There are few shows with a title character so closely aligned with a series’ fortunes than IFC’s tragicomedy “Brockmire,” which has seen quality shifts that reflect the volatility of Jim Brockmire’s personal life. In following the exploits of a monumentally narcissistic baseball announcer, the first season was listless and only found its true emotional core by the end of its second. Season 3 splits the difference, taking a long path to reach the intersection of goofy and grounded.
The newly sober Brockmire (Hank Azaria) is adjusting to life without his favorite substances and facing another shot at a big-league gig. In the past, most of the jokes came from Brockmire’s fish-out-of-water anxieties in the minor leagues; here, Season 3 deftly uses the Florida spring-training locale and a new approach to his AA meetings as new ways to make him feel uncomfortable. (One particular saga with the local wildlife makes for one of the season’s most succinct, satisfying arcs.)
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With the shift to Florida comes a few new faces, and Season 3’s biggest addition is also its best. As Gabby Taylor, Olympic softball champion and Brockmire’s new partner in the booth, Tawny Newsome is a welcome counterpart to Azaria’s carefully crafted neuroses. Initially Gabby feels more like a vehicle for Brockmire’s self-improvement, but the two characters find the optimal way to work together and become a welcome team in the chaos surrounding them. JK Simmons also elevates Season 3 as Matt “The Bat” Hardesty, one of Brockmire’s snappiest rivals. Simmons breathes his special blend of ferocity and vulnerability into a role that could easily be defined by the origins of the character’s sophomoric nickname.
One member of the Brockmire circle describes him as “going from drunk asshole to sober asshole.” Staying true to the character, “Brockmire” dots Season 3 with some very impulsive decisions. When they’re motivated by Brockmire trying to fill the void, it makes sense. When they’re included purely to give the character something to do in between family confrontations or stints behind a microphone, it rings hollow.
Season 3 works to bring up the supporting cast to Brockmire’s level, but the rising tide starts to lift all quirks. When people from his past make their reentry into his orbit, it’s not enough that they have to return; they bring outsized relationship problems with them that distract from the meaningful advances in human connection that the show has spent time fostering.
Then again, if the show has to live in a heightened state, it’s found a groove in letting Brockmire be a one-liner geyser. A running gag about his aversion to a fan-favorite auteur’s filmography, parsing the flotilla of secondary “Godfather” characters, and calling out the relative quality of fast-casual restaurants all lead to some of the biggest laughs. Even the fictional on-air sponsorship ad reads find delightful ways to play upon the absurdities of the sporting events that lie on the outskirts of the major leagues.
In Season 2, “Brockmire” was best when it stepped away from baseball. The show’s best moments still happen outside the booth, but if there’s a breakthrough development for this season, it’s that the show found a way to transform Brockmire’s love of the game into something more substantial. Dovetailing with his ongoing search for redemption and reconciliation, “Brockmire” has locked into its own arch baseball universe where being a part of the action is a healing process all in itself. “Brockmire” wins some and loses some, but at this point, that’s how its game is played. Either way, it’s still worth watching to see what unfolds next.
“Brockmire” airs Wednesday nights at 10:00 p.m. on IFC.