When spring starts anew, baseball fans tend to buy high on offseason narratives. Pitcher X learned how to throw a more effective slider. Batter Y added 20 pounds of muscle. Players Z is out of rehab and sober, ready to make good on his heaps of athletic potential. More often than not, the patterns of behavior that generate a newspaper headline during spring training languish by June. Baseball is about replicating consistent mechanics over and over, from March to October, and even the best players in the world fall into slumps, or worse, get the yips. The game keeps players honest because there are few short term rewards. One or two good months of production doesn’t make a season. One focused, grind of an offseason is no guarantee of future success.
In Brockmire season 3, IFC’s baseball comedy which turned into what we called a “touching depiction of self-destruction,” broadcaster Jim Brockmire is freshly sober and eager to return to the broadcast booth. Only it has become apparent he’s shortchanging his recovery to prove he’s still a Major League caliber play-by-play man. “I’ve been collecting these chips for a year now,” Jim bemoans to his AA sponsor, “When do I get to cash them in for a better life?” What Jim quickly comes to learn is that addiction follows you like a shadow. One year of hard work doesn’t wipe away all your urges; it’s an ongoing process he’ll battle for the rest of his life.
Brockmire season 2 was a marathon of debauchery in booze-soaked New Orleans that set Jim back on the path to the Major Leagues. Feel good redemption arc it was not; Acing his minor league test came at a price. Jim alienated the people closest to him by failing to heed their warnings about his addictive behavior. It culminated in the series’ darkest, and maybe best, episode, in which an encounter with a fellow nihilistic bar patron (played by Carrie Preston) led to a crack binge, then a nearly fatal game of Russian roulette. It was the wake-up call Jim needed, and he finally accepted responsibility for his problems rather than blame them on his ex-wife, rivals like Bob Costas, or announcer friend/attention whore Joe Buck.
Where do you go from BrockBottom? After a one-year time jump, Brockmire season 3, which premieres April 3, picks up with a sober Jim following through on several of the 12 steps. Throughout what we can confirm is a redemption arc, Jim’s demons are his biggest opponent. He comes to realize that sex, drugs, and alcohol only masked the other issues in his life. Jim’s greatest fear, which he admits to Charles after an intervention gone wrong, is that people will only like him when he’s shitfaced. He’s slowly overcoming that fear in season three with the help of his support system, which includes his AA sponsor Shirly (Martha Plimpton), a new broadcast teammate in Gabby (Tawny Newsome), his sister Jean (Becky Ann Baker), ex-girlfriend Jules (Amanda Peet), and his buddy and former business partner Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams).
But how long can he keep that up, and will other problems arise? Series creator Joel Church-Cooper and star Hank Azaria reassured us that they will, and a sober Brockmire isn’t necessarily a less funny one. Jim even gives a half-assed attempt to complete the 12 steps by finding God (whom Brockmire hilariously nicknames “Sky Daddy”) this season.
When we caught up the minds behind the series, we were inside a SkyBox at Turner Field, the former home of the Atlanta Braves, where the Brockmire team was filming the season’s final episode. Church-Cooper and Azaria, in between rifting about why Florida is a “incubator of butt sweat,” spoke about Jim’s Major League comeback, writing his sobriety into the show, and how Brockmire season 3 sets up the fourth and final season due up to bat in 2020.
Season two was a roller coaster for Jim. What’s his life like now as season three opens?
Joel Church-Cooper: Season three begins in spring training as he sort of returns to the world after hiding out sober for a year in a rehab center. We follow his struggles, his sobriety as he attempts to better himself and become a person of substance. Basically, it’s about an asshole trying not to be an asshole anymore.
What we’re exploring with Brockmire this season is the change in him that is really brought about by Jules and Charles in previous seasons. Now he has more characters that he’s introduced to that are good people in their own way, and he wants to be a part of their lives. He can only be a part of their lives if he meets them at their level, and it’s hard for him because he’s never had to do that before. He’s a very selfish person. So living an unselfish life is something he’s learning how to do over the course of the season.
Last season was very dark. Last season was about Brockmire hitting his rock bottom, which in the world of the show his rock bottom has to be remarkably rock bottomy. And I feel like we demonstrated that, and we got there. And this season is about the struggle and his rise to being the kind of person he wants to be, and that the people who love him are there.
What’s it like having Jim sober all the time?
Hank Azaria: You know, it’s been a little sad. It’s been like, oh, I don’t feel like I get to cut loose like I normally do. And he’s not quite the straight man because he says a lot of funny things. Brockmire has a great line, and Joel wrote this. I think you wrote this line. His sister says, ‘I invited you because I wanted you to have fun,’ and he says, “I don’t have fun anymore. I just tolerate and survive.’ And that’s kind of like I feel like what Jim is going through. He’s just enduring a lot, which is funny too. But it’s more fun if you pretend I was wasted.
Joel Church-Cooper: It can be a crutch as a writer. It’s great crutch, and I leaned on it a lot. Eventually it starts to become like we’re in cartoon land. So the challenge this year was to find a way for Brockmire to feel real and funny at the same time, and sober.
From the little we’ve heard about the season, it’s clear that Brockmire hates being in Central Florida for spring training. Why is that?
Hank Azaria: Because Joel does, obviously. It’s one of those things. It took me three years to realize that things that Joel doesn’t like come out of Brockmire. He is very much annoyed by the work of Christopher Nolan. As Brockmire says, per Joel, ‘I just want to enjoy a god damn story. I don’t want to get taught a lesson on how to solve the puzzle to what the hell I’m watching.’ There’s that. Oh, Jersey Mike’s. Joel does not like Jersey Mike’s.
Joel Church-Cooper: And the same things Brockmire loves are the things I love.
Hank Azaria: I can run lines. Central Florida was once nothing but Mosquitoes, swamp land, and the last remnants of a decimated Seminole tribe. Back in the 1920s, in order to lure tourists to the beaches, huxters started building a lot of places of low character, like greyhound dog tracks and live mermaid shows, alligator farms, thus initiating the rube stampede to this incubator of butt sweat. So that’s Joel’s feeling.
Charles and Jim’s relationship was a major part of the storyline in season two and the show hit another level with their unlikely buddy comedy dynamic. Where is Charles this season?
Joel Church-Cooper: Charles comes back for two episodes, and he’s still sort of continuing his media empire. The cold open we meet him is the moment his money manager calls him, and he finds out he’s a millionaire. So we’re continuing this idea of Charles as a natural media savant. He’s two years ahead of everything. His business is flourishing. But we sort of play with the same idea that we sort of dealt with last year, once we see his mother, once we see Brockmire. In the finale it’s revealed that his first major girlfriend left him for his best friend and is still living in their house. So I really like the idea of everything Charles touches career wise turns to gold. Everything in his personal life he turns to shit because he was raised by a narcissist whose line is, what Brockmire says about him in the season is, he was raised by a narcissist who taught him that to love someone is to fix them, and instead of breaking that pattern I made it permanent. So we see Charles’ girlfriend, and we see that pattern play out again. And we see that the changing nature of Jim and his relationship, and how the bonds have only deepened over time.
What’s the key to a successful celebrity redemption story?
Hank Azaria: It’s very public. But you know, in these modern times everything’s public. But I guess coming back from that kind of social media disgrace is its own… but I don’t think it’s all that different. I think that a person has to really, in life and in art, learn lessons for real and somehow bring that back into their public life. It seems like Tiger Woods has done it. There’s a lot of people who’ve done it.
Joel Church-Cooper: We make a few #MeToo jokes in the show, and Brockmire is like, “I was never that guy.” We’ve been clear that he was never that guy. He was never really racist, or homophobic, or misogynistic. He was everything else. And his failures are very public. And I do think the story we’re really telling this season is about the work that you do to rehabilitate yourself. He’s not really doing that work publicly. He’s doing that work in his AA meetings, with his sponsor, with his friends, and he’s coming up lacking all the time, and they’re holding him to account. And he is holding himself to account. That doesn’t sound funny, but when we do it, it’s hilarious.
The show was renewed by IFC for two seasons, with season four set to be the final one. How did that affect your planning and arc for this season?
Joel Church-Cooper: Every showrunner’s dream is to know you’re going to work for the next 18 months on your own show. I had the idea for the first three seasons. I pitched the first three seasons to IFC when we sold the show. I said, ‘This is how it’s going to go,’ and our last line, which you guys might see, was the same last line I told them before we even shot in season one. While doing season one, I sort of came up with the idea for season four, so I’ve kind of known the whole time were we going to end the show in season four.
The pickup allowed us to plant season four things in season three. Amanda Peet’s back in this season. We just shot her for the last few days. When we were talking about coming back I said, ‘This is why the speech you give in season three is the start of the season four storyline,’ you know? Things like that, characters we’re bringing back. I know what the storyline is for season four, so we’re planting that in season three. That kind of narrative continuity can only come with a two-season pickup. I like seasons to be self contained. I always say every season on this show is a new sitcom with the same main character. New location, new characters introduced to sort of have him bounce off of. Each episode should feel self contained stories that help to tell a larger story of the season. But still, this season has the most nuggets planted for the future season because this was the only season we ever knew for sure we’re going to have that next season.
Chris Longo is the deputy editor and print editor of Den of Geek. You can find him on Twitter @east_coastbias.