IFC’s new show “Brockmire” may focus heavily on Jim Brockmire (Hank Azaria) and Jules (Amanda Peet), but this show says more about the struggles of the Midwest than it lets on.
Brockmire, a failed — and coincidentally famous — baseball announcer finds himself in Morristown, Pennsylvania with a new broadcasting job. Jules, owner of both the local bar and the local Minor League baseball team, is looking to revive the team and the city by taking on a horrible loan. Meanwhile, her ex-boyfriend, Gary (David Walton), looks to end the team so his shale oil company can bulldoze the stadium and expand their fracking empire.
While the show sets up as a comedic parlay between Brockmire and Jules, it really hits the home run when it focuses on the satirical subtleties of the dilapidated Midwestern town.
“Brockmire” takes a comical look into the struggling Pennsylvania town through several stereotypes of current Rust Belt cities. The people, the buildings, the baseball team and even the main characters portray perfect little pieces of a former industry empire.
Brockmire’s first scene in Morristown paints the perfect picture of a town turned to turmoil. In classic announcer voice fashion, he steps off a bus — because how else would anyone get to these towns — and begins to narrate what he sees: Two dogs picking meat off a carcass and a shirtless kid pushing a bicycle with a pistol in his waistline. Brockmire even lights up a joint, as nobody is around to care. When he tosses the match, the grass lights on fire — an apparent byproduct of the fracking around town.
Many other stereotypical tropes continue through each episode. At one point, Jules says she’s trying to compete with other entertainment in the town. When Brockmire asks, “cable?” Jules responds with, “meth.” Even the baseball team carries Midwestern stereotypes. Three of the players on the team are grossly overweight, and Brockmire doesn’t hold back on the fat jokes.
One of the most interesting pieces of “Brockmire’s” social commentary is the view of the shale oil company that operates within the town. While nearly everyone in Morristown looks like they haven’t bathed or washed their clothes in years, Gary and the oil company employees wear neatly pressed, clean clothes. Even Brockmire and Jules, the main characters, don’t come close to how clean these business people look.
And they don’t seem to hide their intent either. In the third episode, Jules is looking for the manager of the baseball team. She finds him at the oil company’s office in town where they are giving out free money. When Jules notices that they have these “free money” events planned every day games are scheduled, Gary responds with, “Jules, I’m not going to lie to you,” and then walks off.
Gary and the oil company really portray the way many in society perceive them: conniving, corrupt and greedy. And while some of the actions in the show may seem over the top, this is much of what the Midwest deals with. The towns have no choice but to succumb to these companies that will pollute their town and give out money just to continue their crusade.
While many of these tropes do provide comedic background, it’s the dedication Jules has to the baseball team that really hits home for many Midwestern cities.
The Morristown baseball team may look rundown and overweight, but the team represents the reprieve from reality many Midwestern cities revel in. Sports for many cities in the Rust Belt remove them from the depression that has struck the region. ESPN’s documentary series, 30 for 30, covers this story in “Believeland,” which not only follows the collapse of many Cleveland sports franchises, but also follows the collapse of Cleveland; a city who depended heavily on industrial jobs and fell to pieces when those jobs left the country.
And Jules’ passion for the game represents that feeling. She reminisces about being a child watching “Pops” Willie Stargell, a supposed all-star relegated to their small-town team when she was 8 years old. She talks about the team putting the fire back into Morristown with a great team — an argument heard several times by fans of Rust Belt teams. She even sells her house and takes a second mortgage out on her bar to finance a horrendous loan filled with stipulations to keep her dream alive; something fans in Cleveland said they would do to keep the Cleveland Browns in town before they moved to Baltimore.
And while the comedic aspect of keeping a horrible team in a town that has financial issues seems far-fetched, it rings true with many Midwestern towns who have one thing to keep them going: The love of the game.
“Brockmire” truly introduces the hardships of many Midwestern states in the best way possible: through comedy. And while many jokes and stereotypes felt campy, the truth is that while every town may not have all the issues introduced in the show, many do experience a lot of these hellacious lifestyles. And the only thing preventing them from giving up is the hope that one day, they can say “their team” won it all.