For a series to make as dramatic a change to its status quo in the midst of a winning streak like IFC’s Brockmire has at the start of its third season is — to use what I can only assume is an appropriate baseball comparison — like pulling an all-star pitcher in the middle of throwing a no-hitter. Yet as the series demonstrates from the first moment on, Hank Azaria’s drunken, debauched, and routinely disgraced broadcaster, Jim Brockmire, is nothing if not used to starting over. The volatile announcer has had his share of setbacks and breakdowns over the past two seasons, including a failed romance with Amanda Peet’s (The Romanoffs) equally pickled minor league team owner, Jules James, which partly sets in motion the enormous changes at play at the start of season 3, so it’s all familiar territory for him.
That works out tremendously well as Azaria, along with creator Joel Church-Cooper, and series newcomers Tawny Newsome, Martha Plimpton, and J.K. Simmons (Counterpart), waste little time diving headlong into the series’ new setting of Florida, and Brockmire’s new position as the co-announcer of the team Simmons’s Matt ‘The Bat’ Hardesty has been the voice of for years. The lack of handholding being done for the audience is refreshing, but hardly a first for the series, as season 2 saw him leave the mic in Morristown for New Orleans before taking a new gig in Atlanta. In other words, Brockmire (the series and the character) isn’t one to stay in one place for too long. In fact, the only constant in Jim’s life seems to be his unquenchable thirst for booze and its ability to loosen his tongue enough so that he does irreparable harm to his closest relationships.
So what’s a series like Brockmire to do in order to truly sell its new setting and new cast of supporting characters? Make Jim Brockmire sober and put him in AA with Martha Plimpton’s Shirley as his cantankerous, doesn’t-take-sh*t-from-anybody sponsor. But that’s only part of what Brockmire has in store for its refreshingly funny third season. While Jim’s sobriety is a significant throughline, it doesn’t loom over every scene or every decision he makes. Instead, it comes as a surprise — likely as much to Jim as it does to everyone else around him — that he’s still very much the Brockmire everyone loves to hate, even without a bottomless glass of bourbon in his hand.
Changing the character’s circumstances and his desires without significantly changing the character himself is no easy task. Drunkenness, hangovers, and the occasional inopportune breakdown were as much a part of Brockmire’s appeal as the distinct cadence of his voice and that brilliant red-and-white-plaid blazer he dons while in the booth. And besides, stories about recovering alcoholics aren’t exactly known for being side-splitting comedies in the way Brockmire so often is. But over the past two seasons, the series has been cleverly setting up its character and its audience for just this sort of reversal, making the show as much about Jim Brockmire’s capacity (and struggle) to change as it is about his wild antics and meticulously well crafted, long winded, and landfill-level filthy insults.
The key to that has most often been Brockmire’s relationship with Jules and Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams) the Morristown A/V genius who has, against all odds, become like a son to the nomadic announcer. With Jules and Charles largely out of the third season — though they both still have important parts to play — it’s up to Newsome’s Gabby Taylor, Richard Kind as their producer, and, surprisingly, the surly Matt ‘The Bat.’ The results are some of the best single episodes Brockmire has done, due in no small part to just how much the show actually tries to interrogate what a old-school broadcaster like Jim would have to offer an industry that is more transparent and (incrementally) less accommodating to the inebriated toxic masculinity of a previous generation.
Through it all, each episode of Brockmire season 3 manages to consistently outdo the previous installment, resulting in a season of television that’s fit for a weekly or all-at-once binge watch. If nothing else, though, it’s an impressive feat what the series has done, turning over a new leaf at the same time its title character has, and doing so in a way that’s as rewarding as the show’s ever been.
Brockmire season 3 premieres Wednesday, April 3 @10pm on IFC.