So here’s the thing: Ryan was right about The Leftovers being the best show of 2017. Here’s the other thing: The Leftovers is depressing as hell. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a heavy thing. So what do you do when you want to watch a show about pain, loss, and the unrelenting relationship we have with grief that doesn’t make you stare unrelentingly into the existential abyss that is our unknowing? You watch Brockmire.
IFC’s Brockmire is goddamn astounding. Hank Azaria plays the titular Jim Brockmire, a former big league baseball announcer who ten years ago had a booze-fueled, on-air meltdown after discovering his wife cheating on him. He’s a man entirely out of time in both the fact that he’s wildly out of touch with modern culture (his dress; his speech; his introspective, third-person monologues), and that he’s very seriously contemplating killing himself. Yes, this is a comedy. Amanda Peet (whose name I always mentally say as Damn! Amanda Peet) plays Jules James, the owner of a minor league baseball team in nondescript Morristown, a place slowly dissolving into a corrosive mix of fracking runoff and meth. She grew up soaked in entirely too much small town baseball nostalgia, and has taken it upon herself to reawaken the town’s sense of hope and community. She’s also a foul-mouthed, near basket-case whose level of functional alcoholism almost perfectly matches Brockmire’s. I think I’m in love.
The first few episodes have focused primarily on Brockmire’s return to the U.S., his discovery that while away on his travels (doing hookers and blow in Asia mostly) he’s become an internet folk hero/laughing stock, and his decision about what to do with that knowledge. Hence the suicidal tendencies. Where the show shines, other than the fact that it’s hysterical, is in balancing the grim realities of rock bottom with a nearly self-destructive sense of optimism. No one’s pretending everything isn’t shit; they’re just allowing for the fact that at some point in the near future, the shit might relent slightly. Or, as one townfolk puts it, “He might mention us on TV. Give our lives meaning.” It’s depressing in a hopeful way. Or maybe hopeful in a depressing way? Maybe it’s just depressing? Either way, it’s funny as hell.
As with my other favorite new comedy of the last year The Good Place, I was initially worried that the plot would spin itself out in a few episodes. There are only so many times you can watch Azaria react to something he finds unimaginable before it starts to wear thin even when those reactions are perfect. But I don’t see that being the case. They’ve managed to introduce enough new elements to the plot that neither Brockmire’s disbelief at modern culture nor his dueling motivations of fame and death have become the sole focus of the show. Which is good because if this show isn’t renewed, I will go on a whiskey-fueled tirade which no amount of Quaaludes will be able to subdue. You’ve been warned, IFC.