Eastbound and Down Takes Dick's to a New Level

Sarah Anne Lloyd, 2012.

After weeks of scouring Seattle for the best take-out options to pair with television's best and brightest (and Pan Am), TV Dinner is calling it quits for the foreseeable future. The last featured television show was never in question, with HBO's critically acclaimed black comedy/one of my most favorite things in the world Eastbound and Down beginning its final season this Sunday. The question then became which restaurant could possibly carry the jock of one of the most bleak, yet manic comedies to come onto American airwaves for TV Dinner's last hurrah: would it be the Mariner-friendly Pyramid Alehouse? The also soon-to-finished Le Gourmand? The insufferably pun-enabling Facing East?

In a sudden flash of inspiration, I began to lament how I could have even contemplated other alternatives: it had to be Dick's Drive-In.

The Cuisine: In addition to a love of the excessive and the "my way or the highway" ethos shared by Eastbound protagonist Kenny Powers, part of me chose Dick's just because of the chintzy poet within -- after all, the column started at Burgermaster, and it'd just seem like playing a pretty obvious false note by not including BM's younger, more stubborn brother in Washington burger chains.

There's no non-hackneyed, unpretentious-sounding way of introducing this, so I'll just tear the proverbial band-aid off: Dick's Drive-In is steeped in poetry. Its menu stands stark and immutable, besides the odd price change or maybe a new deal on milkshake mix. Dick's offers no substitutions or special orders, no value deals and extremely little variation to convolute your request. The pace is kept brisk, so regulars will inevitably develop a kind of consistent rhythm to their order, most likely without even realizing it.

This hypnotic stream of burger-loving consciousness was depersonalizing the food-buying experience way before any fancypants websites let you order Chinese without your words.

The white paper bag almost entirely seeped through with fry grease has made its way into Seattle's visual lexicon, it's image galvanized by small yet sturdy cheeseburgers and the cheesy stack of a freshly cooked Dick's Deluxe. Even after expanding into its first new location following a 37-year-old holding pattern, Dick's remains a cash-only establishment. Long after the banks topple, the treasuries fall, and the very idea of currency is rendered nothing more than an echo of a more civilized age, the person behind the plexiglass will still only take the money that folds.

Finally, while TV Dinner has nothing but love for Li'l Woodys, I would hazard a guess that Dick's would stand tall above any other burger joint in the world when it comes to french fries that are optimized for dipping in your milkshake. The aggressively salty, obscenely soft taters go together harmoniously with vanilla, culminating in what I would say is, bar none, the best "crack" in Seattle (And hey, look at that! You didn't even have to ask a particularly psychotic-looking homeless person! Aren't you going to miss this column?).

The Entertainment: At first glimpse, Eastbound and Down producer David Gordon Green appeared to have been on a roll in 2011 with two feature-length comedies to his credit. However, The Sitter and Your Highness both felt a little too broad and lacked the promise of earlier efforts, despite providing Fat Jonah Hill and Natalie Portman Butt respectively.

These movies were missing something. Green's earlier work resonated, at least with me, for their ease in cultivating this morbidly fascinating atmosphere where goofy banter can be broken up by sudden acts of extreme comic violence in the blink of an eye. Green's work with writer-director Jody Hill in Eastbound and Down and the criminally overlooked 2009 Taxi Driver-riff Observe and Report both serve remarkably as a comedies, sure, but there's also an undercurrent of a horror or even psychological drama bubbling underneath their veneer.

With heavier hands, this would fall apart as a convoluted mess of clashing tones (as it more or less did in The Sitter), but Eastbound and Down in particular is propelled by a potently damaged protagonist who would never slow down enough to allow the narrative such indulgence. Kenny Powers is the loudmouth, down-and-out professional baseball pitcher played to sleazy, narcissistic perfection by Danny McBride, the show's co-creator. It's that creepy undercurrent that heightens the stakes for McBride's already larger-than-life anti-hero, so that you never know exactly whether a scene's going to end with a moment of pregnant pause or someone's detached eyeball hitting the floor.

The admirable structure, three-hour-long seasons and mercilessly long wait times between new episodes perhaps make Eastbound and Down easier to accept as a trilogy of great comedy films, or even a Band of Brothers-type miniseries, but its a compelling show that deserves a dark corner in television history regardless. This Sunday, I can only hope the saga of Kenny Powers ends as strong as it started.

The Pairing: Both properties are a delightful paradox in sleazy extravagance that's reined in by a precise, clean hand. Great shock humor and great fast food can vary wildly in content and presentation, but they are unified in their ideal: knowing how to hit you in the gut just hard enough to leave you wanting more.

comments powered by Disqus