Thursday, April 09, 2009

Edgy Fun

I like edginess. Usually, if done right, it can make me laugh. This goes for books as well as movies.

The prefect literary example is Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Still edgy, it must have been phenomenal when it was released in 1961. Having not yet reached my first birthday I waited twenty years until I read it.

Currently there isn’t a lot of edginess in popular fiction. It feels like many authors work hard not to offend anyone or raise any eyebrows. I’m not condemning these writers and there are many books I love without the odd, almost indefinable quality of edginess. I’m just saying it’s satisfying to pick up a Joseph Wambaugh novel and see politically incorrect phrases or violence from a supposed good guy.

On TV edginess is a rare quality. It has nothing to do with the amount of profanity. Nothing to do with violence or even topics. It’s some combination of factors that makes a show uncomfortable to watch and compelling at the same time. HBO’s Eastbound and Down is one of these shows. Danny McBride, the scene-stealer from Tropic Thunder is the lead that the viewers hate, love, fear and laugh at all at the same time.

Tim Goodman of the San Francisco Chronicle summarizes the show well. "Eastbound & Down" is about the downfall of a foulmouthed, mullet-wearing former Major League Baseball pitcher named Kenny Powers (McBride), who alienates everyone around him with his obnoxiousness, meritless ego, politically incorrect comments and sexual boorishness. In short, he's easy to hate. Apparently the idea here is that in his quest to return to the big leagues, there will be some kind of redemption story to carry the day.

That seems unlikely on several fronts. Powers is out of shape, frequently drunk and prone to cocaine, and he has burned so many bridges in baseball that even if he regained his searing fastball, he'd have a hard time finding a team to take him.”

The main character is absolutely unrepentant in his foul, egotistical approach to the world around him. The fact that he's a middle school teacher makes the situation even more absurd. Kenny can make me cringe but ultimately make me laugh and with the edge to this show that's not easy.

Just though I’d mention a show I like and how much I appreciate true edginess.

What offbeat qualities do you like? What shows or books?


  1. Another HBO show with an edge is True Blood (pretty much anything Alan Ball does qualifies.) The simmering tension between the vampire community and the human one is uncomfortably reminiscent of lots of conflicts in the real world.

  2. I can't watch Eastbound and Down. I truly hate it. I don't find it edgy, although "uncomfortable" is a good word to describe it. I see what they're trying to do, and it's an interesting premise, but the guy is too crude to be sympathetic.

    Tony Soprano was completely the opposite. Edgy, definitely. Crude, yes. And also oddly sympathetic.

  3. The same for the Seinfeld series. All of those characters were flawed but loveable. I haven't seen the series you're talking about but that type of character only works if they have some element of humanity that creates empathy.

  4. James O. Born4/09/2009 1:26 PM

    Neil, I agree and like True Blood more that Eastbound.

    I see your point. Absolutely. But that's what I like. They are so set on making him unlikable, they don't seem to care if people tune out.

    I was going to use seinfeld or The Office as other examples. The writers give kenny just a hin of humanity that he usually ignores.


  5. Haven't seen that show. Hadn't even heard of it. Only thing I'm watching on HBO right now is "In Treatment," which fits in squarely with my neuroses.

    And when is "Curb Your Enthusiasm" coming back? I'm losing my enthusiasm for it.