Our review of the new Netflix animated series Hoops starring Jake Johnson
What is Hoops on Netflix like? Let me tell you.
Because I’m an actor with aspirations of working in Chicago, I thought it’d be to my benefit to read up about the rich history of Chicagoland theater in our collective downtime. I’m in the middle of Mark Larson’s Ensemble: An Oral History of Chicago Theater right now, a detailed collage of interview transcriptions from the people who built the Chicago theater scene.
One of said people examined is scribe David Mamet, who premiered his acclaimed production of American Buffalo in the Windy City. In looking back on the shockingly crude play, critic Richard Christiansen reminisced how the show had “a poetry about it. It was not just foul language. It had an ebb and flow going to it.”
Hoops contains…the opposite. The cup of Netflix’s newest adult animated series runneth way over with stilted, repeated obscenities. Far be it from me to serve as the comedy police here, but it appears as though the show’s writers believed that rearranging the orders of the same curse words within a sentence of dialogue constitutes as feasible humor structure. If that kind of thing makes you laugh, more power to you. For me, I frankly found it to be exhausting and disengaging, the foundation of a show that never rises above the lowest common denominator nor assumes the best in its audience.
What Hoops is all about
Hoops centers around Coach Ben Hopkins, most akin to Will Ferrell’s coach from Kicking and Screaming, down to the gameplan strategy. Ben has big dreams of becoming more than just an anonymous high school basketball coach, something which is never concretely furthered beyond his own specification of a physical impossibility. Standing in his way is everyone he comes in contact with, including his basketball star turned steakhouse owner dad (Rob Riggle), his estranged ex-wife (Natasha Leggero) and his assistant coach/substitute teacher/best friend/ex-wife’s current boyfriend (Ron Funches, by far the best employment of vocal talent on screen).
All hope is lost for Ben and his dismally insecure and unskilled roster until Ben scouts Matty (A.D. Miles), a seven-foot-tall ace in the hole who Ben knows will grant him a one-way ticket to stardom. Most of the series revolves around Ben stooping anywhere and everywhere he can to keep Matty on the team. However, the series loses sight of this A-plot’s progressions and checkpoints by constantly burying it underneath amoral formulaic stories, pointless B- and C-plots, and strained character dynamics.
Hoops whacks you over the head with its setting. From the slide guitar in the score to the characters’ stereotypical accents, Hoops is deeply entrenched in the most cliched, Kentucky-fried town imaginable (although the basketball team’s colors and logo should be reason enough for a certain Indianapolis football organization to sue). Stemming from this firmly cemented location, nothing is impossible or, unfortunately, reasonable.
Too expeditiously, it is revealed that Ben has very little humanism, let alone polite conduct, from which his tactics to achieve success originates. In “The Pilot,” Ben attempts to solicit prostitution for one of his teenaged players as part of an illicit bargain. In “Ethics,” he enlists his kids to frame a fellow staff member for some thoroughly not OK activity.
Jake Johnson, in an extreme zag from his near-perfect VO performance as Spider-Man, does his best with the epithet-spewing, inherently unlikable Ben, but the character’s transgressions ultimately overpower Johnson’s abilities. Aside from a great bit about a relatively low-radar 90s movie (notably, the only joke dissociated from a plethora of vulgarities), Ben always wallows in being the lovable loser without any of the love.
Speaking of, there’s not much to love about many of the other characters either, as they are mainly situated in proximity to Ben and his mishaps without much other development. That said, there are some guest stars and cameo voices I liked hearing, including comedians Mary Holland, Drew Tarver, Will Forte, and a notorious Food Network mainstay.
Created by Ben Hoffman (whose musical alter ego Wheeler Walker Jr. is basically “country singer but with swears”), Hoops loves bad language and characters who, seemingly with aplomb, wear their heartless relationships to each other on their sleeve. If anything, the show’s lack of ethos and tone of hopelessness latches onto the most pessimistic and prescient aspects of today’s culture—it’s one of the most Trumpian shows I’ve ever come across. Whether that’s the direction in which TV, movies, are going remains to be seen. But it’s what we have right now, and if that’s your cup of tea, knock yourself out.
I’ll just be over here with my higher hopes for the entertainment I want to be involved in, witness, and enjoy.
Hoops is now available to stream on Netflix.