“God, what the hell is going on down there?” Jim Brockmire asks his producer, upon being told about the latest national tragedies they’ll have to acknowledge while broadcasting that day’s baseball game.
“The apocalypse,” she replies bluntly.
“Well,” Jim considers, “I guess everything else moves so much faster these days. Why not the end of times, as well?”
Jim and his producer aren’t exaggerating much, if at all. The IFC comedy’s fourth and final season is largely set from 2030 to 2033. Earth has been ravaged by the climate crisis; one newscast cheerfully assures its viewers that local temperatures will soon drop down to the low 110s. The Amazon has burned down, several Southwestern states have become lawless parts of “the Disputed Lands,” there are food-shortage riots, and television is filled with ads for assault weapons and companies that offer debt relief from predatory loans in exchange for organ harvesting — the latter suggesting that euthanasia is a better alternative to suffering from water toxicity, radiation sickness, and “supercancer.”
“Dark times!” Jim responds at one point, rightly horrified by what’s become of society. “Dark, dark, dark times!”
When Brockmire showrunner Joel Church-Cooper decided to conclude Jim’s story in the near future, he knew how dark our own times already were. But he couldn’t have possibly known that the final season would debut at a time this dark, when a supervirus is making most of us barricade ourselves inside our own homes, while professional sports like Jim’s beloved baseball have had to shut down for weeks at minimum, maybe quite a lot longer.
As wonderful as Brockmire was over its first three seasons — hilariously vulgar yet also remarkably moving, featuring a career-best performance from Hank Azaria in the title role — this could be viewed as terrible timing for Season Four to premiere. But among the amazing accomplishments of these last eight episodes is how they wind up feeling oddly comforting for this strange and scary moment in which we all find ourselves.
The season actually begins in 2020, as Brockmire — who, over the course of the show’s previous seasons, rebuilt his career after an infamous on-air meltdown; got sober; found love (briefly) with Amanda Peet’s Jules; and made a best friend in Tyrel Jackson Williams’ Charles — discovers he fathered a daughter during his debauched exile in the Philippines(*). Jump a decade forward, and Jim has so taken to fatherhood that he has no idea what to do as his daughter, Beth (Reina Hardesty), prepares to move to New York for college. So he reluctantly becomes the new baseball commissioner, as much to remain close to her as to try to revive baseball for a public that has gradually lost all interest in the sport.
(*) Among other things, this allows the show to revisit one of its strongest early jokes: that Jim is best known in that part of the world not for baseball or the meltdown, but for playing the Robert Wagner role in a Pinoy remake of Hart to Hart.
The season does find a few bright spots in this terrifyingly plausible vision of the future, though they tend to be Brockmire-style bright spots. Jim, for instance, releases a lot of his stress with regular visits to Mr. Magorium’s Masturbatorium. (And apparently, even more onanistic delights await him via his discovery of an expensive holographic projector a team owner has accidentally left behind. “Looks like Daddy’s gonna fuck himself some light!” Jim says, doing play-by-play, as always, for his own life.) And while computer algorithms play even more of a role in deciding the course of human lives, at least the omnipresent digital assistant Limon sounds friendly and offers sensible advice.
The notion of Jim (and, eventually, Jules and Charles) trying to save baseball in the end times could seem frivolous, with all the depressing background details overwhelming the main story. Instead, it plays as reassuring. Sports are still being played, even if the guardians of this particular game have done everything possible to chase away potential fans. And Jim’s quest to undo the damage stands in for a larger desire to make sense of how quickly the world seems to be changing for the worse. Another fake ad has Jim promoting a pill that promises to cure “content fatigue” for older people, while warning that its side effects include “explosive stools” (a phrase Hank Azaria may have been put on this planet to say). Among the season’s better running gags is how individual baseball games keep getting longer and longer no matter what Jim tries, yet the leisurely pace begins to stand out as a relief from the madness outside the sport.
Hardesty fits perfectly into the show, and Jim becoming a helicopter parent generates new avenues of humor without fundamentally changing him. He’s long sober now — which also creates obstacles in a potential reconciliation with coke-fiend Jules — but has made fatherhood his new addiction, much to his daughter’s frustration. And it adds more urgency to his desire to improve the world, however possible, because it’s the one Beth will have to live in.
In an era full of comedies, such as Fleabag, Barry, and BoJack Horseman, that can turn on a dime from absurdity to tragedy, the ability of Brockmire to do so shouldn’t be that surprising. But there is something so fundamentally ridiculous about this man and his world — yes, even more than the cartoon horse-man whose ex-girlfriend, a cat, likes alliteration — that it still feels miraculous how deeply felt Azaria’s performance can be, and how much Jim’s personal relationships wind up mattering. There’s a scene in one of the later episodes that features a lovely, tear-jerking conversation between Jim and Jules (Peet has also never been better); seconds later, guest star Paul F. Tompkins is talking about his merkin collection, and not only does the joke not undercut the pathos, it makes the scene feel even more emotionally rich.
I watched the season’s first five episodes before the extent of COVID-19 and our necessary response to it were fully clear, and the last three after sports had shut down and I’d barricaded my family inside our home for the next few weeks. And I felt more upbeat watching the last three than I had the first five! Some of that response is simply due to how Church-Cooper chooses to end the series, with notes of hopefulness mixed into the dark future he’s envisioned for Jim, and for us. Like Jim Brockmire himself, I found solace in the notion that, even if the apocalypse is underway, there will still be baseball.
The fourth season of Brockmire premieres March 18th on IFC. Previous seasons are streaming now on Hulu.