The fantastic final season of IFC’s baseball comedy Brockmire takes place in the early 2030s, in a world ravaged by climate change, income inequality, and an inescapable sense that the apocalypse is already happening. Yet there is still baseball, and the series ends on a hopeful note for its announcer hero Jim Brockmire (Hank Azaria), his longtime love Jules (Amanda Peet), and best friend Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams). Still, our current nightmare — which includes the ongoing lack of baseball, or any other sport — makes the dystopian near-future of this final season seem almost quaint.
Last week, I emailed Brockmire creator Joel Church-Cooper about this strange collision of fact and fiction, how he came up with the details of Jim’s life in 2030, and what he would have done differently had he known the circumstances under which the final season would air.
When and how did you come up with the idea to set the final season in a dysfunctional future America?
In 2011, I began work on a Brockmire movie (which fell apart in preproduction, but the plot of which ended up becoming the much of the plot of Season One). I wanted to add a moral framework to the whole piece. My biggest worry from the very beginning was that the project would just feel slight, like a sketch that overstayed its welcome. So I wanted to add at least the illusion of depth. I realized I had a character who was returning to his home country and seeing it with fresh eyes. So I came up with the idea that Brockmire was returning to a post-peak America. And as the film script turned into a TV show, I kept that theme and added to it. I decided that the show’s guiding mantra would be, “an asshole gets better as a country gets worse.” I liked the idea of Brockmire as a character swimming against the cultural tide. So when I was conceiving the final season a few years ago, I wanted to show the end of his journey as a man and as a moral force in the world. So that to me necessitated a time jump. The full-circle arc I envisioned was that in the first season, Jim, Jules, and Charles saved baseball in Morristown [the ruined Pennsylvania town where Season One took place], and in the final season, they save baseball in America. So, therefore, making Jim commissioner in a dark future America was the natural extension of the direction we’d been on from the beginning. I realize that may seem strange. But, to me, that math always added up. If Morristown was on fire from fracking in 2017, and no one seemed to care, by 2030 all of America would be Morristown. It didn’t seem so far out in my mind, but maybe I just read too much Vonnegut as a kid.
How did you figure out what the world of 2030 would look like? How dark did you want it to be?
My guideline to the writers room was to imagine that America’s current disintegration just kept increasing exponentially. There’s this sense of American exceptionalism that is hardwired into the culture. And it’s not just the “shining city on the hill” GOP party line. You find it in the Democratic party’s belief that things will immediately turn around once Trump is defeated. Like a light getting switched on. It’s a phenomenon I noticed at the end of every year on Twitter. When people would always write, “Good riddance, 2016!” Or “Don’t let the door hit you on your way out 2017!” As if that particular year was the problem and things would turn around once the calendar changed over. But living in America the last decade has been about the dawning awareness that things are fundamentally broken and the existing power structure has been incentivized to keep it that way. We wanted our world of 2030 to be a corrective to the myth of eternal American progress. So wealth inequality is even worse. The environment has collapsed. The social safety net has disappeared and been replaced by a predatory capitalism that is picking off the poor and sick for spare parts. Nothing has gotten better. As we were conceiving it, we realized it was pretty dark, so we added that rich people all traveled around in personal blimps just so it would seem a little more sci-fi.
The other main thrust of the future was the idea of Limon as our Google/Facebook/Amazon analogue, which slowly begins to dominate and control all human interaction. That was based on my weekly Spotify discovery playlists. The goddamn thing makes me an amazing three-hour mixtape every single Monday. I love it. And I hate that I love it. It’s taken all my musical preferences and run it through their algorithm until it knows my taste better than any human being on planet Earth. And it made me realize that’s the future of technology: computer code that anticipates all your needs to disguise the fact that you’ve given it all decision-making power over your life. AI is always depicted as a Skynet-like force starting a war to control humanity, and to me the more realistic version is that everyone would volunteer their control because Limon knew how they wanted their eggs.
The show’s always had a dark sense of humor. And this season, once we went full apocalypse, is definitely the darkest. We are not an uplifting show, and I think that’s one of the reasons we’re such a niche product. But to me, there’s a power in laughing at the pain. So much of life is about waiting for the next terrible shoe to drop and destroy something or someone you love. And in this current American moment, that sense of utter helplessness is even more pronounced. Humor is a way to wrest back at least some semblance of control. You can’t change the pain, but you can decide how you process it. In Season One, Amanda Peet as Jules said, “When I face the gaping yawn of oblivion, I ball my fist and take a swing.” Me? I just come up with a devastating retort (that I give to amazing actors to say out loud).
When you were writing this, how close did you expect the actual world of 2030 to be to the one you were writing?
We were writing a satirical 2030. It was supposed to be comically bad. But it has been a consistent issue in our four seasons that actual, awful reality has constantly nipped at the heels of our satire. We were making some predictions, but more than that we were trying to be a fun-house mirror reflecting the current issues facing this country. The degree to which this season has been prescient is just a product of my pessimism about this country’s direction. I was talking to my father about the pandemic, and I made the comparison that America in 2020 was like a 1984 Toyota Tercel with a couple loose wheels and the oil light on, that’s been driving at night with the headlights off. No one could have foreseen exactly what was going to cause it to crash, but everyone should have seen it wasn’t going to keep running. Especially when the driver is so fucking stupid.
How did it feel when the season began to air in a terrifying present where baseball has temporarily ceased to exist?
We broke and wrote this season in January of 2019. So we obviously didn’t anticipate the world in which it would be released. Had we known, I think some jokes would have been toned down, and more baseball would have been included. I genuinely feel bad for people who turned to us to fill their baseball-sized hole in their heart, and instead we gave them the season with the least amount of baseball. I miss the game so much. Just the everyday constancy of it. It gets to a point we were trying to make in the show: There is something about the end of baseball that feels like the end of America.
Has this crisis made you feel more or less pessimistic about what the future holds for us? Do you think the tone of the finale would have been different if you’d written it now?
I am more pessimistic about the immediate future of America. Seeing people with guns march on state capitals for the freedom to kill themselves and others will do that to you. But those are macro issues. In my immediate present, I’m surrounded by my wife and two young children. That keeps me locked in the present. In spending this much time with the people I love the most, and in finding moments of joy and laughter together, it’s hard to believe that I’m entering a future that will be devoid of bliss.
If I had known that so much of the audience would be saddened and depressed, we probably would have added more silly jokes. We would have leaned into the blimp of it all, if you will. But for those who stick with this season, I do think it offers something for this moment. It was written to be an example of how to find love and meaning in an American apocalypse. And I think in the finale, we do get to a moment of catharsis that is even more resonant in this current moment.
The Brockmire series finale airs May 6th at 10 P.M. on IFC. Previous seasons are streaming on Hulu.