Brockmire Turns a Brilliant Character Into a Solid Show
Brockmire gets off to a slow start then becomes a character-driven comedy worthy of Hank Azaria's talents.
There’s a moment in the Brockmire season one finale (there will be only the tiniest bit of verbal spoilers in the next sentence. I think it’s fine but tread lightly if your spoiler allergy is life-threatening) in which disgraced baseball play-by-play man Jim Brockmire (Hank Azaria) remarks on the ending of a game.
“I’ve never seen that! I’ve never seen (that) to win a game before!”
For the most part, baseball is filled with things you have seen before. A group of men (and sometimes women depending on the league) get dressed up in old-timey pajamas and take pre-prescribed positions on the field and wait for a ball to come to them. Baseball is so geometric – so mathematic that the vast majority of the action is routine plays leading up to a usually anticlimactic ending.
But then, precisely because baseball is so mathematic, sometimes you get outliers. The world plays thousands and thousands of baseball games every year and every now and again in one of those games you are almost certain to see something you’ve never seen before.
Still, is that all worth it? Is it worth watching this objectively slow-moving conventional game, seemingly from a bygone era, just in the vain hope that you’ll see something new? Who does that to themselves when there is so much else in the world to spend your time on?
Lunatics, that’s who. And that’s why Brockmire season one is an unqualified success. Because Jim Brockmire immediately establishes himself as one of baseball’s finest lunatics.
Brockmire is essentially a one-off character that became a TV show. Comedy legend (and that’s not hyperbole. If you voice half the characters on The Simpsons, you’re a god damn comedy legend) Hank Azaria has always been fascinated by baseball. He’s a Mets fan, God help him.
And like many baseball fans, Azaria realized that the real arbiters of the sport aren’t the players, the coaches or the owners but rather the radio play-by-play guys. Baseball remains the only sport where it’s as pleasant to listen to as it is to watch. The leisurely pace of the game lends itself to be softly narrated by golden-voiced old-timers.
So Azaria studied those golden-voiced old-timers. The Jack Bucks, the Vin Scullys, the Herb Scores, what have you. And those studies led to the smooth, ethereal voice of Jim Brockmire. It’s a voice Azaria has used several times on The Simpsons and then translated to live action for Funny or Die.
Now Jim Brockmire is his own TV show. Azaria stars as the eponymous Brockmire. The series begins with the same premise as the Funny or Die video. During a radio broadcast, a drunken Brockmire melts down, live on air, about his wife’s infidelity but without ever “breaking character” of his radio voice.
After the meltdown, he walks the Earth like Jules in Pulp Fiction, picking up various terrifying sexual experiences and calling whatever sporting event will pay. In 2017, he finally elects to return home to the U.S., unbeknownst to him that he’s an Internet meme icon. He gets a job calling games the Morristown, Pennsylvania Frackers thanks to their crafty owner Julie “Jules” James (the always-welcome Amanda Peet)
IFC provided the entire eight-episode season for critics, which was a strong choice. The early episodes of Brockmire are somewhat crude and rough. Brockmire’s meltdown is legitimately funny and hews close to the Funny or Die skit but for a few episodes it isn’t really a show. It’s a smug joke factory with little other context to humanize its characters or clarify its purpose.
Then as the episodes go on, Brockmire starts to feel like a real person rather than a caricature of a baseball personality and the show begins to blossom.
Comedies don’t need high-minded themes or statements of purpose to be funny. But TV shows kind of do. When Brockmire is merely only funny early on, there seems to be a chunk of its soul missing. Jim Brockmire and Jules are fond of professing their love of nostalgia and baseball but we don’t really get to observe it or understand it until the characters become more lived-in.
Sometime around episode three or four, Brockmire, Jules, and Frackers intern Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams) become more well-rounded characters with clearer purposes and both the comedy and narrative really take off.
Yes, in a three-minute skit, Jim Brockmire can be just funny. Spread out over eight episodes he has to be something more. Once Brockmire the show comes to terms with that, this thing really soars.
It doesn’t hurt that Brockmire, the character, is really worth getting to know. Hank Azaria’s depiction of Jim Brockmire is a good lesson in the differences between caricature and character. Brockmire is certainly a caricature. His voice is ridiculous, he’s an unabashed alcoholic and he unironically uses phrases like “Every punch you land is going to echo throughout enternity,” during a baseball brawl. He also remarks upon immediately meeting someone: “I don’t like you. A lot about your existence is rubbing me the wrong way so I’d appreciate it if you stay out of my way.”
He’s, in short: a lunatic. Somewhere along the journey of the show, however, he goes from being a lunatic because that’s what a funny TV character would be, but because that’s who the real Jim Brockmire is. He’s a strange, intellectual guy carrying around a lot of unresolved pain and who would also be really fun to drink with.
Brockmire quickly evolves into more than just a show about baseball. Well, that’s not entirely true. It’s always a show about baseball but really it’s a show about how everything else in the world seems at odds with baseball. ASMR viral videos, Ira Glass on This American Life and villainous shale fracking companies all make an appearance. And all of that modern, seemingly nonsensical stuff seem so at odds with America’s pastime – this sport where farm boys compete in a variant of a British children’s game for over three hours in giant, single-purpose, water-wasting fields.
Why would someone like me care about that, Charles asks Brockmire, in a world full of free internet porn? I don’t quite know the answer but I know that weirdos like Jim Brockmire being so inextricably attracted and linked to baseball is certainly part of it. You watch baseball to see something you’ve never seen before and to be comforted by voices and sounds you hear all the time.