Hoops Review

Netflix has found success with adult animated fare like Big Mouth and BoJack Horseman, and their latest effort is Hoops, created by comedian Ben Hoffman. The series follows Jake Johnson (New Girl, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse) as the perpetually angry, vulgar, and pathetic Ben Hopkins, the coach of the Lenwood High School basketball team. Ben dreams of turning his life around, eventually coaching the Chicago Bulls and having an infinity pool. Instead, his life is a series of increasingly irresponsible mistakes and stupid schemes, all peppered with a plethora of profanity and rage. That sums up his arc (or lack thereof) in every episode of the series that leans hard into raunchiness, has no heart whatsoever, and packs solid but inconsistent laughs.

Hoops is the kind of series where you don’t care about any of the characters at all, even the ragtag team of weird high school kids who have to endure such a terrible basketball coach. The star of this series – other than a perfectly cast Jake Johnson with his raspy, endless shouting – is the crass comedy itself, which packs more uses of “dick” than an adult toy store, and just as many “fucks” as a Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino movie. It’s not going to tug at any heartstrings or teach you any lessons to provide any kind of soft center. It’s all lewd, rude, and crude, and it’s a pretty bleak state of affairs in this small Kentucky town.

Ben’s ex-wife (Natasha Leggero) wants nothing to do with him. His best friend and assistant coach Ron (Ron Funches) is sleeping with his ex-wife, though he mostly doesn’t care. His father (Rob Riggle) is a former pro athlete who owns a local steakhouse and is continually disappointed by Ben’s antics. And unless his team starts winning, he’s going to be fired by the school’s principal Opal, who has some inappropriate tendencies of her own and simultaneously roots for Ben but is always getting on his ass to do better.

This is a decent (and indecent) ensemble of characters surrounding Ben, where each of them is kind of despicable in their own way. Ron is the exception to that description, and the presence of his character feels somewhat out of place with the rest of the show’s roster. It’s not really a major sticking point that takes away from the show, and Ron still has plenty of amusing moments, especially towards the end of the 10-episode first season.

But the better ensemble of characters comes from Ben’s basketball team, a ragtag group of geeky misfits who don’t care so much about basketball and mostly just want girlfriends. They’re horny, but they’re not Big Mouth horny, and for the most part they’re oblivious to the fact that their coach is a complete loser and asshole. There’s A.D. Miles as the awkward, unassuming 7-foot tall Matty, Nick Swardson changing his pace by voicing a non-flamboyant hunky gay teen, Sam Richardson as an overeager punching bag for the rest of the team, and a few other stereotypical but comical kids. Some of the biggest laughs come from their side stories and completely inappropriate interactions with their irresponsible coach.

Hoops panel Comic-Con 2020

Though Hoops brings some satisfying gags throughout the first season, for the most part, it feels like it’s trying way too hard to be irreverent. Whenever it seems like there’s the slightest hint of sentimentality, there’s a joke that squashes and undercuts it immediately, and that’s not always a bad thing. But if you’re bingeing the series, all the raunch can start to feel tiresome. The result is infrequent laughs where the obscenity is just overflowing without much cleverness behind it.

The series is relentless in its effort to be dirty at every turn, especially in the early episodes. It’s no more risqué than a show like Big Mouth, but at least there the naughty humor feels excused to some extent since they’re dealing with the raging hormones of puberty and the kids are nasty little goblins who just want to masturbate at every turn. Hoops feels profane just for the sake of profanity. Thankfully, the later episodes pull back a little bit on the filthy front, whether it’s intentional or not, perhaps realizing that the show needed to tone it down a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with bawdy comedy, but here it’s packed on thicker than Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop.

Personally, I found that some of the biggest laughs from the show came from the less salacious material. For example, there’s an extended gag where Ben vows never to spend another cent in a hardware store after they refuse to let him return a blood-covered chainsaw that he used to cut off a horse’s head. Then he sees the gumball machine and forgets his vow, but he keeps getting green gumballs, and instead of losing it over his luck, he just keeps having a quiet laugh to himself. That may not sound all that funny, but seeing it executed is hilarious. Then there’s the recurring references to Jodie Foster’s directorial debut Little Man Tate. I’m pretty sure every episode alludes to the movie, sometimes on multiple occasions. There are also tiny gags like a ventriloquist dummy blinking in the background of a scene in an antique store. It’s not a bit that goes anywhere, but it’s just a random, odd detail. There are also musical moments here and there, but in a haphazard, oddball sort of way, not in a polished Broadway fashion.

Hoops is fairly funny, but I’m not sure there’s enough left in the show’s playbook to keep me interested for more seasons, especially after the way the season finale kind of sputters out at the end. Normally a show will complete a character arc or provide some kind of cliffhanger to lead into a new season. Hoops offers that in some capacity, but the actual end of the episode leaves it up in the air in a kind of lackadaisical way. That fits the vibe of the entire series, but that doesn’t mean it’s fully satisfying.

Hoops arrives on Netflix on on August 21, 2020.

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