Hank Azaria is heartbreakingly funny in ‘Brockmire’

Hank Azaria could be a serious threat in the Comedy Actor race at the upcoming Emmy Awards for his stellar performance in the new IFC series, “Brockmire,” which has already been renewed for a second season. The show centers around Jim Brockmire (a character Azaria created for “Funny or Die”), a legendary baseball broadcaster for the Kansas City team. In 2007, after he catches his wife of 20 years cheating on him with several other men at once, Brockmire has a total meltdown on the air. Flash forward to the present and he finds himself returning to America (Morristown, PA specifically) after a self-imposed exile to take up an offer to be the stadium announcer for the town’s minor league team.

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Azaria knocks it out of the park right from the beginning of the first episode when we see his on-air breakdown. He immediately establishes his love for the sport before we see him devolve into drinking and going into graphic details of how he discovered his wife was cheating on him. The crowd at the stadium and viewers listen in shock. His performance is restrained enough that the breakdown is completely believable but doesn’t fall victim to over-acting.

Azaria brings a distinctive style to Brockmire’s announcing. Having created the voices of so many characters on “The Simpsons,” the actor has developed an ear for perfecting specific vocal habits and types. You never question the idea that Brockmire was put on this Earth to do anything other than call baseball games. He evokes the memories of great sportscasters like Harry Carey, Bob Murphy and Phil Rizzuto, the likes of which are seldom seen in modern sports anymore. Azaria cited those latter two as the basis from which he developed Brockmire’s voice.

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The program and Azaria’s performance have garnered the praise of many critics. Melanie McFarland (Salon) applauded his “ability to hold the character’s pathos close to the vest while reveling in his debauchery creates a bizarre kind of magic.” Sonia Saraiya (Variety) believes that Azaria’s performance “feels more vital than” his previous tragicomic efforts like “Huff” and “Free Agents.” And Neil Genzlinger (The New York Times) called him “hilarious in a vile sort of way,” while also being “someone you can feel sympathy for, which is what really makes the series work.”

That first episode of “Brockmire” brings to mind Jeff Daniels’ performance in the debut episode of HBO’s “The Newsroom.” Both grab your attention right away as the main characters let go of their inhibitions as they create a public spectacle. Remember, Daniels pulled off an upset at the Emmys in 2013 by submitting this powerful episode.

Azaria is quite a force at the Emmys, having won an impressive six of his 12 career nominations. Four of those victories were for Best Voice-Over Performance for his various characters on “The Simpsons” in 1998, 2001, 2003 and 2015. His other two wins were in 2000 for TV Movie/Mini Supporting Actor for “Tuesdays with Morrie” and last year in Drama Guest Actor for “Ray Donovan.” He also received nominations for “The Simpsons” in 2009, 2010 and 2012 as well as two for Comedy Guest Actor: “Mad About You” in 1998 and “Friends” in 2003 and one for Drama Actor for “Huff” in 2005.

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