'Brockmire' Season 4: TV Review

One of the best shows you've never watched goes out strong.

Hank Azaria's foul-mouthed baseball announcer takes a bold leap into the future in the final season of this tremendous IFC comedy.

Looking back on the four-season evolution of IFC's Brockmire, it's impressive that a seemingly one-joke Funny or Die character had enough comic versatility to justify a full show built around him; even more impressive is that the broadly funny series turned out to have unexpected and yet completely convincing emotional underpinnings as a humane character study.

The team behind Brockmire, from creator Joel Church-Cooper and producer-star Hank Azaria to directors Tim Kirby and Maurice Marable, have always had a reach for their little-watched gem that exceeded the grasp of a show about a foul-mouthed baseball announcer with an assortment of addictions.

So by that standard, there shouldn't be much room for surprise that the fourth and final season of Brockmire is, if anything, an even bigger swing in terms of tone, topicality and genre; amid frequent belly-laughs, these last eight episodes were somehow provocative and, by the penultimate episode, made me cry. Brockmire isn't one of those trendy half-hours that are too cool to be funny, and that remained true even as the show kept going after more ambitious targets.

After a quick rush of background to tell us how Jim Brockmire (Azaria) came to have a previously unmentioned daughter — like many good things on Brockmire, it relates to his hazy, drug-fueled adventures in Manila — the new season takes a quick leap into several stages of a dystopic future, one marked by political unrest, food shortages and a global pandemic (so perhaps less escapism than audiences are hoping for?). As we find ourselves in 2030, Brockmire is actually thriving as a father to Beth (Reina Hardesty). Baseball, however, isn't doing nearly as well and in what can only be seen as an act of desperation, it's proposed that the only person capable of saving the sport is Jim Brockmire. And surely nothing bad can come of that.

Actually, if I have a complaint about the fourth season of Brockmire, it's how relatively insignificant baseball is to this final run of episodes. Brockmire has always been one of those shows where you told baseball-averse viewers, "Brockmire is about baseball, but it isn't really about baseball," knowing full well that, really and truly, it was absolutely a show about baseball (plus a lot of other things). So it's my piddly complaint that the fourth season maybe doesn't get full value out of projecting the actual ways that baseball could avoid obsolescence over the next 15 years, preferring thin analysis like, "The game needs to speed up" and "Wouldn't it be great if there were more marketing opportunities?" and, in somewhat better form, "Perhaps we need to rebrand the Cleveland Indians."

That's my criticism. All done.

The fourth season of Brockmire is actually a tremendous slice of speculative satire, a companion piece of sorts to Idiocracy in its commentary on the descent of human intellect, our inevitable surrender to encroaching technology and tangible consequences of our disrespect of the environment. There are parts of this season that feel like a real heir to Kurt Vonnegut in terms of the blend of rampant silliness and earnest concern, a completely organic evolution of a show that began with Brockmire seeking his comeback in a decaying mining town where the team was called the "Frackers." The season's third episode makes a return to Morristown and brings back Amanda Peet's Jules with a half-hour that's hilarious and spiked with two or three "I can't believe they actually went there" detours into darkness.

Peet was one of the most important parts of the first Brockmire season, but in her subsequent recurring status, the show displayed an impressive ability to simply shift the focus without any decline in quality. The second season made Tyrel Jackson Williams' Charles into Brockmire's primary foil and excelled. The third season brought in Tawny Newsome's Gabby as Brockmire's new broadcasting partner and didn't skip a beat. In both cases, it was a platonic pairing, leaving open the possibility that Azaria and Peet's difficult-to-replicate chemistry could be part of the series' endgame after both characters had the opportunity to evolve a little.

Beth, played with Azaria-matching moxie by Hardesty, offers a different dynamic with Brockmire, a caring and paternal side, but a side that fits well with what we knew about the character before. He's clean and sober, using fatherhood as his new addiction or obsession, and one of the show's true marvels is how malleable Azaria's performance — originally built exclusively around an impeccable vocal caricature — has proven to be with a rainbow of genuine human responses. If the first season found giddy humor in things like Brockmire talking dirty in his announcer voice, subsequent seasons have realized that what the voice contains, more than anything else, is reassuring authority that plays just as well with the things that require authenticity as with the frivolous. Azaria is giving a great performance, as dramatic as his Huff work and as funny as his Birdcage turn, and Emmy voters have exactly one more chance to remain shamefully oblivious to it.

Peet's return as Jules is also a pure pleasure, giving and taking with Brockmire as an equal in childish depravity, colorful profanity for colorful profanity, and providing grounding when needed. The season also mines some, but not close to enough, of the show's legacy ensemble. Williams has a solid recurring role, Joe Buck makes perhaps his best cameo yet and a couple other favorites pop up.

As best I can explain it, Brockmire went from a funnier-than-it-needs-to-be show to a better-than-it-needs-to-be show to an actual great Peak TV comedy when the creative team decided that in addition to finding Jim Brockmire silly, they found him recognizably empathetic, which was never necessary. I'd have enjoyed Brockmire just fine if it had been a few seasons of Brockmire getting drunk and announcing games for the Morristown Frackers, with occasional flashbacks into his time in Manila. Instead, the show became a series about what it takes to seek redemption and what it takes to actually deserve redemption. Brockmire is the rare TV anti-hero who evolved into a hero without sacrificing flaws (or chuckles) and without it feeling like pandering.

It's not too late to catch up on Brockmire — 24 previous episodes, all available on Hulu — so that you can join me in mourning its end on IFC.

Cast: Hank Azaria, Reina Hardesty, Amanda Peet, Tyrel Jackson Williams
Showrunner: Joel Church-Cooper
Director: Maurice Marable
Premieres: Wednesday, 10 p.m. ET/PT (IFC)