The following contains spoilers for Brockmire Season 2
Brockmire creator Joel Church-Cooper has a very succinct way of describing his Hank Azaria-starring baseball comedy.
“What the show is about, over in its totality is, an asshole gets better as a country gets worse.”
The asshole did get better in Brockmire Season 2. Jim Brockmire, the velvet-throated baseball announcer embodied by Azaria, was one of television’s greatest assholes in season one (no small feat given TV’s affection for disagreeable personality types). He remained that way through much of season two – engaging in a petty rivalry with a co-worker, alienating his friends and family, and the drinking…oh God, the drinking.
Then, he did something completely improbable and within the context of the show…he got better. He got clean. Brockmire Season 2, which just ended its eight-episode run, was one of the 2018 TV season’s most unexpected delights. It was funny and whip smart as ever before bringing an added and earned sense of realism and humanity to its already very human symphony.
We caught up with Church-Cooper to talk more about season two, what’s in store for season three, and the simultaneous joy and disgust of finding Jim Brockmire’s rock bottom.
Den of Geek: The show got a little bit away from some of the baseball focus in season two, and really became about overcoming addiction, and the people in Jim’s life that either help him or hurt him along the way. In the writers’ room how did you approach getting to this place from season one to season two?
Joel Church-Cooper: In season one, we were doing a little bit of a genre riff on the classic sports movies, where the underdog team wins and there’s a love story. There was a little Bull Durham influence in there. We did that, maybe a commentary on some of those tropes, and it allowed us some ways to flip certain things. Rather than, “Will they? Won’t they?” we did a sort of, “They do,” and then they have to figure out what happens afterwards.
Rather than this being a great team, they’re a bad team and the season one finale, at the end of the episode; the whole team has to have a drinking contest. We’re trying to flip some of the conventions on their head, which I think was fun but also sort of bound us into a somewhat predictable narrative. And so in season two, the hope was really just sort of to take what we liked about season one and push it further, and push it in more unchartered waters.
Rather than a spin on a romantic comedy relationship, now we have a Charles-Jim relationship at the center of our show, and it’s a intergenerational, interracial codependent business partnership. Roommates. Much more complicated, much more different, something I haven’t necessarily seen before. So, I was starting to get fascinated by that.
My favorite episode of season one was the abortion episode called “Road Trip.” And I really liked the way that sort of balanced controversial subjects. It managed to make dark things funny, and sort of showed me what the show was capable of, not just us as writers but also actors, what they’re capable of, and also just like, this show can be more than just what we thought it was at the start.
And so that’s what we really went into with season two. I always knew it was going to be about him being sober. You have to see his rock bottom, and you’ve heard so many stories, so his rock bottom, to be believable, has to be very dark. So we knew that there was going to be a darkness part of it. But because we had some of the experience, like in the abortion episode, we felt confident that we as filmmakers and writers and performers had the skills to pull that off.
Did you guys have some other ideas for the episode that were too dark for TV?
The more we talked about Russian Roulette, the more we locked onto it because it seems like what we liked about it ultimately was it’s a game. It’s a sport, in a way. He’s a broadcaster, he calls everything, he makes everything into a sport. So even his own potential death, making that into a game that he would then call, was something that made sense ultimately. So, we had that, and then we started working back from that and then, going into a kid’s movie, and then having anal sex while staring into the parent’s eyes, was the darkest thing we wrote. It was like, oof, when it felt tough to write down on the keys, that’s when you know, you’re in the right territory for this particular episode.
Did Hank have any idea what he was getting himself into when you guys turned over those scripts?
No. I warned him that it was going to be darker, but I don’t think he was prepared for how dark it was gonna go. Had we not had the success in season one, not necessarily in terms of ratings, but in terms of how we felt about it. He’s very proud of the work and very proud of the dramatic work that we managed to slip into this comedy. And, so, I think that, as we were going into season two there was a certain level of trust. We had proved that we had done a lot so far, and then we’ve also had a relationship for years with this character, and trying to get the show made, and trying to do different stuff. So, he has the trust with me as the showrunner to sort of step out on that limb.
When you realize that Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams) was the right fit to essentially be the co-lead of season two?
You know, I think when we were shooting season one, we felt confident that he was going to do it because this has been the plan. I pitched IFC a three-season arc before we started season one. So it was always the plan that he would really break up with Jules at the end of the first season, she would continue to be part of his life throughout the show, and possibly, we’ll keep it in the air, they would get back together. But certainly they wouldn’t get back together in season two. And that the main season two relationship was going to be Charles and Jim. We had that in mind before we even started shooting season one. So I remember the first day, I didn’t say this to Tyrel, to not put any pressure on him, but I remember before the first take, being like, well, now we’re going to find out if I have a season two or if I have to rethink everything.
The more I started to watch Tyrel work in season one, the more I realized not only are we in safe hands, but I think he can actually do more than I thought. And then we were watching on the edit bay, you know, he has such an expressive face, and he’s so present, and he’s such a great foil for Brockmire, and he can do so much with a reaction shot. He can pull laughs with a raised eyebrow.
Probably I think the best dramatic scene in the show is in the 207 episode with the intervention with Jim on Frenchman Street in New Orleans. That’s where they break up their relationship. And you don’t find too many 20-year-old actors who can go toe-to-toe with Hank Azaria, with both of them carrying the material at max intensity, and he matches Hank beat for beat. So, I think we got very lucky that we cast him, and he’s going to be around for a long time.
I know you said you envisioned this as a three-season project initially. But did you kind of write yourself an out on the ending of season two, just in case you guys didn’t get a pick-up? If it ended there, I think I felt like I had some closure with these characters.
This is the first season where, because we got a two-season pick-up, we’re playing with a great deal of house money. When we were writing the scripts before, we didn’t get picked up to series from the pilot, we got picked up to six scripts. So most of the scripts for season one were written without an idea of whether this would even air. And then season two, we’d finished the show, we’d turned it in. IFC was very high on it, but then we finished, the show was wrapped in October and we didn’t premiere until April. So there was just a long gap between when we finished it and when it aired and so they picked up eight scripts. But again, season two, we were writing these scripts in January. The show hadn’t even premiered yet. And so I thought we would probably get a full season two, but you know, we didn’t necessarily know it for sure until the show came out and they announced a pick up as soon as they premiered and they sort of did that based on the season two scripts as well.
But every time you’re sort of in that situation, I do think about the fact that the lifetime of the show is not going to be on IFC, the lifetime of the show is going to be on whatever streaming platform exists in 10 to 20 years.
I was like, if it ends after one season, you know, I think we’ll have told a nice story but the ending is not great. But at least it had an ending. Season two, I was like, well, this is it. It does have a nice ending. I have so many ideas for season three. I’ll personally be disappointed if we don’t get a third season but if you were to stumble upon this ten years from now as a two-season oddity, I think you’d be like-, oh, that was interesting. (Editor’s Note: IFC has renewed Brockmire for seasons three and four). But I really wanted a season three because I thought that was where I really wanted to take this character is what we’re writing right now.
Something I kind of picked up in watching that finale is that you don’t really see him do that relapse in the way addicts sometimes succumb to when they’re in the process of getting better. So, was that time jump kind of a way of leaving that story thread open for the next season? Or are we going to see Jim actually become sober this time?
Yeah, I think season three is about his sobriety. I’m not going to say he won’t ever be tempted, but I’m not really interested in the relapse storyline, necessarily. I feel like I’ve seen it a million times and it’s not exactly where I wanted to go with this. I’m more interested in seeing this person in his mid-50’s, who’s been a certain way his whole life, try to be new. And try to be a good person. And actually try and fail because he doesn’t have the instincts or the skill set. So that’s what I’m interested in season three being, and then, I have an idea for season four as well. But I can tell you season three is really about Jim going down to Florida for spring training and he’s been sober for a year, but he’s been hiding out in a rehab facility, not experiencing the world. Now he has to engage with his sobriety in this baseball world where he’s been drunk the entire time. And sort of repair the damage he’s done to relationships and form new ones, and the struggle with that, because he’s not good at it.
He has to overcome the sort of selfish voice in his head telling him “this is mine, screw everybody else.” What the show is about, over in its totality is, an asshole gets better as a country gets worse. There’s a quality to Brockmire where every season of the show is in a new location in America, and every time we explore what’s interesting about that and the ways in which it’s sort of fallen apart. Season three, we’re going to central Florida. So we’re going to do a lot of central Florida jokes.
But also talk about just why would anyone want to be a good person right now in America, when it seems like being a good person has never gotten you less. When it sort of seems like being a flagrant asshole, and if that kind of person he was is being rewarded, is there any incentive in trying to better yourself and become a more moral person? I think that is a sort of the emotional storyline for season three.