This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason The show doesn't debut until the day after publication time; we got screeners.
Does Brockmire Hit One Out Of The Park?
Or will IFC's new baseball comedy end up riding the bench?
What Is This Thing?
In 2007, legendary baseball announcer Jim Brockmire gets fired following a drunken, profanity-laden, on-air meltdown when he learns his wife has been cheating on him. After spending ten years overseas, he is coerced back to the U.S. by Jules, the owner of a struggling minor-league team located somewhere deep in rural Pennsylvania, in the hopes that he can help lift the team out of obscurity and raise the spirits of a declining rust-belt town.
When Is It On?
Wednesdays at 10 PM on IFC, starting April 5.
Why Was It Made Now?
The Brockmire character has been around since 2010, when he first appeared as part of the FunnyorDie.com web series Gamechangers. An attempt was made in 2013 to develop a film called Low And Outside: The Jim Brockmire Story, but the project never got much past pre-production. Last spring, IFC greenlighted the series with an eight episode order. Its premiere seems timed to coincide with the opening week of the 2017 baseball season, although I cannot find confirmation of this anywhere and, really, do I need to? It seems obvious enough.
What's Its Pedigree?
Joel Church-Cooper (Undateable, The Rotten Tomatoes Show) serves as the show's executive producer and head writer. The entire run is directed by TV veteran Tim Kirkby (Fleabag, Veep, Playing House).
Hank Azaria (The Simpsons, Huff -- of course -- and about a million other things) plays Jim Brockmire. He is joined by Amanda Peet (Togetherness, Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip) as team owner Jules. Charles, his assistant in the broadcast booth, is played by Tyrel Jackson Williams who -- OMFG!! -- voiced Tyrone on The Backyardigans, one of the greatest children's shows EVER and which was pretty much the only thing on my TV until my daughter turned five. No kidding -- it's possibly the greatest thing to come out of Canada besides Rush. Go watch it now. Anyway...
Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball offers a welcoming home and safe haven for misfits, black sheep, and ne'er-do-wells of all kinds. This is due in part to the, shall we say, reduced level of athleticism needed to play the game compared to other sports. The primary reason, though, is the extensive minor-league network. Really, the majors is the small tip of a much larger baseball iceberg that drifts around the country, bumping into the C-list cities and rural small towns of America. If baseball is "America's game," to quote Susan Sarandon quoting Walt Whitman in Bull Durham, then the minors is where you see real America. And Brockmire gets it. Based on the first episode, this may end up being one of the more interesting explorations of the important emotional and economic role that minor-league baseball teams play in many forgotten corners of modern America.
All that would be great but, ultimately, the success of the show rests on the shoulders of Hank Azaria's performance as Brockmire. The breakup of his marriage and ten years calling sports in the four corners of the earth have turned him into an emotional mess and a horrible abuser of substances who, as far as I can tell, doesn't have one scene in which he isn't under the influence of one kind of intoxicant or another.
In the hands of a lesser actor Brockmire would be played as a caricature for cheap laughs. Azaria is better than that, though, and from the very first scene he imbues Brockmire with an emotional depth and complexity that makes you immediately relate to his pain. Sure, he fucked up in legendary fashion, but it came from a place we can relate to. The road to redemption is not a straight one and it's going to be fun watching Azaria lead Brockmire down its twists and turns. He effortlessly pulls off being a total dick and emotionally vulnerable -- often in the same line.
Amanda Peet is the real unknown quantity here. She plays Jules, a diehard baseball fan and local bar owner, who mortgages her business and home to buy the local team and keep them in town. Lacking the ability to recruit quality ballplayers...
she instead turns to a series of gimmicks, of which Brockmire is one, to get people into the stands.
The character is likely based on the infamous father-and-son team of Bill and Mike Veeck. Bill came up with the idea of having a dwarf pinch hit for the St. Louis Browns in 1951. His son Mike was a chip off the old block, the brains behind the most infamous promotion in modern baseball history -- Disco Demolition Night. As president of the minor league Charleston RiverDogs, Veeck spearheaded several well-known promotions, including Nobody Night, in which he locked the gates during a game and threw a party in the parking lot in an effort to get the world record for lowest attendance at a professional baseball game.
Clearly, Peet has some big shoes to fill and I'm not totally convinced she will fully flesh out this side of the character. The possibility is definitely there, though, and it will be interesting to see what she comes up with. Her relationship with Brockmire is the real focus, though, and it starts strong. It may get romantic at some point, but for now I will be very pleased to see a few more scenes in which she gives him this slightly bemused look:
It’s a solid and very dark -- in the best kind of way -- comedy that's worthy of a first and second look -- which you can do since the first two episodes will be broadcast back-to-back. Does liking this show require you to be a diehard baseball fan who ritually marks the beginning of each new season with a viewing of Bull Durham? Absolutely not -- although it doesn't hurt. While placed in the infinitely fascinating world of minor-league baseball, the show is ultimately about Brockmire's redemption and relationship with Jules. Peet and Azaria are skilled, seasoned actors who have shown enough in the first episode to leave little doubt that, if the writing stays strong, the show will be able to go all nine innings.