Friday, May 26, 2017

Idiot Boxing: Brockmire, season 1 (2017); Archer, season 8 (2017)

Brockmire, season 1 (2017)

I wasn't completely sure that the concept behind this show would carry an entire season, but it fortunately proved me wrong. Credit to Hank Azaria and the writers for taking a funny little short sketch and expanding into a larger world and narrative that maintains it humor well beyond its humble origins on Funny or Die.

Brockmire follows the titular baseball announcer attempting a comeback after an all-time great fall from fame. The show opens with this very fall: it's 2007 and Kent Brockmire is doing play-by-play for the Kansas City Royals, where he has done the job for many years. As usual, he is imbibing alcohol during his broadcast, but unlike previous ones, this time Brockmire confesses to the entire listening audience that he had just earlier that day walked in on his wife having an orgy. This triggers a full-blown, on-the-air, profanity-laden meltdown that leads to Brockmire's dismissal and eventual departure from the United States altogether. Flash forward to 2017. Brockmire arrives in a fictionalized version of Morristown, Pennsylvania, where he has been offered a gig as the public address announcer for the Morristown Frackers, a bottom of the barrel minor league team in an impoverished, burned out town of no consequence. Although he wants to try to work his way back to the big leagues, Brockmire still carries with him virtually every vice known to mankind.

The show is a great vehicle for "man of a million voices" Hank Azaria, probably best known for his over-a-dozen characters on the Simpsons (including Moe, Apu, Chief Wiggum, and tons of others), delivers that classic, smooth-as-silk and overly polished pipes of the classic baseball broadcasters in the vein of Vin Scully. Hearing that American-as-apple-pie voice delivering some of the degenerate and self-reviling existential musings of a broken man is just as funny as you think it might be. There are a few moments when the show almost veers too far into depression to make a successful turn back, but it always manages to end on humorous notes.

At the end of a long, beer-soaked baseball/drinking game,
Jules, Brockmire, and Charles celebrate a big win.
If Azaria and the Brockmire character were all there was to the show, it would probably wear thin pretty quickly. Fortunately, the supporting cast and characters are almost equally entertaining. Amanda Peet plays Jules James, the owner of the Frackers who is desperate to keep the pathetic team alive as one of the few emotional buoys in the failed town. Jules is nearly as depraved as Brockmire, able to keep up with his immense appetites for booze and sex, making them quite the pair. Then there's Charles, the goofy, nerdy, millennial kid who assists Brockmire in the booth (and who knows and cares little about baseball). The play between the two is often gold.

The structure of the show is solid, as well. Almost every episode is a flashback to a period during Brockmire's dark decade - the 10 year period between 2007 and 2017, when he was off the grid calling oddball sporting events in foreign countries. While also hilarious, these manage to flesh out the character a little more. And rather than just be eight episodes of Brockmire spewing raunchy observations, which would get somewhat tired, there is an actual arc to the season. Human drama is hardly the point of the show, but it does offer a welcome touch of depth.

Final verdict is that the wife and I liked it (and the wife isn't always on board with shows about sports and the disgusting characters who populate the world of sports). Thanks to some sharp writing and all-in performances by the cast, I'm looking forward to the second season, already scheduled for next year.

Archer, season 8 (2017)
The theme of season 8 draws deep from the vast well of
noir tales from the '40s and '50s. 

After playing catchup on this series by binging the first seven seasons over the course of a few months, this was the first season that I watched as it aired. For the most part, I wasn't disappointed.

Being subtitled "Dreamland", season 8 picks up directly after the cliffhanger ending of season 7, and we now have Sterling in a coma. Using the brilliant device from the classic 1980s British crime TV series The Singing Detective, this season takes place almost completely inside Sterling's mind, wherein he plays a version of himself in the Los Angeles of late 1940s noir cinema. Instead of a spy, he is a private detective and World War II veteran who tries to track down the killers of his partner, Woodhouse (who in his real life was his horribly abused butler). The other regular characters of the show are now altered versions of themselves, each now occupying a role typical of the noir films and novels. Cyril is now a stuffy, crooked cop, Lana is an undercover U.S. Treasury agent, Pam (who is, hilariously, a man in Archer's coma dream), and all of the other characters see similar shifts, including Malory as a crime lord known conveniently as "Mother."

The show features all of the lightning-quick zingers and depravity of the previous seven seasons, but there are so many extra layers to be enjoyed for fans of noir fiction. True to the genre, there is an overly complicated plot, made only the more complex by the various characters' bungling and idiocy. A little off-beat spice is added by including Kruger as a former Nazi scientist conducting his typically insane experiments, perhaps as a tip of the cap to the emerging popularity of the science-fiction genre in the late 1940s.

The real-world Pam, known only as Poovey in Archer's
coma dream, is now a male cop. It's one of the better
alternative takes on what is one of my favorite characters
in the show's entire run. 
I will say that this season was perhaps not quite as thoroughly satisfying as some of its predecessors. Part of this is due to the season's brevity - only eight episodes as opposed to the normal 13 or even 10 of seasons one through seven. There are also a few gags and sequences that don't quite hit, which is a little surprising given the smaller number of episodes. The expected trade-off of a shorter season is that the writing will be even tighter than more protracted seasons, but such is not quite the case here.

The only other minor disappointment for me with this season was that it did not end with the typical lead-in to the next season. Given the atypical, fantasy nature of this arc, I was fully expecting to get at least a quick teaser for what season nine might have in store. Alas, it was not to be. I suppose we fans of the show will simply have to wait and guess at what direction the show will take next. Regardless, I'll be ready and eager for it.