You may recall from the introduction to my Hank Azaria interview that I really like IFC’s new baseball comedy Brockmire, which had its official debut tonight with its first two episodes. (The first of those had been on YouTube for a while.) IFC has already ordered a second season, and I have some thoughts on the premiere double-header coming up just as soon as it’s Free Cold Medicine Day at the ballpark…
Jim Brockmire’s a bit of an anachronism. Cornpone baseball announcers in loud jackets still exist, but they tend to be quite a bit older than Azaria, and a man who was in his early 40s when he went off the grid a decade ago following the end of his career would still know a lot more about the internet than Brockmire does. But those leaps are worth it because Brockmire is such a wonderful character, and Azaria’s voice and his commitment to the idea that Brockmire doesn’t have an “off” switch contributes so much to both the pathos and comedy of the series.
Early in the premiere, for instance, Brockmire learns that he became a viral video (and what a viral video is) during his absence, and laments, “I thought I hit rock bottom in a handicap stall in Bangkok when a Thai ladyboy snorted crank off my johnson while a sunburned German watched us on the toilet.” Amanda Peet’s Jules is thrilled, insisting, “There he is! You can still paint a picture.” Later, while getting high on the baseball field with Charles, Brockmire does it again while describing the death-by-fastball of Ray Chapman. With that scene, I knew I could hear Azaria describe anything with that voice, and I would be in.
But for Brockmire to work as more than just a Funny or Die sketch (which it began life as back in 2010), it has to have more than just that one joke. And it has many jokes beyond that, including the pathetic state of the Frackers, and of a town where the ball team has to compete with, as Jules puts it, dirt cheap entertainment available in any home (Brockmire: “Cable?” Jules: “Meth.”), and of the very public, very sexual nature of Brockmire’s enduring humiliation.
Brockmire creator Joel Church-Cooper could have stopped there, and it would still probably work on Azaria’s gifts alone. But he goes further, taking advantage of Peet’s natural warmth and enthusiasm to build Jules into an interesting foil — and, starting in the second episode, love interest — for Brockmire. As we saw on Togetherness, Peet can play a damaged character for both laughs and something more complex, and she works as a character who’s enough of a mess — and enough of a baseball die-hard — to both welcome Brockmire into her bed and risk everything on trying to save this stupid baseball team.
And it’s with the team that Brockmire gets to have its cake and eat it, too. The Frackers are terrible, and at this stage the only player on the team who even vaguely qualifies as a character is Pedro Uribe, the grand slam king MLB wash-out. But Jules’ investment in them, and the way she in turn rekindles some of Brockmire’s own love of the game, is enough to make us root for these clowns, even as the show has no illusions about their position as an awful team on the furthest fringes of the baseball world. (After Uribe hits his grand slam — having to literally push the three winded fat guys around the bases so they can all score — we see that the score is still 12-4 in favor of the visiting team.)
When you add the voice, the central relationship, the baseball, and interesting guest casting like Katie Finneran as Brockmire’s infamous ex-wife Lucy (whose name has become slang for the sex act Jim caught her doing with another man) and Peet’s former Bent co-star David Walton as the villainous gas company rep trying to destroy the team, you’ve got an early winner.
And, like I said, the show gets better from here.
My hope is to do some kind of post for the remaining six episodes, even if it’s a brief prompt for discussion. Its future is already secured with the renewal, but this is a show that gets better and better over time, and I’d like a chance for us to get together and talk about it.
What did everybody else think?