Hung," another show about a local sports hero who hasn't heard cheers in years.
Only in "Hung," high school basketball coach Ray Drecker never made it out of his hometown. He’s driven by divorce, fire and all-around economic hardship to exploit the, um, talent, that gives the show its name.
"Eastbound and Down" and "Hung" both tackle the uncertainty of life, broken dreams and making a comeback with middle age beckoning.
Credit HBO with sticking with two fine, if decidedly different shows, that deftly mix comedy and drama to explore the measure of a man in our times – whether it’s a certain physical attribute or the ability to throw a 100 mph fastball.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.