Netflix’s latest animated show is a cheap-shot sports comedy that won’t stop bouncing off the comedic backboard.
Kentucky takes its basketball seriously. Maybe not on the level of Texas when it comes to football, but it’s not far behind. The intense love the Bluegrass State has for the game is a foundation ripe for exploration in a Friday Night Lights-style soap opera, or an existential nightmare comedy like BoJack Horseman.
The latest Netflix animated show, Hoops, tries for both, and misses the free throw so badly the ball crashes through the gym window and into the parking lot.
The show’s creator, Ben Hoffman, has a history with sports-related comedy with the funny-but-short-lived Comedy Central show Sports Show with Norm Macdonald, but none of that show’s charm or wit carries over to Netflix. Here, the idea of great comedy is to throw as many dick jokes as possible against the wall to see which one sticks. Sadly, none of them do.
It’s also a waste of time for Jake Johnson (he’s also the Executive Producer here so I guess it’s partly his fault) who voices the series’ protagonist, Coach Ben Hopkins. He’s a miserable high school basketball coach who’s determined to turn his terrible squad into winners so he can accomplish something substantial in his awful life.
Johnson, one of the rare everyman actors that seem like they could actually be your friend, should be the perfect fit for such a sad-sack role. Instead, Johnson decides to do an angry Joe Pesci impression. He’s turned up to a ten at all times, spewing foul language and wreaking havoc in his wake.
In a way, it’s refreshing to have a sports coach who is so pathetic and selfish that they make the Bad News Bears coach seem like Coach Taylor by comparison. The only player Ben shows any kindness to early in the season is seven-foot Matty (voiced by A.D. Miles), but it’s only because of his advanced height. When the rest of the team gets into a fight with Matty, Coach Ben scolds them by screaming, “Would the E Street Band beat up Springsteen!?”.
The issue though, is that there needs to be some sort of pathos to connect with such an unlikeable character, even as they’re screaming at children. Hoops barely makes an effort. One attempt at an emotional through-line is Ben trying to prove himself to his overbearing father, Barry Hopkins (voiced by Rob Riggle), a local sports hero who owns a steakhouse in town. Riggle puts to good use his uber-jock comedic persona as a big fish in a small pond who acts like he’s in a much bigger pond, but the character never lifts off other than getting in some jokes attacking his son’s masculinity.
Here, the idea of great comedy is to throw as many dick jokes as possible against the wall to see which one sticks.
There’s also Ben’s assistant coach, Ron (voiced by Ron Funches) who also happens to be dating Ben’s ex-wife, Shannon (voiced by Natasha Leggero). Funches brings his hilariously chill stage vibe to his character, making a rational, serene counterweight to Ben’s aggressiveness. Unfortunately, Ron and his relationship with Shannon doesn’t provide any nuance or growth for Ben besides making crude, sexist jokes at her expense.
Not that this makes the show worth watching, but there are a few moments of genuine hilarity, like a repetitive bit where Coach Ben refuses to end a practice until he makes a shot, resulting in a fun update on the rake effect. There’s also a five-second clip of The Godfather where the show’s over the top crassness is finally used effectively, but it winds up setting up an extended dead horse joke that is rough to witness.
There are plenty of great comedies with terrible protagonists, but those shows tend to have the comic chops to back up deplorable behavior, like say, trying to frame a teacher for child abduction in order to get your star player out of taking a test. Hoops mostly skips the effort and hopes the shock value and bad words will carry the day. It doesn’t do justice for Kentucky basketball and doesn’t even do justice for any problematic, mediocre man that coaches Kentucky basketball.
Hoops steps into the court on Netflix August 21st.