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“Going From Drunk Asshole to Sober Asshole Isn’t the Dramatic Makeover You Think it is” — Josh Reviews Brockmire Season Three!

September 25th, 2019
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I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to write about Brockmire season three, which I devoured quickly upon its release last spring.  I absolutely adored season one and season two of Brockmire, and season three did not disappoint!  This is one of my very favorite shows currently being made!

Brockmire has charted the slow climb back up of Jim Brockmire, a disgraced former baseball announcer who years ago destroyed his life and career in a drunken on-air rant after discovering that his wife was cheating on him.  The show is one of the funniest shows on TV today, while also at the same time being a deeply moving story about real, flawed humans beings doing their best to get through the day.

As I’ve said in all of my previous Brockmire reviews, the main reason to watch Brockmire is to see Hank Azaria give the greatest performance of his career in this, the role it seems that he was born to play.  Mr. Azaria is magnificent, able to deliver devastating punchlines as the show’s jokes come fast and furious, while at the same time mining deep, moving pathos out of the story of this former scumbag inching his way, maybe, towards something better.  Every moment Mr. Azaria is on screen is a master’s course in comedic and dramatic acting.  It’s truly extraordinary.

The show’s season one set-up felt like something that could have lasted for many years, with Brockmire working as an announcer for a podunk team in a tiny town, flirting with local bartender Jules (Amanda Peet).  I was surprised in season two that the show shifted locations, as Brockmire got a new job working for a minor league team in New Orleans.  I was excited to see the show and the characters move forward, though I missed having Jules as a series regular.  Here in season three, the show has again reinvented itself, as Brockmire has gotten sober and gotten himself a job back in the Major League, calling games for Oakland.  (The show doesn’t actually mention the A’s by name.)  I miss Jules (who returns for one episode) and Charles (who was elevated to the series’ second lead in season two, but who, like Jules, only appears in one episode here in season three).  On the other hand, I think it’s incredible that the show doesn’t rest on its laurels.  Too many TV shows insist on staying put in their status quo year after year.  I think it’s fascinating and exciting that Brockmire has reinvented itself completely with each new season.

Not just the show, but the main character himself!  In the first season, Brockmire was an alcoholic and drug addict, and much of the humor of the show came from his crazy antics.  In season two, Brockmire was even more debauched, but by the end of the season it became clear to viewers — and, eventually, to Brockmire himself — that his self-destructive behavior was dangerous and couldn’t continue.  The series’ main source of comedy suddenly turned into the source of powerful drama as we saw Brockmire hit rock bottom.  It was powerful stuff.  The season two finale gave us a peek at a sober Brockmire, and it was hilarious — but I wondered whether a sober Brockmire would really be interesting for an entire season.  This mirrors Brockmire’s own fears, that the only reason people liked him was because of his drunken escapades.  I was delighted to discover that the sober Brockmire of season three was still an uproariously hilarious character.  I love that the show didn’t turn him into a saint.  As Gabby points out in the season three premiere, in the fantastic line I used in the title of this blog, sober Jim Brockmire was still an asshole!  That season three’s main story turned out to be a sober Brockmire trying to become less of an asshole was a wonderful new direction for the show to go, maintaining the classic Brockmire balance of being astoundingly funny and also incredibly moving.

In reinventing itself yet again for season three, we got a fantastic new ensemble of characters on the show!  Tawny Newsome played Gabby Taylor, a former softball star who was now Brockmire’s partner in the broadcasting booth.  A lesbian and a woman of color, Gabby from the outset proved to be a fantastic pairing with the very white Jim Brockmire.  I was pleased that the show took the time to develop Gabby as her own person with her own history and her own problems, as opposed to simply using her as a foil for Brockmire.  Ms. Newsome and Mr. Azaria had great chemistry.  I really hope she sticks around for season four.

The great Richard Kind played Gus, Brockmire and Gabby’s overalls-wearing producer.  Mr. Kind was, as always, a delight every moment he was on screen.  Martha Plimpton played Shirley, Brockmire’s seen-a-lot-of-shit AA sponsor.  I’ve always been a fan of Ms. Plimpton’s, but nevertheless I thought she was a revelation in the role, so real and so compelling in all of her scenes.  Christine Woods was solid as Maggie, an oncology nurse with whom Brockmire strikes up a relationship.

But my favorite new addition to the Brockmire ensemble for season three was the incredible J. K. Simmons as Matt “The Bat” Hardesty, a prick of a broadcast announcer who had been forced to leave the booth because of a cancer diagnosis.  Mr. Simmons was positively electric in the role.  Every moment he was on-screen with Hank Azaria’s Brockmire was dynamite.  Mr. Simmons wasn’t actually in that many scenes over the course of the season, but he was so effective at taking advantage of every moment to develop Matt into a complex character.  We loathe him when we first meet him early in the season, but by the season’s end he’d developed into a nuanced character for whom we had empathy.

Mr. Simmons’ final scene on the series, in episode seven, “Disabled List,” was one of the most incredible things I saw on TV this past year.  Matt is on his deathbed, and although he and Brockmire have bickered intensely over the course of the season, Brockmire is visiting him.  The scene starts in the raunchy Brockmire manner, as the two men discuss Matt’s enormous penis (which is the real reason he’s nicknamed “The Bat”).  The scene then transitions into a truly deep conversation about God, and about what happens when you die, until finally arriving at Brockmire’s telling Matt how lucky he was in his life, despite all of his disappointments and regrets, because “you got to be a baseball man.”  This leads into a wonderful ode to baseball.  Brockmire quietly speaks of how baseball parks are like temples… “and in the darkness, they’re like cemeteries.”  (I’m getting a little choked up just typing this now!)  The two men then talk together about how, though neither one ever believed in God, they do believe in the baseball God… who “demands that all of his churches be parks”… who “forces you to play outside on a nice day”… who “doesn’t keep time, because our actions should determine our fate, not some stupid clock”… and who “keeps us humble by making us play a game that’s steeped in failure”.  It’s a deeply moving scene, beautifully written, and J. K. Simmons and Hank Azaria absolutely smash it right out of the park.

The whole season was like that.  This show effortlessly moves from uproarious comedy to truly moving character beats.  I loved every minute of it.

Other thoughts:

* The show’s move to Oakland gave us a season’s worth of terrific Florida jokes.  Brockmire now rivals The Good Place for the most jokes making fun of Florida per minute!

* I loved Brockmire’s turtle, Clemenza!  (Great Godfather reference.)

* I was very happy that Becky Ann Baker returned as Brockmire’s sister Jean, and it was fun to meet Brockmire’s hugely messed up mother Lorraine, played by Linda Lavin.

* I also enjoyed Phil Reeves (who I am loving as Doyle on Veep, a show that I’m catching up with now — I’m in the middle of season four!) as the over-the-top racist Art Newlie.

* I am thrilled that Jim Brockmire shares my distaste for flip-flops.  As he so eloquently put it: “Seeing somebody’s foot should be a consensual act.”

* Through the entire season we were rooting for Brockmire to stay on the wagon.  I loved how the season built to that momentous sequence in the finale, “Opening Day,” in which one disaster after another drives Jim back into a bar… where he discovers that his mentor Shirley has beaten him there, having fallen off the wagon herself.  That was such a moving moment.  And yet somehow it was topped just a few minutes later in the finale, when Brockmire delivered the “baseball endures” speech.  This was not only yet another wonderful love-letter to baseball from this baseball-steeped show, it was also  a powerful statement about our divided modern society.  Who knew this raunchy comedy could reach such emotional heights?!!

If you’re not watching Brockmire, I beseech you to change that immediately.  I am counting the days until season four.

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