It’s safe to say that the jokes in the opening minutes of Season 4 of “Brockmire” play a little differently than they would have a few weeks ago. As the IFC show fast-forwards in its final episodes to the year 2030, it finds a world ravaged by water shortages and any number of other national fractures. Cricket has taken over baseball’s market share in the U.S. and companies are offering quick cash in a worsening ethical swamp.
Take the way that characters casually toss out the phrase “The Disputed Lands” to refer to the former region around Arizona in the show’s chosen dystopia. It’s meant as a joke about how quickly we adjust to catastrophe and compartmentalize the suffering of others. “Brockmire” wasn’t necessarily meant as a roadmap or a blueprint or a cautionary tale or a warning bell. But to have something like this arrive now, fully-formed, is an unexpected, welcome addition to the world of TV and the world at large, right while we’re living through a similar crest of terrible.
Despite these drastic timeline-induced changes, the character at the center of it all remains the same. Jim Brockmire (Hank Azaria), though he might have altered priorities, still shows remnants of the buttery, baritone-d baseball announcer that ran through the broadcast booth and beyond with the strength of gale force alcoholism. In the opening season, as “Brockmire” tried to establish that anything in his past and present was possible, the show now turns to Jim as a protective father who’s both sober and sobered. Continuing his ongoing virtuosity in the role, Azaria still channels the melodious rhythms of Brockmire’s voice as he’s detailing his deepest desires, his most outrageous conquests, and the most tender of paternal sentiments.
Even with Brockmire himself as the anchor, in past seasons, the wild swings between time periods and tones and various Brockmire associates felt like a show in search of what it was good at. Here, at the end, those swings feel more baked in and integral to how each of these people are evolving. As Jim Brockmire juggles the responsibility of being a father to Beth (Reina Hardesty) and running Major League Baseball (oh yeah, he’s the commissioner now, by the way), Season 4 finds the ideal line between evoking both the debauchery of his past and squaring one man’s outsized legend with his more understanding current form.
Of course, some of that wildness sprouts up in flashbacks, and other characters do their part to take up the mantle in the show’s present. When long-lost object of affection Jules (Amanda Peet) reappears after her own stretch of wandering through the baseball-adjacent wilderness, she and Brockmire become more subtle and effective foils for each other, all while hinting at the romantic strengths of the show’s first season. If the first three seasons of “Brockmire” highlighted all the ways Jim was out of step with the world around him, this home stretch underlines how being confronted with the possible end of baseball and the world around it leads to a reckoning he comes to welcome.
Months after bidding adieu to another self-destructive occasional misanthrope trying to make good in uncertain times, “Brockmire” follows in the footsteps of “BoJack Horseman” by bringing back old favorites like Jules and Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams), along with some choice running gags that have bridged the seasons. (Once again, Brockmire’s white-hot hatred of one particular director’s filmography is truly a gift that continues to give.)
And of course, there’s the ever-present baseball-as-metaphor foundation that the show was always channeling, even when Jim’s status in the broadcast booth was a main focus. The sport was a perfect stand-in for all our anxieties about a changing world, even before sports went away. Did baseball need to change to survive or was its survival based on staying the same for those who’d always loved it? Season 4 finds Brockmire and baseball more spiritually aligned than ever, even as the show’s hijinks follow everything around what happens on the field.
As with fellow final-season time-jumpers like “Casual” and “Parks and Recreation,” the last eight episodes of “Brockmire” also stumble on something profound not by reinventing the future, but singling out what might remain. The personal digital assistants are more powerful, the gig economy has ballooned. The in-world ads running on background TVs don’t seem quite as satirical when they were written, but they still manage to show the value of easing end-times tension by joking about it.
Those fake commercials are just one element of a season that feels empowered to be even more expansive and follow wherever it wants. That means moving away from Brockmire once in a while so that the season’s other standout performances — particularly Hardesty’s and Peet’s — don’t get shuffled to the background. Unpredictable times on an unpredictable show call for something other than linear narratives. Here, Season 4 is more than ready to oblige, with series director Maurice Marable overseeing “Brockmire” crossing continents and decades and various shades of technocratic doom like a ball being whipped around the horn.
Even so, those changes pale in comparison to the strides of Brockmire himself who, through Azaria and the writing team led by creator Joel Church-Cooper, tries to actually consider the needs of others rather than use them for his own edification. In the “Brockmire” world, there’s a question of this change of heart coming too late, if both the man and the sport he loves have missed their window to adapt in the ways they need to. In our world, all those changes came precisely at the time when they’d mean the most.
“Brockmire” airs Wednesday nights at 10 p.m. on IFC.