“It’s a comedy for comedy’s sake. There’s not a big message to this. I don’t think you’ll learn anything from watching this.”
That’s something Jake Johnson said during the Comic-Con@Home 2020 panel to promote Hoops, the new Netflix animated series in which Johnson voices Ben Hopkins, a perpetually pissed-off high-school basketball coach who spews obscenities 24/7. What Johnson said about the first season of Hoops is accurate. The ten half-hour episodes, which debut Friday, do not impart any valuable lessons nor convey any important ideas. Hoops is perfectly content making crass joke after crass joke in the name of earning easy laughs. The problem is that it’s not even particularly good at achieving that extremely basic objective.
Hoops is a sports comedy built in the tradition of The Bad News Bears. Ben’s team, the Lenwood High School Colts, based in Kentucky, consists of a bunch of misfits who aren’t very good at their chosen sport. Like Coach Buttermaker before him, Ben does the opposite of setting a good example for his players. He screams, schemes, and can barely get through a complete sentence without jamming at least one obscenity into it. As a human being, he’s, to go ahead and put a very fine point on it, a total asshole. The one blip of potential in his life is Matty (A.D. Miles), a seven-foot-tall high schooler whom, in the first episode, Ben tries to recruit so he’ll have one semi-naturally gifted player on his team. How does he go about persuading the reluctant giant to join? By hiring a prostitute to have sex with him in a quid pro quo arrangement. I mean, obviously.
In practically every frame and moment, Hoops revels in crude humor, which isn’t necessarily disqualifying. American Vandal, the preeminent dick-joke-based series of the 21st century, was crude and funny, particularly as its clever first season built to its faux true-crime climax. Veep made profane insults hilarious for seven straight seasons. Even Beavis and Butt-head, which both satirized and celebrated boneheads who chuckle at the dumbest of double entendres, employed a meta approach that made its comedy work on multiple levels.
Hoops doesn’t aspire to anything quite as sophisticated as any of those shows. It makes enough dick jokes to give American Vandal penis envy. Its f-bomb ratio is extremely high. For “fun,” I counted the number of fucks in the opening of episode four. There were 11 in the first minute and 28 seconds. That’s an f-bomb every 11 seconds.
The problem is that series creator Ben Hoffman, who previously hosted Comedy Central’s The Ben Show and wrote for Sports Show With Norm MacDonald, and his writers have decided that the crudeness is the point. Hoops is a show about an immature man and his immature teenage charges that doesn’t aspire to anything more than making immature jokes and then, often, repeating those same immature jokes. I have no doubt that everyone working on the show had a blast making it. But it’s one of those comedies with a definite “you had to be there” vibe. Every riff and ad-lib no doubt cracked up everybody in the writers’ room or recording studio. But once the show gets hit with a whiff of outside oxygen, the humor dissipates.
There’s a running gag about the fact that Ben’s favorite movie is Little Man Tate, the film that marked Jodie Foster’s directorial debut, which I guess is supposed to be funny because it’s so out of character for Ben to like such a sensitive film. The idea doesn’t get any more hilarious the more it’s mentioned, though. There are a lot of jokes made at the expense of the fat kid on the team, none of them amusing or necessary. I also truly cannot emphasize enough how many male genitalia jokes are in this series, either about how small Ben’s penis is or the gargantuan nature of the member that belongs to Ron (Ron Funches), Ben’s assistant coach and the guy who happens to be dating Shannon (Natasha Leggero), Ben’s ex-wife. Sometimes, just to mix things up, the size of the testicles possessed by Ben’s father, Barry (Rob Riggle), a former basketball star whose approval Ben covets, becomes the basis for a quip: “Son, if I put my nuts in your soup bowl, there wouldn’t be any room left for soup.” There is a lot of beating of dead horses in Hoops, and that includes an extended bit about an actual dead horse being beaten.
It’s a shame the show doesn’t work better given the caliber of the voice talent involved, including Cleo King as the beleaguered as well as horny principal, Opal, and Sam Richardson, lending a Richard Splett-ness to the Colts’ nerdiest player. Johnson, though, is the dysfunctional glue that holds the whole thing together and his scratchy, perpetual shout is the perfect match for Ben’s pissed-off attitude. Even the animation projects a sense of rage. Bento Box Entertainment, the studio behind Bob’s Burgers and Central Park, handles things on that front and provides almost every Hoops character with their signature feature: a set of squiggly, angry eyebrows that threaten to march right off their cartoon foreheads in a huff. If the eyebrows on Hoops were a children’s book, it would be The Very Angry Caterpillar.
Watching an irrationally apoplectic, self-involved white dude lose his shit, even when it’s well-executed on some levels, gets exhausting pretty quickly. The best moments on Hoops are the ones that expose Ben for the buffoon that he is, like the extended gag where he tries to demonstrate a good jump shot for his players and refuses to stop until he makes a shot. (Spoiler: He never makes a shot.) Or the moment when Ben forces one of his players to run laps in the middle of a memorial service. There is some funny buried in Hoops, if you can get past the more off-putting moments to find it. But that’s hard to do. After a couple of episodes, some viewers may decide they don’t have any more fucks to give.