The League‘s Jeff Schaffer crafts a winsome microbrew sitcom with a lot of potential.
There’ve been plenty of TV shows set in bars, but you never got the impression that the employees of Paddy’s Pub in It’s Always Sunny… or the residents of the tavern in Cheers knew anything about the beer they were drinking. The new Netflix show Brews Brothers, from seasoned TV writers Greg and Jeff Schaffer, is set in a brewery where a passionate level of beer knowledge is the characters’ entire identities.
The first episode quickly sets up the parameters of the show. Will (Alan Aisenberg) runs a struggling brewery in Van Nuys, California, with the help of his co-workers, the hard-working, no-nonsense Sara (Carmen Flood) and the very nonsensical Chuy (Marques Ray). Will isn’t the most business-savvy guy (he accidentally gives all the beer porn-sounding names, bringing in customers that think this is a very different kind of brewery), so Sara calls on Will’s estranged brewmaster brother, Adam (Mike Castle), to help.
It’s quickly established that both brothers are super into beer, but in very different ways. Will is more of a down to earth, Everyman who sees drinking beer as a fun, community experience, while Adam is the complete opposite. He’s a high brow beer snob who sees brewing more as an unsolvable math equation, like in the opening scene of Rushmore, than something enjoyable. Together, they try to set aside their differences and hatch various schemes to try to save the brewery from failure.
Jeff Schaffer, who created FX’s The League a decade ago, brings a similar breezy, casual charm that goes down like a light wheat ale. But the jokes don’t come often enough, and don’t land hard when they do. Mostly because the show tries to have it both ways between a grounded comedy about two men trying to reconcile their issues with each other and a gross-out Farrelly Brothers movie from the ‘90s (the second episode centers around the brothers trying to recreate a beer that features Adam’s urine). It’s like Joe Swanberg’s Drinking Buddies, but with a lot more bodily fluids.
Like many sitcoms, Brews Brothers takes a few episodes for the actors to settle into their characters and for the show to find a nice rhythm. This is especially true for Adam: while the show writes him as a perfect storm of every self-proclaimed beer snob we’ve ever met in our lives (and Castle has fun playing him to maximum annoyance) the show does him no favors by making him so immensely unlikeable in the early going.
A flashback in the first episode shows Adam telling a room full of beer festival attendees, “IPAs are what people drink when they’re all out of good ideas,” which is hilariously true. But then he loses us when he proceeds to lace their drinks with hallucinogens just to teach them a lesson about not liking beer the right way. His entire “bohemian beer” aesthetic gets old quick, but to the show’s credit, they find a way to knock him down again and again in hilarious ways later on in the season, with the help of the show’s best recurring bit (CICERONEEEEE!).
Brews Brothers takes a few episodes for the actors to settle into their characters and for the show to find a nice rhythm.
The characters that fill out the world are also hit or miss. Chuy is the show’s wild card and most fun creation, Every line (delivered perfectly deadpan by Ray) is an insane non-sequitur that’s worth a giggle or two.
Other not so successful supporting characters are hipsters Elvis and Becky (Zach Reino and Inanna Sarkis), who seem more like a rough draft for Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried’s obnoxious millennials in Noah Baumbach’s While We’re Young.
They own the local food truck, but are much more into pleasuring each other than they are keeping the truck hygienic. It’s not the show’s fault it’s being released at the height of a global pandemic, but the jokes about installing a toilet or not wearing pants in their food truck goes from intentionally funny to unintentionally disturbing.
The element of the show that makes it ultimately worthwhile, especially in these dark times, is the positivity at the core of Will’s philosophy about beer. It’s not what the beer tastes like, but how it’s used for bringing us together. The moments where the show lifts off are the scenes where the characters are gathered around a table, drinking beer, and trying to figure out how to make the brewery last one more day. It makes me excited to drink beers and have long drunken conversations with friends in the middle of a crowded bar again someday, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Brews Brothers pours its foamy head onto Netflix April 10th.