“People only like me when I am drunk!” Jim Brockmire laments late in the second season of Brockmire. This was certainly true for the IFC comedy’s debut season, which followed disgraced baseball announce Brockmire (Hank Azaria) as he attempted to come back a decade after an infamous, career-wrecking on-air meltdown about his wife’s infidelity. Throughout that first season (one of the best shows on TV last year), Brockmire took debauchery to new depths — in one episode, he inadvertently snorted a line of drugs that was a crushed-up abortion pill his girlfriend Jules (Amanda Peet) was planning to take — all while delivering a delightful and evocative running commentary on his own substance abuse and sexual escapades. (“Julia James with a surprise finger in the keister! And Brockmire is into it!”)
In the new season, which debuts Wednesday night (I’ve seen all eight episodes), things are looking up quite a lot for Jim Brockmire. He has a new job doing play-by-play for the Atlanta Braves’ minor league affiliate in New Orleans, which puts him a step away from returning to the majors, even as he gets to party in a city which can’t possibly be shocked by what he puts into his body. His producer Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams), meanwhile, has turned Jim’s viral fame into a business model, running a popular podcast called Brock Bottom where an inebriated Brockmire tells depraved anecdotes from his past to a giddy crowd of millennials who are all hoping Jim will get high with them after the taping. And, having left Jules behind in the dying steel town where she runs the local independent league team, Brockmire’s sex life is now so robust that he has an assembly line of gift baskets named after different ballplayers (“the Jeter” is, of course, the most popular) to give to each woman he takes home.
Brockmire season one was as much underdog sports story as it was sex farce and/or bittersweet character study, chronicling not only Jim’s quest to reclaim his dignity but Jules’ attempt to hang onto her ballclub in the face of an onerous and convoluted loan that required them to win the championship. Jules is largely absent from the new season — though Peet and the writers (led by Joel Church-Cooper) make her infrequent appearances count, never forgetting both that Jules is just as damaged as Jim, and that she completely accepts him for who he is — and Brockmire’s relative fame, wealth, and power have transformed him from the self-deprecating loser he was last year into, well, a massive jerk. He was a jerk before, but a pathetic and powerless one, where a lot of this season involves Brockmire making Charles and other people around him miserable because he so easily can.
When Charles discovers that Jim has written eulogies for everyone notable in his life, he’s stunned by the beautiful sentiments expressed in the one about him, and asks why Brockmire has never said any of this to his face.
“Well, for the dead, I have emotions,” Brockmire admits. “For the living, my sincerest apologies.”
Brockmire’s heel turn isn’t an accidental byproduct of the new season, but the whole point of it, and the year once again takes a turn for the dramatic towards the end as a result. But Jules being mostly gone, and Brockmire being so much more difficult for Charles and others to handle, makes these episodes less of a rollicking good time than their predecessors. It’s an ongoing source of tension that he’s not supposed to drink or take drugs during game telecasts anymore, because everyone finds him more fun when he’s under the influence, but it takes very little for him to become a mean drunk, particularly where the people he cares about most are concerned.
So the emotional balance of the season is very different, even though it’s leading somewhere rewarding and meaningful by the end. And though Peet’s not around as often, Church-Cooper has surrounded Azaria and Williams with some colorful new players: Becky Ann Baker as Brockmire’s sister, who has never fully gotten over the shame he brought on the family name; Utkarsh Ambudkar as Jim’s rival announcer Raj; Dreama Walker as a Braves marketing executive(*) in charge of picking between Jim and Raj for a promotion to the big club; and Carrie Preston as a barfly whose self-destructive behavior makes Brockmire look like a teetotaler. Brockmire also has a petty feud with the New Orleans team’s crawdad mascot, though the identity of the person inside the suit is a funny punchline saved for late in the season.
(*) One minor complaint about Walker’s character, Whitney: she’s introduced as someone from an analytics background who’s only interested in numbers and statistics, and is thus immune to Brockmire’s old-school charms, but a few episodes later explains Raj’s appeal by comparing him to Jimmy Fallon, and glibly dismisses the idea that anyone cares about numbers. Though you don’t have to be a hardcore baseball nerd to enjoy the show, it offers plenty of rewards for those who are, and thus introducing a stats vs scouts dynamic and then forgetting about it instantly feels like a missed opportunity.
And a less sympathetic Jim Brockmire is still a colorful Jim Brockmire, especially as played with the same honey-voiced fearlessness that Hank Azaria has brought to the character since he first played him in a Funny or Die short. The season opens with Brockmire directly addressing the audience as he delivers a lecture about American’s transition from “a boob nation” into “an ass nation,” the word “ass” pronounced as if it contains five syllables and at least twice that many Z’s instead of S’s. He continues to do play-by-play of his own life, particularly where sex is involved — he explains that amyl nitrate is “the Bo Jackson of sexual aids” — and Brockmire’s increased awfulness in turn gives Williams even more chances to play up the comic horror of Charles being trapped in this guy’s orbit.
It’s ultimately darker and less raucous than the show was at first, but in a way that’s true to the characters and the situation. A rehash of season one’s dynamics would feel funny but redundant, where this seems an emotionally logical next step — and one that sets up an even more complicated status quo for the third season. There are moments that feel as beautiful and sad as the eulogy that Brockmire wrote for Charles, but there are also ones where he’s being so difficult to the people who love him that I almost wished we could just get more of him arguing with the crawdad.
But Brockmire is always Brockmire, even if he’s harder to like this time around. When he begins to annoy Jules with a long monologue about chicory, she asks if he ever shuts up. “I do not!” he replies enthusiastically.
And thank goodness for that.
NOTE: I recapped every episode of the first season, in part to shine a little extra sunlight on a new show in need of it. This year, I will probably wait til season’s end to write more, including hopefully another interview with Church-Cooper like this one.