There is this show called Brockmire. It’s a funny show and you’ve probably had at least one friend mention that it exists. This is, in and of itself, a small miracle. The Funny Or Die produced series premiered on IFC last year and reachd Hulu earlier this year. In an age of shows bouncing between distribution networks and trying to gain just enough attention to stay alive, Brockmire is exactly the kind of project that would be the first to die, or would be the first to thrive if it had an audience.
And that is perhaps what we are in search of now: a lifeblood for something worthy. Or, perhaps that worthiness is up to you.
What is Brockmire? Based on a character created by The Simpsons star Hank Azaria, it follows a baseball announcer named Jim Brockmire who has fallen on hard times. A decade ago, Brockmire walked in on his wife mid-orgy and then had a very public meltdown in the broadcast booth. He spent the intervening time traveling every decadent hellhole known to the world in an effort to stretch “rock bottom” as far as it can go. He’s been brought back to America by Jules James (Amanda Peet) who owns a small town baseball team that she thinks Brockmire can inspire to success. She’s kept the full extent of the truth from Brockmire, including the small details that the team is a mess of blacklisted baseball players and that Brockmire has a weird internet fame from his previous breakdown becoming one of the first viral internet hits. All of this is supposed to be mediated by Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams) who is a black Millenial with no interest in baseball or in any of this white people nonsense.
It’s a truly incredible show.
IFC brings the series back for a second season that starts tonight, and has already renewed it for two more seasons. Paste recently talked to the show’s creator, Joel Church-Cooper, about where TV’s unlikeliest comedy goldmine is headed from here, and about how a charismatic open wound made manifest can teach us something.
Paste: So where did you come from?
Joel Church-Cooper: I thought I wanted to be a director. And then I saw a writers’ room. I want to be hanging out with the funniest people in the world. So I started improv to augment that training. I had a good skill set, bridging PA to improv to knowing how sitcom stories break, but also really just knowing the difference between talking and when I shouldn’t talk. My former co-writer and I split amicably, and I kept an eye on what I would do if I was in charge. Comedy veterans taught me how things were done twenty years ago and I learned some rules from that, but I also paid attention to what I would do differently and what I would do if I could ever have my own show. I wound up asking what about television comedy had been done and was necessary and then what was a story format when we moved beyond what television format has always been.
Paste: What adaptation is not beholden to what we’ve always been taught? What do you get to do with your weird freedom?
Church-Cooper: Networks have a four act structure and there’s certainly not one in twenty-one minutes. Right away, storytelling becomes wonky. There are commercial act breaks in Brockmire but I won’t sacrifice what we’re doing in service of ad breaks. I’ll find it somewhere else. Especially in this age when most people are going to wind up seeing this on a streaming service with no ads later. I’m writing for that more than the live TV viewer. And from there you write stories and hope they don’t crash. But everything is built on the previous episode. We have a strong narrative push.
Paste: How much of this could you not do in a standard TV format?
Church-Cooper: Most networks would be asking if we could make everyone on the show more likable and pushing and pushing on that. On one end, there’s a sense of thinking “Fuck this guy I don’t give a shit” and then I write stuff that asks people “Hey, can I give a shit?” You can have an unlikable protagonist but they have to be equally charming. Brockmire is rakish and equally charming but also selfish. The more we push into him the more he can push back. And that’s how we settled, very early on, with the idea of a man who was terrible but was getting better. And Brockmire is getting better as the country is getting worse. Every season that’s the overarching message. And I came up with that pre-Trump.
Paste: Did this start as a movie first?
Church-Cooper: It did. It was kind of a sci-fi thing based on a post-peak America but now it already feels like it is post-peak America. And in our season three, we can hit a lot of this directly. And between the fracking and the things happening in the background—the New Orleans type place we build is a place where he can live in erasing coastlines and erasing drug wonderlands. There’s a decay we want to show mixed with a beauty mixed with more decay. And that leads to how race is important.
Paste: Charles is a co-lead now on the show. What do you do with that?
Church-Cooper: Co-dependence. But we really did ask a year and a half ago, of each other, do we think race will be important in America moving forward? But also a show with three white leads was the kind of mis-step I didn’t want to make. So we changed up the writers room to make sure we were covering every angle of this. As Charles takes over this season, I wanted to make sure other people—with different voices—took control of that voice. We’re doing political things without hitting you over the head with it. We let his African-American male Identity have an important place. And where else do you see a young black man telling off an old white man to his face on TV right now?
Paste: Your shot construction goes from very practical to very Coen Brother-y in the middle of the first season. Where does that come from?
Church-Cooper: We had a director who did Veep and so on. He came in and had a great eye. Now he’s on an Alan Ball show. My part is that I wanted a filmic look because I didn’t want anything to look nice. This isn’t about the nice parts of America. We shot in some rust belt places and those places can all look the same because small town America is universal. Comedy lighting is terrible: there’s no shadow in a spotlight. The best way to tell this is controlling vision and casting and then hoping someone delivers what is in frame and you hope what you wrote sells the entirety of it. Our DP this year is the guy who shot American Vandal and we’re no longer hamstrung by the schedule we had last year. So we have scripts in good shape and Hank Azaria has to be off-book for a four hour play by the time we start filming.
Paste: Why are you the only one to recognize Amanda Peet’s power from Studio 60?
Church-Cooper: My wife is a very strong woman. I’ve always been attractive to strong female characters who fight for what they believe in who are also wrong about a lot of things. You flesh that out with history and we fleshed this character out to the point where we knew we deserved a big important character. Our number one choice was Amanda Peet. Togetherness had just got cancelled. She can turn a joke and she’s pretty and there’s a real spark to her that you get a life in a way that she breathes life into these scenes in a way we don’t expect.
Paste: What’s the season three dream?
Church-Cooper: I don’t want to spoil the next season, but there’s a lot about Brockmire entering a new phase in his life. “Why try to be a good person when it doesn’t seem to matter?” is our season long question. No one gets an award for being a good person. This country in this year rewards a certain kind of asshole, and Brockmire has always been rewarded for being exactly this kind of asshole, so why not be this right now? There are so many reasons to do so and our show tries to give reasons why you should not.
Brockmire’s second season premieres on IFC tonight at 10 PM.
Brock Wilbur is a writer and comedian from Los Angeles who lives with his wife Vivian Kane and their cat, Cat. He is the co-author (with Nathan Rabin) of the forthcoming book Postal for the Boss Fight Books series.