‘Brockmire’: A Good Showcase for Hank Azaria and Amanda Peet

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·Critic-at-Large, Yahoo Entertainment
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Hank Azaria and Amanda Peet in 'Brockmire' (Credit: IFC)
Hank Azaria and Amanda Peet in “Brockmire.” (Photo: IFC)

Jim Brockmire — gifted baseball announcer, dissolute rake, high-functioning alcoholic — is trying to regain his career after a very public meltdown he had a decade ago. That’s the premise of the new half-hour Brockmire, a sitcom with underpinnings of drama premiering tonight on IFC. It stars Hank Azaria as Brockmire — the character is an extension of one he first created in a Funny or Die video — and Amanda Peet as the woman who gives him a second chance.

Brockmire, far from the major leagues, has come to Morristown, Pa., where Peet’s Jules has hired him to be the announcer for her hometown minor-league baseball team, the Frackers. Brockmire has spent most of the past decade abroad, trying to escape from the drunken scandal that cost him his prominence. Arriving in Morristown, he can’t believe how small-time his career has become: The Frackers are mediocre, and there are days when their frowsy stadium is dotted with a mere dozen fans.

This is the setup for a real downer, but Brockmire avoids that, thanks to Azaria’s marvelously aggressive yet subtle performance, and the spark that Peet provides as a bristlingly independent woman, allowing Jules to become a collaborator in Brockmire’s fitful redemption. The show is uneven. When Brockmire is in the broadcast booth, Azaria’s arias of baseball lore are mesmerizing and witty, but the show also relies too frequently on jokes about Brockmire leaving the microphone open during embarrassing moments — there are too many shots of fans in shock at overhearing naughty things.

Brockmire gives its two leads showcases they’ve more than earned. Azaria is best known for his voice work on The Simpsons, but his turn as the corrupt FBI agent Ed Cochran on Ray Donovan reminded us just how good an actor he is. Here, he wears Brockmire’s loud houndstooth jacket lightly, never overdoing the man’s quirks and foibles.

Peet is someone who has long deserved a worthy TV vehicle. She had it in HBO’s Togetherness, which was canceled too soon, and she held together lesser projects such as the sitcom Bent (her co-star in that show, David Walton, appears in an amusing role on Brockmire) and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Here, the character of Jules allows Peet to show those qualities that make her such a compelling screen presence — a combination of braininess and wit, a willingness to be both vulnerable and silly. Brockmire has already been renewed for a second season; it has plenty of time to get even better than it already is.

Brockmire airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on IFC.

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