Originally posted Friday, April 4, 2019 by RODNEY HOemail@example.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog
Perpetually drunk and drugged out Jim Brockmire starts season three of IFC’s sardonic Atlanta-produced comedy “Brockmire” sober after a year in rehab and 12-step meetings. He insists he’s a changed man. And he is - sort of.
Not surprisingly, Hank Azaria’s character’s inglorious past continues to haunt him even as he gets an opportunity to sub in as an Oakland A’s spring training radio announcer for a cancer-stricken veteran broadcaster played by Oscar winner J.K. Simmons.
He is paired up with a softball superstar Gabby Taylor (newcomer Tawny Newsome) and a producer Gus Spartan (“Spin City” star Richard Kind) who used to work with the Montreal Expos. “My wife jokes that I’d be the perfect guy to producer a career killer like Jim Brockmire because my career is already dead!” Gus says during the opening episode.
“Nobody thinks I’m a career killer,” Brockmire protests.
“That’s the first thing my agent said when he told me we were paired together,” Gabby says.
Later, Simmons’ character insults Brockmire by calling him at his best, a “circus bear who would stumble around for the crowd to laugh at... someone should have take behind the tent and shot you years ago.”
Not long after, Gabby later tells Brockmire that “going from drunk ***hole to sober ***hole isn’t the dramatic makeover you think it is.”
Drunk Brockmire would have lashed back at all this abuse. Sober Brockmire held his tongue.
The broad theme this season: is Brockmire redeemable?
“Instead of melting down, he is sort of able to stand on his own two feet,” said Joel Church-Cooper, creator of the show on set last fall at what is now Georgia State Stadium but was previously Turner Field for 20 years. “He’s making better choices. He’s being a nicer, more sensitive loving person and it’s a struggle because he lived his life in a completely opposite way.”
Azaria, at the same shoot, said sobriety meant “I can’t cut loose the way I normally do. Brockmire doesn’t have fun anymore. He tolerates and survives. The challenge this year was to find a way for Brockmire to feel real and funny at the same time he’s sober.”
But season three is far lighter and brighter than season two, when Brockmire hit yet another rock bottom (or as Cooper calls it, “Brock-bottom.”) It helps that it’s fictionally set in sunny Seaside, Fla. as opposed to earthier New Orleans last year. (Atlanta covers for both locations for 90 percent of the shoot. Cooper admits it’s not easy to make Atlanta resemble Florida.)
The season also features comical cameos from the great Bob Costas and baseball Hall of Famer George Brett.
“It’s nice to get folks from the real sports world since we couldn’t get clearance to use Major League Baseball logos,” Cooper said. (That’s why the team is only referenced as Oakland and not the Oakland A’s.) “When people come on set and poke fun at the pomposity of sports, I always like it.”
Cooper said the younger generation perceives baseball as stodgy. “I think if Major League Baseball embraced this edgier comedy during prestige era TV, it would be good for them. They don’t necessarily feel that way.”
When they sent season two to MLB officials, they didn’t hear back. “Maybe it was the bender at the end or masturbation on the mound,” Cooper mused. “I understand their hestitation... Baseball is dying. We don’t want it to die. That’s one reason we made this show.”
Besides Simmons and Kind, Cooper also nabbed other great actors, including Linda Lavin ( “Alice”) as his mom and veteran actress Martha Plimpton as his sponsor. “I needed someone who could play blue collar, salt of the earth,” Cooper said. “I needed someone who when they yell at Brockmire, you believe it and you believe they’ll get the last word. Martha can do that.”
Two former main characters - Brockmire’s lost love Jules (Amanda Peet) and young media savant Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams) - return as well but Peet shows up for just one episode and Charles for two.
Still, the writing remains superbly funny and all the key characters are reliably quirky. It’s just how Cooper rolls. And his personal quirks come out in the characters such as his hatred for Jersey Mike’s and Christopher Nolan movies or “weird obsession” with Ann Margaret.
But the focus is always on Brockmire, who is crass and obnoxious but ultimately not racist, homophobic or mysogynistic. Azaria embraces the challenge every season.
“The workload on Hank is intense,” Cooper said. “It takes a toll on him. I don’t know any other actor who could do this. His back goes out every year from stress.” Azaria memorizes all eight episodes ahead of time because the production schedule is so condensed.
“Today is a five-scene day,” Azaria explained. “I never ever shut up. I memorize it like a play because we have to go so fast. I could perform this season as a stage play. Someday I may actually do that!”
Azaria does not do a lot of ad-libbing: “Brockmire talks in this weird quasi-baseball Shakespearean way. It just courses through my brain.”
IFC gave“Brockmire” a fourth season before season three and Cooper and Azaria know how it’s going to end.
“I was able to build some narrative continuity which can only come with a two-season pick up,” Cooper said. “I like each season to be self contained. Each season is a new sitcom with the same main characters in new locations with new characters to bounce off of.”
“Brockmire,” 10 p.m. Wednesdays, IFC
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