Hank Azaria goes all drunken baseball announcer on IFC’s Atlanta-shot ‘Brockmire’ (April 5)

Hank Azaria is a so-so baseball announcer with a signature tacky jacket, copious amounts of alcohol and unresolved issues over a cheating wife on “Brockmire” debuting April 5, 2017. CREDIT: IFC

This was posted by RODNEY HO/rho@ajc.com on Tuesday, April 4, 2017 for his AJC Radio & TV Talk blog

Hank Azaria is an Emmy winning character actor chockful of impressive credits from “The Birdcage” to “Tuesdays With Morrie” to “Ray Donovan.” He also happens to be seriously, filthy rich thanks to nearly 30 years working on the indefatigable “The Simpsons” as the voices of Moe, Apu and Chief Wiggum, to name a few.

Indeed, it’s his golden voice that helps define the new IFC romantic comedy “Brockmire,” which was shot in metro Atlanta and Macon last fall but set in the fictional small town of Morristown, Pa. Azaria plays a mid-level play-by-play baseball announcer in Kansas City who rides his fame on his silky, deep, authority-laden voice and dedication to his wife Lucy. But he finds out she’s been cheating on him. He vents his anger during the middle of a ballgame in a rather profane way in the middle of calling a game.

I recommend you watch the first few minutes of the first episode, now available online before the debut on IFC. It’s a little too blue for me to recite what he actually said. But it gets him fired. (So far, the reaction to the early availability of the first episode was so positive, IFC gave the show a second season even before its official debut.)

His spectacular fall from grace led to ten years in Asia hidden from the world in exile, spending way too much time with prostitutes. Somehow, beer guzzling, sexy minor-league team owner Jules (Amanda Peet) tracks him down and invites him to be the announcer for her team. They quickly become romantically enmeshed, with a flavoring that evokes “Bull Durham.” She even provides him a teen intern Charles (Tyrel Jackson Williams), who teaches him the ropes of modern social media while he teaches Charles the ins and outs of baseball.

Brockmire is a bit like Tom Hanks‘ character in “A League of Their Own,” an unmitigated drunkard with nothing to lose.

Or as Jules says to him at one point, “You’re a charismatic open wound.”

Azaria first introduced Brockmire in a 2010 Funny or Die video. “I had an idea for this voice for a long time,” he said. “I figured I’d produce this video. Best case scenario it will get developed into a movie or TV show. Amazingly. that happened. It feels good. It’s a one in a million underdog tale.” (Yes, Azaria frequently breaks into Brockmire’s announcer voice when talking about him. He can’t help himself.)

“That voice is fantastic and ridiculous at the same time,” Azaria said. “So is baseball and a lot of traditions around it. It’s almost like a religion. Every religion has parts of it that makes you say, ‘Why do we do that?’ It’s the same with baseball.”

He loved the premise that this guy is free to say anything he wants “as long as you give the count afterwards.”

The show has Brockmire talk like a ballgame announcer even when having sex or making day-to-day observations. It’s what Azaria imagined sportscasters did when he was a kid.

Amanda Peet – Photo Credit: Erika Doss/IFC

I watched all eight episodes and there were a fair share of hilarious moments, including Azaria running around the bases naked after having sex with Jules. “I just had sex with Amanda Peet at home plate,” he said. “It’s very appropriate. I thought it was appropriate doing a home run trot in the middle of the night.”

The show was shot on an IFC budget, which meant eight episodes in 22 days and shooting location scenes at one time over different episodes. “It was tremendously difficult,” Azaria said. “Twelve plus hours a day. We had to be super prepared. My character never shuts up. I spent three solid weeks leading up to shooting memorizing the script like it was a play. The scripts had to be super tight. We had to make sure everything was written. We didn’t have a lot of room or time to experiment.”

The “run it and gun it” method was oddly fun at the same time, especially near the end, when adrenaline and fatigue felt like “semi-cocaine induced frenzy,” he said. (No real cocaine involved.)

Another comical moment happens after seeing his ex wife for the first time in a decade: Brockmire lets out his frustration by punching and tackling one of those air dancer balloons that car dealerships use to draw customers. “I didn’t have a lot of faith that would work off the page,” he said. “It felt kind of broad. But I always found those things really annoying. I really liked punching it out. That came out much funnier than I expected.”

A lot of humor is mined from the interplay between Brockmire and Charles, a black teen whose interest in actual baseball is suspect but is a bit of a loner seeking companionship.

Charles, an an outsider, mocks the traditions and pacing of the game. “Everything about baseball is anti modern,” Azaria said. “It’s very slow paced. It’s very white. It takes a lot of concentration. I still love it but I even find myself saying, ‘Come on! Let’s move this thing along!’ ”

Azaria admits he enjoyed playing a character who is perpetually soused: “It’s fun to play drunk and out of control. Your demons are allowed to speak.”

He also convinces some actual sports announcers to show up, including Fox Sports legend Joe Buck, who has a long-standing Biggie-Tupac style feud with Brockmire. “It was cool to show a heightened version of myself,” Buck said on set last fall, shot at the Yaarab Shrine Center in Midtown. “It’s a pompous full of himself Joe Buck.”

Joel Church-Cooper, executive producer, said he liked the idea of placing Brockmire “in the real world. It makes it more grounded. The show is about history and what happened in the past. It’s a baseball show. Baseball is elemental. We try to represent the full scope of baseball history.”

He was thrilled to find Lithonia, which he said looked a lot like western Pennsylvania. “The people could not have been nicer,” he said, adding a common refrain about shooting here: “It was hot as hell.” They used Coolray Field in Gwinnett as a major league stadium while Luther Williams Field, built in 1929 in Macon, was a perfect proxy for the minor league ballpark. The wood-panelled Driftwood Bar on Moreland, which closed in 2015, was the perfect dive bar for the fans, players and main characters to hang out and drink.

TV PREVIEW
“Brockmire,” 10 p.m. Wednesdays, starting April 4, 2017 on IFC


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