For some reason, I can’t bring myself to hate Jim Brockmire. Played by comedian Hank Azaria, best known for his voice work on The Simpsons, Brockmire wears a perpetually wounded and somewhat confused expression, the look of a man coming off a bender who can’t find his car. His loud, checkered blazers make him seem simultaneously clueless and nostalgic, hungry for his glory days as a Major League Baseball announcer in Kansas City yet woefully out of touch with today.
In the first episode of Brockmire, an eight-episode IFC comedy based on the “Funny or Die” series of the same name, the title character’s young co-worker, Charles (a perfectly cast Tyrel Jackson Williams) has to explain the concept of viral videos to Brockmire. This is the moment when Brockmire realizes that his booze-fueled, career-ending on-air meltdown over his unfaithful wife, Lucy, more than a decade ago has been immortalized on the internet, where millions of people “watch videos of the worst moments of my life and laugh at my pain.”
Like me, you might feel for him, but don’t forget Brockmire’s most notable trait: He’s kind of a scumbag. Bitter, drunk and frequently fueled by rage, he seems to have zero fucks to give about what he says or who hears him — and what he says is frequently offensive in the extreme, the kind of stuff that makes me block real-life people on Facebook. Yet somehow I still have a soft spot for him, in part because there’s something cartoonish about him — maybe it’s those tacky blazers.
Most likely, though, it’s because the show insists, convincingly, that his story is worth following — and there’s something affecting in the other characters’ nonplussed reactions to his frequently antisocial behavior. He’s not presented as tragic — he’s had a decade to deal with his pain, after all — nor is there any indication he secretly harbors a heart of gold.
Before this scumbag gets housebroken, though, the show follows Brockmire from his self-imposed exile to economically depressed Morristown, Pennsylvania. He’s been recruited by Jules James (Amanda Peet) to announce games for the Frackers, a minor league team whose name is as unfortunate as their sloppy play. Brockmire makes no attempt to pretend he’s happy to be there.
“Stepping in to pinch hit for the Frackers is former competitive eater Fatty Boombalatty,” Brockmire announces as a player steps up to the plate. “At 400 pounds, he is officially the fattest player in the history of baseball. Fat guys have been a part of this game from the beginning. Babe Ruth himself, the very greatest of the greats, was also a big, fat piece of shit, so a wonderful bit of history we are looking at here.”
Typed out, that reads as unequivocally awful. But as Brockmire oozes these words over the stadium PA system in his born-for-radio baritone, a glass of whiskey in one hand and an old-timey microphone in the other, the tone is more outlandish than hateful, a smoother variation of the insults Cartman flings on South Park. Brockmire is trying to see what he can get away with, and he gets more leeway than those of us in the real world. It’s hard to get mad at someone who doesn’t have any substance — one whom Jules accurately describes as “a charismatic open wound.”
It also doesn’t hurt that there’s something grotesquely poetic about even Brockmire’s foulest rants. On the show, these win him a viral audience and an odd sort of admiration. Both in the world of the series and in the world where we watch the series, the horribleness proves compelling. In that way, he has a lot in common with Hugh Laurie’s damaged-yet-dazzling Dr. Gregory House, who shared with Brockmire a penchant for booze, drugs, prostitutes and telling people what he thought of them — his catchphrase could have been, “You’re an idiot.”
The main difference is that everyone around House had to behave with an almost saintlike degree of morality and professionalism — especially the female characters.
While Brockmire lives in the same kind of alternate universe where fate always offers one more chance to the fallen, Brockmire doesn’t force its women to be overly motivated or sweet. In her own way, Jules is just as broken as Brockmire — why else would she still be living in Morristown? She spends most of her days in a local bar and paces her new boyfriend drink for drink — while Brockmire is almost never seen without a glass of whiskey, Jules is rarely without white wine. This rare brand of equal-opportunity scumbaggery is reminiscent of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, where Sweet Dee is just as selfish and sociopathic as her male counterparts. It makes Jules and Brockmire’s fucked-up fling fun to behold — and it also gives Brockmire a chance to be likable.
“I know that I like you,” he tells her. “I like that you see the world for the shit pile that it is, but that just makes you shovel faster. Most of all I like that we seem to have the same exact level of functional alcoholism.”
That said, one irritating aspect of the show is its treatment of Brockmire’s sex life versus his ex-wife’s. Brockmire’s misadventures in various brothels are just more fodder for his legend — the perfectly natural wanderings of a broken and humiliated man. “I thought I hit rock bottom in a handicap restroom in Bangkok where a Thai lady-boy snorted crank off my johnson while a sunburnt German watched us on the toilet,” he calmly reports the first time he meets Jules and Charles. Meanwhile, Lucy’s identity as an “omni-sexual” is presented as ridiculous, just more evidence that she alone is responsible for Brockmire’s years of misery and not, say, his terrible attitude or raging alcoholism.
Still, Azaria makes Brockmire funny and accessible enough for the show to work, and at times he allows us to see the character’s seamy underbelly — for instance, when he goes to Jules’ house in the middle of the night and confesses to her, “Baseball makes me want to exist, but you make me want to live.” The show’s interspersing of these moments of genuine emotion with Brockmire’s bad behavior make it worthwhile to stick with this scumbag with a heart of — well, definitely not gold, but more like top-shelf whiskey.