Brockmire, the IFC comedy starring Hank Azaria as disgraced, debauched baseball announcer Jim Brockmire, wasn’t as much fun in its second season (which concluded last night) than in its first. This was by design, though. As part of a planned three-season arc that has since morphed into a four-season one, Brockmire boss Joel Church-Cooper wanted his loquacious hero to hit rock bottom. This required more sex and liquor and drugs than ever before, but also an estrangement from his Season 1 girlfriend Jules (Amanda Peet, who appeared only a handful of times) and increasingly cruel treatment of best friend Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams). (When Charles asked, after reading remarks Jim had prepared in the event of Charles’ funeral, how he could be so eloquent and compassionate in a eulogy yet so unbearable day-to-day, Brockmire explained, “Well, for the dead I have emotions… for the living, my sincerest apologies.”)
The season achieved Church-Cooper’s rock-bottom goal and then some, courtesy of a terrifying barfly played by Carrie Preston whose nihilistic behavior finally scared Brockmire into getting sober and making peace with Jules and Charles before preparing for a new job in Oakland. And it’s with that final rapprochement that we begin a long email conversation with Church-Cooper about where Brockmire has been and where Jim is going.
I first watched that final scene of Jim and Charles and Jules together again, Jim now long-sober, and wondered if this was the end of the series. What can you tell me about where we go from here? And at any point in doing this arc, did you start to ask yourself if this would be a good stopping point? Or is there a planned endpoint you’re building toward?
Before we started shooting Season 1, I pitched IFC a three-season arc. The first was Jim comes back to America, falls in love and leaves that love behind to further his own ambition. The second was Jim flames out on the precipice of success and then hits rock bottom and gets sober. The third season was Jim at spring training, sober in the baseball world for the first time, finally trying to be a good person when he has neither the instincts nor the experience to be one. And assuming the world doesn’t blow up in the next year, it looks like that arc will come to fruition.
We wrote Season 2 before Season 1 came out. At that point I had no idea if there would be a Season 3 or even if we would actually shoot the Season 2 scripts. I thought the Season 2 ending could work as a series finale in a pinch, but obviously I wanted to go further with the character. There was a logline that came to me while we were shooting Season 1: “An asshole gets better as a country gets worse.” And that’s been the guiding vision ever since. So where we go from here is to continue to tell his story of redemption and see just how much an unrepentant asshole can change once he becomes repentant. Also, since I came up with the Season 3 story line, it seems like it’s never mattered less to be a good person in this country – that the loudest, most selfish people are the ones who seem to get rewarded. So, this next season will also have an element of that: the idea that Jim is trying to become a better person at a time in America where the cultural discussion is going in the opposite direction.
Lastly, I’ve come up with a Season 4 story line that I like too. And our two-season pickup means that’s most likely going to happen as well. Never say never, but I think the Season 4 ending will probably be the series finale. And I think it will bring the show full circle in a cool way.
What was it like writing a sober Brockmire in those final scenes? In whatever prep you’ve done so far for Season 3, does it feel like it’s going to be much more challenging to generate laughs if he’s not drunk and/or high? Brockmire says at one point that people only love him when he’s drunk; how much do you feel that’s true, in terms of the things the audience enjoys about watching him?
I told Hank that Brockmire in rehab has an emotional sunburn, he felt everything in the air and the feeling was always going to be intense. But I also wanted to show he was a little unstable as well. The emotional outburst over his Ann-Margret film festival was there to show he doesn’t quite have a handle on his sobriety. He’s essentially hidden out for a year and stopped drinking, but he hasn’t really done the work he needs to do to repair his relationships and to be a functional adult instead of a functional alcoholic. Brockmire has a healthy ego and that will interfere with his recovery in Season 3. So I wanted the ending to suggest he has pulled up before the plane crashed, but he still has a long way to go before he lands safely.
We haven’t found it difficult for Brockmire to be funny in Season 3 because to me what makes him funny was never just the addictions, it was his unfiltered opinions and charm. Both of which I feel like are core to his personality. Do I miss having the ability to blow the scene on him sniffing amyl nitrate? Yes. But that’s one of the reasons I wanted to eliminate it from the show. I didn’t want it to become a crutch we leaned on forever. I will take a cheap laugh, but I don’t really want to build a show on them. In the writers’ room I told everyone I didn’t want Brockmire to turn into Foster Brooks. And no one knew who he was so we watched a few clips. Which sort of backfired, because they really killed in the room. But I told them that I just didn’t want to write a cartoon drunk. I want the show to have a realism to the emotions and the characters. To do that, you have to acknowledge that a fun drunk isn’t fun all the time. And that if you go as hard as he does, you either die or stop. And I think there’s a lot of humor to be had in what happens after this degenerate stops and tries to make things right.
Jim’s definitely less lovable this time out. Do you feel his behavior changed significantly or was it just his circumstances?
This season we knew we were driving towards his sobriety, which means we had to conceive and show his rock bottom. And it had to be bad, because he’s already had a series of horrific experiences that anyone else would call rock bottom. So to get to that place, we knew it would have to get dark. I don’t think you get to that place until you’ve burned a lot of bridges, so we knew that had to be a part of the show. But also, money and success is not going to make a selfish, asshole addict a better person. It’s just going to enable him to navigate trouble easier and give him more options for self-abuse. I definitely wanted to ride the line of likability but keep the audience invested in his journey. It helps also that I know where this is all going. This show is “an asshole gets better as a country gets worse,” so I promise if anyone was put off by his behavior in certain moments this season, it was only a dip in his overall character arc.
Jules’ presence was greatly reduced this year. Was that about Amanda’s availability or purely a story choice? What was it like writing the show without a romance, even a dysfunctional one, as part of its spine?
I always knew that Jules was going to have a reduced role in Season 2. And it was one of the reasons we landed Amanda Peet: She knew she didn’t have to commit to this show indefinitely. But the main reason I did it is that, to me, this was never a show about a couple. It was a show about a very flawed character. And I wanted to demonstrate what would happen if he chose career and ambition over love. And to have true consequences to his actions. I’m not a big fan of a big cliffhanger that gets resolved quickly the next season, and the show just goes back to what it was. I just thought we’re in this new era of television on a small network, the only way to do it is to try to do something new with every episode and every season. So, to have a breakup stick and have the consequences be real, I thought, just opened up a world of possibilities to me. All of that being said, she will always be the love of his life in the world of the show. And Amanda Peet will be in Season 3 and Season 4, so the story of their relationship is far from over.
In a big-picture narrative sense, I’ve always envisioned the show having a new setting and new characters every season. I describe every season as a new show with the same main character. Jim is a raconteur vagabond, and the show will follow his journey around America. As another example of this, Charles will only be in a few episodes of Season 3. I realize that most people watch TV for that sense of familiarity, but I just thought we were in a unique era to try something new. Or really new for American TV. There are a lot of Brockmire/Alan Patridge parallels, and I always liked how they managed to keep that character fresh by putting him in a variety of formats.
Without the romance, I wanted to explore the relationship between Charles and Jim. That was new ground I hadn’t seen before: an intergenerational, interracial, codependent, work/roommate relationship. A love story is building on romantic comedy tropes, but this felt like we could create this relationship out of whole cloth. I’m really proud of the relationship we depicted, and when Charles finally says “I love you” back, at the end of the season, it brings tears to my eyes.
Were there pitches for who might be in the mascot costume other than a teenage girl?
This bit came from the fact that my sister-in-law worked for the Lowell Spinners minor league team while she was in college. She would dress up as the mascot and take pictures with kids. She’s the nicest, sweetest person in the world, so the idea of her being in a blood feud in costume with Brockmire just tickled me. I guess we should have been more clear, that no one knows she’s a teenage girl until the intervention. Obviously, if he knows all along, it’s less funny. But they’re very careful about the people in the suits. We just had a costumed character over for my daughter’s birthday, and the performer changed in her car to preserve the mystery of who was inside. So, to me, it was hilarious that Brockmire was in a feud with a mystery person that he assumed was a grown man but turned out to be a teenage girl. This might be my hill to die on, but goddammit, I still find it funny.
When Jim finally gets to call a big-league game again, the teams on the field are very clearly not the Braves and Mets. Was it too difficult to get Major League Baseball to approve their logos appearing in a show this filthy?
We have a complicated relationship with Major League Baseball. Hank has called MLB games in character. He’s appeared on the MLB Network. Brockmire has thrown out the first pitch. But of all the sports, I think MLB is the most traditional, and since our show is trying to upend traditions wherever possible, there’s always going to be a conflict. They have a problem with the R-rated nature of the stuff we do, as well as the drinking and drugs. Not to mention the fact that an ongoing subplot of the show is that baseball is dying. I love baseball, but it feels like I’m the youngest person who does, and I am not young. I’m not even in the coveted 18-35 demo! I think it’s a fact that MLB does not like to admit, but to most people under 20, baseball is an old, boring thing that does not feel relevant in any way. I feel like MLB is in a similar situation to the record industry just as Napster was coming out, pointing to their record profits and ignoring the bleak future. Any baseball show that holds that viewpoint is not likely to get the rights to a Braves/Mets game.
Considering how much of a bender Jim is on throughout the season, how hard (or maybe scary) was it to conceive of ways that Carrie Preston’s character would seem so much worse than him?
Brockmire always flirted with nihilism, so we thought the person he meets at his lowest point should be the personification of that idea. If he’s all alone and has blown his last chance, then the comfort he would seek would be with someone who told him that everything is meaningless. Also, every stupid thing I’ve ever done in my life was with someone else who was on board. There’s a safety-in-numbers thing to explore your darkest impulses. We had a whole backstory for Carrie that I told her about, but we wanted to keep her character a mystery on the show. She lives in a mansion, but has no pictures on the wall. She wears nice clothes, but stabs people in the leg. But we as an audience don’t get the backstory, because Jim doesn’t want one. He wants to live in the moment with someone who makes every moment dangerous and thrilling, because it might possibly be their last moment. When I was writing those scenes, it was actually the first time I’ve ever been depressed while working. I had to try to convince my main character that he should kill himself, and it was just a bummer. I work in comedy specifically so I can avoid feeling that way. But once we chose that direction, that’s the way the story had to lay out. I’m very happy we got an amazing actress of Carrie Preston’s caliber for the role. I think you believe every moment with her. And there are a lot of moments in that sequence that make me laugh. When I showed that sequence to my father, he turned to me and said, “Who exactly are you writing this for?” I told him, “Anyone who can laugh at the darkness.” To me, that’s the only way to acknowledge the pain of the world and still have some power over it, since no one has any ability to stop it. But the Season 2 finale is the darkest the show will get. The rest of the series is about Jim Brockmire’s rise as not only a broadcaster, but as a human being. I thought the TV antihero was getting played out a bit, so I’m taking baseball’s Heisenberg and attempting to turn him into pre-cancer Walter White.