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Disgraced baseball broadcaster Jim Brockmire (Hank Azaria) had a viral on-air meltdown that led to a decade-long lost weekend. Now he’s been busted down to calling games in the minors, bringing his purple prose and colorful anecdotes to the rusted-out Rust Belt town of Morristown, Pennsylvania. There he romances the Morristown Frackers’ marketing-savvy owner, Jules James (Amanda Peet), and forges a friendship with the team’s young web guru, Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams). Though if you missed any of that, don’t worry about it: The second season puts Brockmire and Charles on a path to the big leagues that leads through New Orleans, where their podcast, Brock Bottom, has found a loyal following—and the Big Easy’s lax open container policy has done nothing to curb his various vices.
You should watch Brockmire because you’re waiting around for BoJack Horseman and Rick And Morty to come back
It’s unfair to compare the finest non-animated vehicle of Hank Azaria’s career to two of today’s most celebrated Simpsons scions—but it’d also be disingenuous to deny the parallels. Jim Brockmire, BoJack Horseman, and Rick Sanchez are cut from the same soiled cloth: Each is an “emotionally manipulative narcissist” (as Brockmire diagnoses himself early in season two) gripped by addiction and propped up by his codependent relationship with a wiry sidekick. BoJack and Rick are cartoons who are too human; Brockmire is too human in spite of his cartoon voice. The comedy of the character comes from Azaria surveying the wreckage of his life with the same sonorous twang that he uses to count balls and strikes, but that wreckage and its consequences are never far from the show’s mind.
Because where Brockmire departs from the horse and the mad scientist is in his greater capacity for regret and remorse. Azaria and showrunner Joel Church-Cooper have given their character’s heart a few functioning arteries, and without the woes of the individual Frackers to consider, the second season of Brockmire puts a tighter focus on its eponymous character and his specific types of damage. He’s willing to blow lots of things up in order to reclaim his former glory, but his limits are tested, in fulfilling fashion, at his father’s funeral, in a Before Sunset interlude that reunites him with Jules, and in the press box with a departing colleague. Brockmire’s a towering figure of tragicomedy given to soused observations about the human condition and people’s ability to truly change, many of which would look good as a meme—but that doesn’t mean he’s an asshole.
This is the type of show where the main character snorts a crushed-up abortion pill that he’s mistaken for cocaine. As an encore, the second season opens with its main character resting his head on a woman’s bare buttocks, and features a gag about Brockmire’s novel rectal method for getting drunk during a game without drinking anything. And yet there’s never the sense that Brockmire is doing any of this just for the shock value. It all springs from characters who have sunk lower than most people outside the Brockmire writers’ room could ever imagine, depths that must be particularly outlandish if Brockmire’s redemption is to feel earned. And the show doesn’t just throw this stuff out there and forget about it: Believe or not, the whiskey-in-the-butt joke gets a satisfying payoff.
Brockmire took root in a Funny Or Die sketch that’s carried entirely by Azaria’s performance: his embodiment of Brockmire’s happier days, the conviction in his voice during the character’s broadcast-booth breakdown. But series TV is a team sport, and both seasons of the show do a splendid job of giving Azaria a crew of comedic all-stars to work with and against. Part of the process of softening Brockmire in the first season involved breaking him of his solo-act pretensions, forming a fucked-up family with the woman who could match him drink for drink and the surrogate son who could call him on his bullshit.
With Jules mostly out of the picture, the second season’s rebuilding act ropes in Brockmire’s actual blood relatives, casting single-camera comedy’s paragon of tough love, Becky Ann Baker, as his sister Jean, who wields her hard-won sobriety as a cudgel against her brother. Their tension is typical of an upward climb that earns Brockmire more uneasy allies than friends: Dreama Walker plays a baseball exec staking her reputation to the search for her team’s new announcer, which comes down to Jim and a hotshot crowd-pleaser named Raj (Utkarsh Ambudkar). The hustling energy of Ambudkar’s performance makes Raj an ideal foil for Brockmire, but there’s a subtext here, too. The actors have played characters at odds before, as Apu and his nephew Jay in The Simpsons’ “Much Apu About Something,” in which Ambudkar voiced some of his personal criticisms of Springfield’s (and, for many years, American TV’s) primary representation of South Asian culture. If Azaria hadn’t already made known his misgivings about playing Apu, this plot—about Brockmire and Raj competing, essentially, for a voice-over job—would.
One of Brockmire’s best running gags involves Charles’ utter disinterest in the sport that Brockmire built his entire life around. It’s an acknowledgment that some viewers might be coming to the show as comedy fans, but not necessarily baseball fans, and the show adjusts accordingly. Will a knowledge of the great American pastime’s rules, history, and trivia increase your chances of enjoying Brockmire? Sure, but the same could be said of the filmography and faith of Kirstie Alley, the subject of the first Brock Bottom taping of season two. Baseball is never more than a setting, a framework, or a metaphor for the show, which looks at its characters and sees three-dimensional people, not trading cards.
Well, this one’s for the baseball fans: In the grand tradition of Tommy Lasorda throwing the Phillie Phanatic to the ground (or choking the San Diego Chicken, or getting Youppi tossed out of Olympic Stadium during a 22-inning marathon), Brockmire develops an antagonistic relationship with the New Orleans Crawdaddys’ oversized crustacean mascot. The Crawdaddy ceaselessly taunts Brockmire, Brockmire always takes the bait, and the impotent rage Azaria affects in those moments is a welcome addition to the Brockmire repertoire.
The first season of Brockmire is an easy binge, and the eight episodes (running a refreshingly brief 21 to 23 minutes each) of season two moves swiftly as well, tracing a roller-coaster arc custom-built for Brockmire. And there’s no worry of him being forced off the ride at this point: IFC has already renewed Brockmire for a third and fourth season. It could be a scheduling thing, it could be a sign of faith in the franchise—either way, it’s more time for Church-Cooper and team to delve into their characters, and see them through to the next phases in their lives (and beyond).