[Note: The following interview contains spoilers for the series finale of “Brockmire.”]
If you’d have told Hank Azaria during the filming of the first season of “Brockmire” that the show would have continued for the better part of a half-decade, become a nuanced character study of a man in search of meaning, and ended in a place that had worldwide emotional and psychological relevance, he might not have believed you.
“We shot that whole first season in 22 days,” series star Hank Azaria told IndieWire. “They were longer scripts then, because we didn’t know any better. So we were shooting like 35-page scripts. It was insane. I had no idea that first season whether we’d even get anything usable, let alone be good. It was nuts.”
As it turned out, that first season was not only usable, it was sustainable. An underdog IFC comedy of sorts, the show became more than a thin sketch about Jim Brockmire, a baseball announcer whose in-the-booth meltdown sends him into an unexpected period of introspection and a demotion to minor league duty. In the show’s first season, he meets Jules (Amanda Peet), a minor-league owner who complements his ego in good ways and bad. Season 2 culminated in maybe the best episode of the entire series and found Brockmire embracing sobriety. The search for a higher power rippled through last year’s penultimate season.
To add an extra layer of relevance, the series’ final eight episodes confront the end of the world. As the nation splinters, the climate collapses, and baseball as an institution becomes a shell of its former self, “Brockmire” still ends up as a bizarrely soothing balm. Up through the finale, the show was a reminder that there are some things in life worth saving.
“I hope that it’s sort of nice for people to see human beings going through something and yet finding hope and humor and love,” Azaria said. “Our times were kind of crazy and tough even before this, and that the show was certainly a response to that. And the message was, and is, ‘We can all get through this as long as we have each other.’ Joel Church-Cooper, our head writer, he manages to to make shows that are truly emotional like that without being sentimental. I don’t know how he does it, but he does a great job of it.”
That shifting thematic approach with each passing season is something that initially surprised Azaria. Despite the tumultuous production journey on the show’s first season, he said that he was tempted to stay in the groove the show had settled into in Season 1: a charming love story with a foul-mouthed protagonist prone to narrating his daily life in the same silky baritone he brought to calling baseball action.
“I was so happy with Season 1. To make something that’s funny is hard. I was really happy just to stay with that. We only do eight-episode seasons. So I was like, ‘Why don’t we just do 24 more of these? Nothing wrong with that!'” Azaria said. “Joel [Church-Cooper] was able to keep it as funny but he insisted on never really repeating himself, on pushing the character. To have a character tell a redemption story? I didn’t think we were going to do that. The show seems to be saying to you, ‘This guy will never change. Anybody who says they’re gonna change is full of shit. The world’s not like that.’ And yet to set up those rules and that reality and then have a character change is pretty amazing.”
Though the series’ block shooting schedule kept it from being the final shoot day — Azaria says his series wrap came after filming a scene where Brockmire, as MLB Commissioner, speaks to a collection of team owners —the ending sequence of “Brockmire” is a quiet, reflective farewell. The now-married Jules and Brockmire are joined by his daughter Beth (Reina Hardesty) and Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams), who’s gone from being Brockmire’s de facto assistant to a billionaire tech innovator. Surrounded by seasons’ worth of family and friends, contemplating his recent Parkinson’s disease prognosis, TV’s most notable baseball man soaks in the sounds of the ballpark.
“That was purposeful. I like the poetry of that. We started the series with a guy at a baseball game, not only unable to shut up but having a nervous breakdown that wrecks his life. For him to be able to just be happy and silent and take in the game surrounded by his family, with real connection to them, that was the full arc of the show,” Azaria said.
Aside from being somewhat of a comfort during current global circumstances, this final season of “Brockmire” arrives during a time when North American baseball is on hold. Azaria himself is a well-documented baseball fan (he says that Brockmire’s dig at the current New York Mets ownership group was one of his rare ad libs in the finale), but he isn’t going back and watching old games. As the wait for the return of MLB action continues, Azaria is turning to other sports to help fill the gap.
“As a Mets/Jets/Knicks fan, the season being canceled is almost a mixed blessing. Definitely going .500,” Azaria said. “I’m very sad about the Olympics being canceled. I’ve been watching a lot of reruns of Olympics and world track meet championships. I don’t remember who won the women’s pole vault three years ago, but those contests are incredible. It’s high drama.”
For those in search of a compact, multi-season show to watch right now, “Brockmire” isn’t a bad pick. Whether or not the show’s current availability on Hulu leads to more people discovering the series, Azaria is approaching the end of “Brockmire” with contentment. It may endure as a cult hit (“which is translation for a great show that not too many people watch,” he says with a chuckle), but whatever the designation, it’s a show that Azaria speaks about with great fondness.
“For the last bunch of years, I’ve always been trying to make something this good and real and funny, and it’s just hard. I think some of the success of how well ‘Brockmire’ came out, in my opinion, came out of the ashes of the old ‘To make the omelet, you gotta break the egg.’ I learned a lot from my past mistakes, both creatively and logistically. The most important thing I learned, at the top of that list, is: connect with a writer that you trust, and let them do their thing. Every time I tried to create something, it hasn’t gone well. So I’m really thrilled that I can point to ‘Brockmire’ and say, ‘I’m really proud of that.'”
“Brockmire” Season 4 is available via IFC. The series’ first three seasons are available to stream on Hulu.