'Brews Brothers': TV Review

Netflix
Captures the obsessive nature of brewing, but the characters are flat.
4/10/2020

Netflix's new brewery comedy wants to be 'The League,' only with beer instead of fantasy football.

In the pantheon of unlikely great comedies, perhaps we don't talk enough about FX's The League and its complicated achievement in making a quirky and frequently toxic obsession, and its devoted practitioners, seem likable and extremely funny without ever losing sight of its toxicity.

Netflix's new comedy Brews Brothers shares some DNA with The League — Jeff Schaffer is an executive producer and directed multiple episodes — and very clearly wants to do for the world of hipster beer brewing what The League did for fantasy football. That's namely to simultaneously mock and respect a subculture with its own rituals and language. It's on that level that Brews Brothers succeeds reasonably. Where it fails, through its eight-episode first season, is in the establishing of enough distinctive characters and voices to keep Brews Brothers interesting as anything more than effective bro-baiting.

Created by Greg Schaffer, Brews Brothers stars Alan Aisenberg as Will (legally changed to Wilhelm out of Teutonic admiration), owner and brewmeister for XXXTreme Rodman's, a cavernous and failing beer hall in Van Nuys. The bar's name, location and a string of unfortunate brandings for his signature beers — The Rod Guzzler, for example — have caused customers to assume the bar is actually a sex shop, a joke replayed ad nauseam. Will is barely keeping the bar afloat with basically two trusty employees, Carmen Flood's former MMA fighter Sarah and Marques Ray's dim-yet-crafty Chuy, when his brother Adam (Mike Castle) arrives on the scene.

Adam and Will have a lifelong brewing rivalry. Adam is a rigid, pretentious and generally insufferable perfectionist, who places his beer-making art over all commercial concerns. Will is more of an insufferable populist, prepared to cut certain corners to get his beers distribution and turn his hall into a boozy playground for the Valley's thirsty and vacuous.

Like The League, Brews Brothers very nicely captures the way a passionate fixation — in this case professional rather than hobby — begets both a vast knowledge base and also inherent snobbery. This is done in a way that both basement aficionados and those who'd just as soon make fun of those aficionados should be able to respect.

The vernacular of brewing actually probably flows through these scripts more successfully than The League was ever able to capture the specific and usually timely details of fantasy sports — something The League combated by having at least half of its characters espouse a complete disinterest in actual football. For those characters on The League, fantasy was just a vehicle through which to torture friends (and occasionally family). That carries through into Brews Brothers, as well. If Will and Adam didn't have brewing as a point of competition, they'd find something else because their relationship is based exclusively on torment, which feels realistic.

Brews Brothers is heavy on puerile shenanigans, many if not most based on bodily fluids and injecting those fluids and miscellaneous body parts into the brewing process. It's not sophisticated, but it can be funny at times and Brews Brothers gets laughs from an alcoholic St. Bernard, brawling Belgian monks and the health code-busting hijinks of the sexy-but-gross couple (Zach Reino's Elvis and Inanna Sarkis' Becky) who run the food truck perpetually parked outside the bar.

When it tries to be smarter than that, Brews Brothers doesn't work nearly as well. An episode in which the bar becomes a haven for white supremacists — Will names a beer "Weiss Power" — pales in inevitable comparison to probably 50 It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episodes, as well as a very similar recent episode of Apple's Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet. There's one great joke that seems to be based around the Wilhelm Scream, but that's as deep as the punchlines get.

The bigger depth problem is how thin all of the characters are. There's no clarity regarding whether or not Will is even good at the brewing or commerce he's attempting and no consistency on his obliviousness, while Adam is comparably all over the map in his slight variations on "too annoying to live."

Aisenberg and Castle are fine, but neither has a character grounded enough to be the long-term centerpiece a show like this requires. Both Will and Adam are positively bursting with plausibility compared to Sarah, a hastily sketched assemblage of, at most, two or three backstory details who makes very little sense as a person despite Flood's entirely game efforts. Shows like this can suffer from testosterone run amok and Sarah's limited integration into this world reminded me of how utterly crucial Katie Aselton's Jenny was to the initial palatability of The League.

As flimsy as Sarah is in characterization, even that is better than lazy, scheming Chuy, who embodies multiple Latinx caricatures at once. I think if you just take Elvis and Becky as a two-headed version of Jason Mantzoukas' Rafi from The League, there are some smiles — interspersed with more than a couple "Ewww!" moments — in that.

The League, it needs to be said, was only barely The League in its first season and the point that Brews Brothers reaches at the end of its eighth episode is interesting and more creatively fertile than where it begins, albeit comparably strapped for logic. But that's a plot thing. I'd feel much more confidence in Brews Brothers moving forward if the writers had dedicated half the time to characterization that they gave to types of yeast, beer classifications and what happens if and when somebody dips their balls in a frothy beverage.

Cast: Alan Aisenberg, Mike Castle, Carmen Flood, Marques Ray, Zach Reino, Inanna Sarkis
Creator: Greg Schaffer
Premieres: Friday (Netflix)