‘Brockmire’ is funny, obscene, but what are the best sports TV shows ever? – Chicago Tribune
It’s tough to beat actual sports for entertainment. Yet television continues to try and, as is traditional in sports, success is hard-won.
Actually, it’s more like Chicago sports than that: Very few succeed, and most might as well write off their entire season after just a few weeks.
There will be a list here of the best scripted sports series, or at least the start of some arguments about these shows, and it will be topped by “Friday Night Lights.” Stick around.
But what led to this consideration of the genre is that the funny, surprisingly resonant and sometimes obscene “Brockmire” wrapped its first season on cable’s IFC this week and has been renewed for a second season.
That means all eight half-hours now are available online and on demand for would-be binge watchers who aren’t squeamish about NSFW language, depictions of reprehensible behavior and a comic approach to perhaps the hottest of hot-button issues.
Hank Azaria’s broken baseball play-by-play man, all id and ego, consigned to the most minor of minor-league teams propped up by the boozy optimism-slash-denial of an owner played by Amanda Peet, is something to behold.
The great trick when it comes to these programs is to make plausibility irrelevant because people know what baseball is supposed to look and sound like. (Hint: It’s nothing like “Brockmire.”) Most shows about most things bend reality, but it’s a reality most people don’t follow as closely as sports. A weak-armed actor is easily unmasked as a kid who chose drama club over varsity sports.
More grounded than “Brockmire” was Fox’s “Pitch,” an earnest drama about a female pitcher breaking into the majors that the network officially retired this month.
Asked if he would have done anything differently, “Pitch” executive producer Kevin Falls told Entertainment Weekly in a story this week he might have wanted it renamed “something like, ‘It’s Not Just a Baseball Show.'”
“Pitch” got off to a strong start, faced tough competition from NFL football and might have benefited from more post-premiere promotion.
Falls maintains it wasn’t a mistake to have the young pitcher played by Kylie Bunbury fall for her catcher and mentor played by Mark-Paul Gosselaar and lurch into melodrama. Someone may want to check the replay on that call.
Soon to enter the fray is “GLOW,” a series based on the creation of the 1980s Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Starring Alison Brie and Marc Maron, it hits Netflix next month.
Brie portrays an actress recruited to be a pro wrestler, if that’s not redundant. Meanwhile Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, a pro wrestler-turned-actor if that’s not redundant, returns to HBO as a football player-turned-agent in the third-season debut of HBO’s “Ballers” set for July.
It’s too soon to know where “Brockmire” or “Ballers” fit in the wildly inconsistent pantheon of sports-related shows.
One of the impressive things about “Friday Night Lights,” a character drama rooted in Middle America as much as football, is that it defied not only television’s tendency to look foolish with sports shows, but also its poor record of adapting movies into series.
Mistakes were made, as in “Pitch,” but the backing of NBC and later DirecTV gave it enough time to push through them.
It’s hard to even touch on football without it becoming absurd (O.J. Simpson and Delta Burke in HBO’s “1st & Ten,” anyone?) or worse, utterly forgettable. CBS tried a prime-time Hanna-Barbera cartoon called “Where’s Huddles?” once. It’s everything you imagine, and worse.
One thing you learn quickly is that it’s a mistake to judge a potential series based on the concept.
Take half-hour series about an all-sports TV network with romantic undertones. You could get “Sports Night,” a genuinely terrific 1998-2000 series from Aaron Sorkin. You could also wind up with 1991’s “Good Sports,” an utter bust starring Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O’Neal.
Fawcett as a beauty queen-turned-sportscaster? Meh. O’Neal as a former Green Bay Packer who has fallen on hard times? That’s funny, but not ha-ha funny.
A show about high school basketball players could turn out to be “The White Shadow” or “One Tree Hill.” It could also be “Hang Time” with Reggie Theus and later Dick Butkus. That “Hang Time” didn’t air in prime time isn’t the reason it’s not among the best scripted sports dramas and comedies.
Best scripted sports dramas and comedies: After “Friday Night Lights” is “Sports Night,” Sorkin’s vision of ESPN through a rom-com prism, and the barrier-pushing 1978-81 urban high school and basketball drama “The White Shadow.”
It’s tough to ignore “Playmakers,” a decidedly unromantic look at pro football. ESPN might have dropped the show after one season because the NFL didn’t love it. But ESPN put it on in the first place despite the potential to offend an important business partner.
“Coach,” the Craig T. Nelson college football comedy, and “One Tree Hill,” which began as a show about high school basketball players, might not be anyone’s all-time favorite shows, but each gets points for longevity at nine seasons apiece.
Put it this way: “Coach” ran for 199 episodes and “One Tree Hill” for 187. Combine “Friday Night Lights,” “Sports Night,” “The White Shadow” and “Playmakers,” and the total is 186 episodes.
Biggest disappointments: Production safety concerns for the horses in “Luck” contributed to HBO pulling the plug while shooting season two and colors regard for the racing drama from David Milch starring Dustin Hoffman, Dennis Farina and Nick Nolte.
“Bay City Blues” from Milch’s mentor, Steve Bochco, was provocative but never quite clicked despite a cast that included Dennis Franz, Sharon Stone, Ken Olin and Mykelti Williamson.