Officially, the inspiration for the excellent new IFC comedy Brockmire is a Funny or Die sketch from 2010, but if you’re a Simpsons fan, you know the origins of the character trace back a little further than that. In “The Twisted World of Marge Simpson,” when Marge’s free pretzels are used to injure Mr. Burns – who won a new Pontiac AstroVan despite having a vast fortune already – we hear a color commentator say “Hall of Famer Whitey Ford now on the field, pleading for some kind of sanity.” The voice is almost identical to Brockmire’s, and is the basis for Hank Azaria’s “baseball announcer voice.” As such, Brockmire came to be based on the idea of “What if baseball announcers talked like that all the time?” It’s an amusing premise, particularly when he “calls the action” while having sex, but thankfully the show is much more than that. Despite its seemingly lighthearted origin, it’s proven itself to be quite dark, and often extremely cathartic.
In the extremely memorable opening scene of the series, we watch Jim Brockmire meltdown on the air after walking in on his wife Lucy while she in the middle of an orgy. The scene is simultaneously hilarious and painful, as we laugh at Azaria’s delivery of “and folks, I do mean right in the ass!” while also feeling for the poor guy. Things get worse when, after being out of the country for a decade, he finds out that he’s more or less become the world’s original meme. As Brockmire himself puts it, he’s become famous for the most painful moments of his life. When he considers suicide towards the end of the first episode, it’s not hard to understand why.
Of course, he relents and decides to become the announcer for the Morristown Frackers, the sad minor league team that provides the last shred of happiness to an even sadder town which, ironically, has been destroyed by fracking. He also strikes up a reluctant romance with Jules, the team’s owner, played by Amanda Peet. Jules is quite a well-developed character, as we see that she’s incredibly ambitious and undeterred by disappointment, but also bit by the same alcoholism that ails Brockmire. One could call the romance a bit contrived – you just knew they were gonna get together – but it’s not hard to see why. They’ve both been beaten down by life and take refuge in each other’s arms, as well as in the bottle.
The most brutally cathartic episode so far was when Lucy, Brockmire’s ex-wife, comes to town to see Jim. We find out that while he’s been severely damaged by all of this, she’s never been happier. The unfulfilling sex life she found in her marriage was what led her to realize who she truly is, and now, she’s incredibly content. Brockmire becomes maddened by this and decides to take his rage out on the opposing baseball team, saying insulting things about the team as well as their city, which whips the crowd into a frenzy, and also leads to him having another viral video of his meltdown. What makes this work is that while we’re supposed to empathize with Brockmire – and are given good cause to do so – his actions are never entirely excused. In a flashback scene to his marriage, we see him be unreceptive to Lucy’s needs. Also, there’s a general feeling that while Jim Brockmire isn’t really a bad guy, he’s certainly not someone you’d want to be married to. But he still has feelings, and the show allows us to feel his pain while not necessarily excusing his behavior.
Brockmire is a mix of whimsy and darkness, and it seems to have found the perfect mix of both. In one scene, we can laugh at Brockmire’s outrageous home run calls (“That baseball cannot be buried in a Jewish cemetery because it just got tattooed!”), while in another, we’re reminded that the only reason he’s stuck in this small town to begin with is because he lost both his family and his career in one horrible day. In lesser hands, the show’s premise would have been too limited to succeed, but watching Brockmire and Jules get their respective lives back on track has been quite rewarding, both emotionally and comedically. Wednesday’s episode ended with the shocker that Jules is pregnant, which is bigger than anything the show has handled so far. Luckily, Brockmire has faced every other test it’s been given, so no matter where this story arc ends up, watching them get there should be more than worthwhile.