If you have a bingo card for my Pajiba pieces, you probably have “Ryan mentions Peak TV” in the center square. That’s totally fair. Everything I discuss is centered in this moment in history, when options are exploding and we’ve yet to see what most assume to be a natural contraction of content. That means a show like IFC’s Brockmire, which recently concluded its first season, is something I started just a few days ago based on some feedback I read online as well as from personal feedback from Pajiba staffers.
I’m loath to say there’s any “right” way to watch TV, especially when we’re spoiled for choice and options for watching. The person who watched the first four and a half seasons of Breaking Bad on Netflix leading up to the final eight episodes didn’t have any more or less “authentic” experience than someone who watched those episodes weekly over the course of a half-decade. I’ve heard compelling arguments on both sides about which is “better” (whatever the hell that means). While I’m a firm believer in watching shows you love as close to the original air date as possible out of basic principle, I also know there’s literally no way to pull that off in execution, especially when you don’t know you’d love the show once you finally caught up with it.
Both Brockmire and Netflix’s GLOW put to rest the notion that you need a lot of episodes, if not an entire season, to really start telling its story in compelling fashion. About five minutes into the pilot, I knew I’d watch every episode, and in quick fashion. Indeed, I plowed through all eight episodes (currently available On Demand) in two sessions. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what was so appealing about it, even though the obvious reasons (great lead performance, command of tone, great sense of place even on a small budget, one of the best ratios of jokes-to-laughs I can recall) were always there. About halfway through the season, it clicked for me:
Brockmire was the live-action BoJack Horseman that I didn’t know I needed.
Bojack is another show to which I came late to the table: I didn’t start watching until Season Two, after crowdsourcing suggested it would be something up my alley. That show hit me like a ton of bricks, and while I’m not suggesting in any way that Brockmire stole anything from BoJack, I am suggesting that there should be an almost complete overlap on the Venn diagram for people who like one and would also like the other. A person in the public eye who has fallen from grace? Check. A person who is seemingly unlikeable who has a damaged childhood that explains if doesn’t excuse his current behavior? Check. Comedy so dark it’s occasionally difficult to watch because the abyss is too much to handle? Check.
Even though the entire season has finished at this point, I think it’s a show best experienced by knowing as little as possible about it. It might look like a crass show about a washed-up baseball announcer, but baseball really has very little to do with what makes the show special. As with all great TV shows (comedy or drama, bucked from which Jim liberally and often equally borrows), the setting is just a vehicle to hook people into topics that aren’t sellable in a thirty-second soundbite. How many terrible things can you do before you’re no longer allowed a chance at happiness? Is success inherently a zero-sum game or can you share it with others? When wealth is concentrated, what happens to the majority far from that center point?
These are NOT questions you expect raised in a show that also deploys the best Loggins and Messina joke in the history of Loggins and Messina jokes. (There’s a long, proud history there. You just have to trust me. No, don’t Google it. It’s fine.) If you want to simply watch Hank Azaria pull off some of the craziest punchlines you’ve ever heard, you can totally do so. But you can always watch Amanda Peet continue the incredible work she did on HBO’s Togetherness as the owner of the minor league team that employs Jim Brockmire. Peet is once again able to tap into reservoirs of deep pain as Jules James, a woman who has a sneaking suspicion she’s fighting a losing battle, but nevertheless savors what small victories she can achieve. Brockmire gets the title role, but Jules is the anchor.
The “comedy of the losing battle” takes a realistic look at life but never lets that be a reason for people to consistently give into despair. There’s courage there that you don’t find in purely nihilistic programming. Neither Jim nor Jules has any reason to have any hope for happiness, and yet they find slivers of possibility when in each other’s sphere. A more proper comedy would assure us that things will work out by the season finale. In the world of Brockmire, such guarantees are not baked in, which makes their moments of tenderness and compassion all the more meaningful. While there is a definitive structure to the season, it never quite goes where you expect, which makes the end point that much more potent.
Saying more would risk spoiling more than I may have already done. In the summer months, there are still far too many shows to watch, but Brockmire is something you could easily watch in two nights, and those might be two of the best you have until the Fall.