Hank Azaria has had a long and busy acting career, both in the flesh and as one of the voices of the iconic animated series, “The Simpsons.” But he did not hesitate in placing his current live-action series, “Brockmire,” at the top of his personal list.
“It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever done; it is, for many reasons,” he said at a recent event in Manhattan promoting IFC’s programming, including the second season of “Brockmire,” which premieres on April 25.
“It’s a character I’ve been doing for years. It’s a thing I developed. Any time I have tried to develop TV in the past it hasn’t gone well. I love baseball. I love baseball announcers and sports commentators.
“So, yes. Just the Lindsey Nelson jacket alone, trotting that around, means a lot to me.”
The show focuses on a baseball announcer, Jim Brockmire, who suffers a breakdown, loses his major league job, lands in the minors, and has mostly unhealthy relationships with alcohol, drugs and women.
His attire often features the aforementioned garish sports jacket in the style of Nelson, the late former Mets announcer – Azaria, 53, who is from Queens, is a passionate Mets fan – and a voice that is a unique concoction from someplace in the 1970s announcing era of Azaria’s youth.
No spoilers about Season Two here, but it is fair to say that what had been a sometimes dark comedy last year has morphed into an even darker one.
“I let [writer] Joel Church-Cooper follow his muse, what he wants to do with this guy,” Azaria said, “because he’s the one who really took it from a pretty sophomoric joke – a funny one, but what I sort of saw as a pretty lighthearted joke – and got very real about the guy’s alcoholism and sadness and tragedy and fish-out-of-water quality.
“Joel’s an edgy guy. The narrative’s really important to us where we’re really telling a story, and that’s where Joel wanted to take it, and one of the delights of cable and of IFC is you can be as dark and as real as you want to be. So that’s where we went. I didn’t push it that way, but I wasn’t going to argue against it.”
Azaria said he was happy with the result. (IFC apparently was, too, because it announced the show will return for third and fourth seasons.)
“I loved it,” he said. “I felt half the time we were shooting a drama and not a comedy, which we were. I’m trained that way, so I can do that. I love this character so much, I think it’s a really great story to tell, and I think it was a viable version of a guy facing his alcoholic demons and I think we did a pretty good job of it, so I was proud of it.”
Fox’s Joe Buck makes a cameo appearance this season, but overall there are fewer sports figures represented than last year. But Azaria said baseball remains central to the saga.
“The narrative is driven by this guy’s quest to get back in the major leagues, so it’s got to be,” he said. “This man loves baseball, and that’s the world he’s in. And also as a metaphor, the guy IS baseball. He’s an antiquated, old white guy trying to fit into modern society.
“That absolutely has to stay in play. Joel and I both love sports and baseball so that’s always going to be an integral part of it.”
Azaria’s Season One love interest was played by Amanda Peet, who told Newsday last year Azaria “makes me laugh so hard I almost pee in my pants, and on top of all that, he’s brilliant.”
Last season’s finale included a sly joke at the Mets’ expense in favor of the Yankees. And at the IFC event, Azaria first made it clear he was speaking as Brockmire, not himself, when he cracked, “The Mets are the Yankees of not being the Yankees.”
But seriously, folks, he is an avid and knowledgeable fan of the Amazin’s.
Speaking 90 minutes before the first pitch of the Mets’ season, he expressed “guarded optimism” all would be well in 2018. Alas, he also felt that way in an interview with Newsday early last May, and it did not come to pass.
“On paper, again, we seem to be fairly solid,” he said. “It’s really those arms. We’ll see how they do. But again, guarded optimism.”