Brockmire has turned out to be one of the great comic pleasures of 2017, including tonight’s first season finale. A few thoughts on that, followed by a long conversation with creator Joel Church-Cooper about what’s made it so special, just as soon as I throw piss balloons at you…
What I loved about “It All Comes Down To This” was what I loved about the season as a whole: that confluence of broad and filthy comedy (Jules getting her revenge on Gary, Brockmire trying to get the stadium epically drunk to help meet the mortgage requirements) and genuine emotion. I got really excited when the Frackers pulled off the franchise-saving triple play, just as I felt terrible about how ugly Jules and Jim’s breakup was when he opted to go to New Orleans for the Triple-A job Joe Buck got him. This relationship was a spectacular mess involving two unspeakably damaged people, but it was also their mess, and it was kind of working, and Jim has chosen his love of baseball — and his desire to regain his old celebrity — over his feelings for her. That’s rough, and honest, and — along with Charles traveling with him to The Big Easy — creates a promising set-up for next season that won’t just be a rehash of what we got over these eight episodes.
Now here’s me and Church-Cooper:
What was your response to the short film when you were brought in to develop it into something more?
I thought, “What a great cold open!” What a great start for a character to see what would happen after that. The short is very much about the breakdown itself. And then they do some short snippets of the wandering. And there’s no narrative to the wandering, it’s just him as sort of an insane person. I was very interested in that aspect: what the after looks like. What it’s like when you have to try to pick up the pieces and you’re already a giant weirdo who loves the sound of your own voice and can’t stop talking.
Originally I was doing character appearances with him, so I was just doing top of the sports jokes on different programs with Jim Brockmire’s voice. And I also very early on realized that the sportscaster cadence is just a great joke delivery system — especially if you have Hank Azaria doing it. I definitely felt very lucky right away that within three months they were kind of giving me the key to the whole character. And I felt very lucky.
How did you figure out how to maintain the balance between the filthy, ridiculous comedy, and the moments of genuine pathos?
The big number one thing across the entire season and going forward, however many seasons we get out of this show, I want this show to be laugh out loud funny always. And I worked on network comedies before, and there’s this sort of a network sensibility of, “We know we have a few good jokes in there, but we’re gonna stack it full of 60 jokes.” And I wanted this to be, let’s reduce the number of jokes, but make the quality higher so that people pause their televisions because they needed to laugh for 20 seconds. So once we have that, I also wanted to do a real down and out dirty, and adult, romance. You always see romantic comedies, it’s like people getting their shit together in their 20s I wanted some really broken-down people who had tons of baggage and got into something through a mistake and then found love. And I wanted to commit to that and really have that be a real thing. Plus, I’m a big fan of The Thin Man series with Myrna Loy and William Powell in the ’30s. There’s something about two drunks together who have the same exact level of alcoholism, and are in it together. But instead of solving mysteries, these two are trying to save baseball. I thought it was just a great dynamic.
So I wanted it to feel real and I wanted there to be dramatic elements to this show. If we wanted to get dramatic and dark, I feel like we had to be super funny on the other end, otherwise people wouldn’t stay with it. As a television viewer, I’m getting sick of the soft comedy. But I also understand, as a TV writer, why you want to have dramatic elements in a comedy. It feels new, it feels different. But it’s a seesaw. So if you’re going to weigh down on one side, these dramatic elements of depressing people in this depressing town and some criticism of the current post-peak America we’re living in, you got to have big dick jokes on the other hand, to get them through.
Speaking of Jules and Jim, it just occurred to me half-way through the series, “Oh, it’s Jules and Jim.” Was that an intentional homage to the movie or did that sneak up on you as well?
Yeah. I wrote her name as Julia and then as soon as I did I was like, “Oh, Jules.” In different forms there was a joke about how she got the joke but the only movie he’s ever seen was The Godfather, so he didn’t know who Jules and Jim were. But over the years, that fell out of the script. It’s a great alliteration for a couple at the center of the show. It’s a bit of an homage, but more it’s just the names sound fun together than anything else.
You got renewed before the season even debuted, but you didn’t know that as you wrote it, and the season ends on a cliffhanger. How much confidence did you have that you would be able to do more beyond this when you were making these eight episodes?
It depends on when you ask me in the process. We got picked up for six scripts before we went to series, so when we were writing those first six scripts, which included the finale, the odds of us getting on the air at all I thought was better than 50/50, but around there. Then once we started shooting, it started going well, but at the same time, we shot eight episodes in 22 days. It was a struggle to make it. Those hours were intense. The heat of Atlanta. Just low-budget production in general. Now the odds of us getting a season two then, I wouldn’t even say anything. I was just trying to make it through the day shooting. But once we had it in the can, I was pretty confident. But I wanted the show to exist. I feel like even if there wasn’t a second season, this would be a complete story. The narrative arc of season one is really him in this town and his relationship with Jules and he’s faced with a choice. And I think he makes the wrong one. But it’s a very understandable wrong one. And I felt like, even if we don’t get a season two, this will just exist out there in time and space for as long as there’s streaming. We’ll be a thing that people appreciate as a concrete thing. I thought, it’s a cliffhanger but also it has some form of narrative revolution of this guy, this legendary asshole gets redeemed somewhat by his relationship, and in the final moments he betrays it. There is a narrative arc there. While at the same time setting up a season two if we were to get one. So I wanted to hedge my bets both ways.
What are you comfortable telling me about what season two is going to be?
I’ll tell you that Jules is in it. She’s not in it as much as season one, but she’s still the woman in his life even when she’s not there. They go to New Orleans, Charles and Jim. And really, the main relationship in season two is this weird co-dependent relationship between this 19-year-old kid who is his producer/assistant/roommate and this old drunk who he’s carrying around from job to job, while they’re also making a ton of money being successful podcasters. But it also has a much more stronger narrative push because we really explore him trying to get back into the majors. He’s in Triple-A, so we see the difference between Single-A and Triple-A and the importance and the stadium and the digs, but you’re still aware it’s not the pros. So it’s about him trying to get that last step back up while at the same time being in New Orleans as a man who has a serious alcohol and drug addiction. And now he’s moved to a town where there is no open container law. Where you can be drunk at 11:00 a.m. and you walk on the street and you’re going to be around people who are drunk at 11:00 a.m., and there’s no shame in it. And he’s lost his one thing that was his tether to anything. Even if Jules was also a drunk, she was at least somewhat of a stricter play on what his behavior could be. And so it’s about him pursuing this job, and at the same doing it in a place where all his vices are encouraged.