In a world where live sporting events are few and far between at the moment, sports junkies are truly desperate to find a fix. At the beginning of quarantine, the high school football-centered drama “All American” was providing viewers with at least a semblance of sports content. Last month, it was Season 5 of “Last Chance U” delivering the fix.
But now, no matter how desperate you may feel, I can assure you that it’s not worth stooping to the level of “Hoops.”
The new Netflix animated series aims to follow in the footsteps of the streaming service’s raunchy cartoon hits like “Big Mouth” and “Bojack Horseman,” but in reality, it never comes close to even warranting a comparison. The whip-smart humor that elevates those other properties is nowhere to be found in “Hoops,” where peak comedy is defined by unoriginal name-calling, gratuitous sexual innuendos, and lots and lots of cursing.
Ben Hopkins (voiced by Jake Johnson) is a hot-headed, foul-mouthed high school basketball coach convinced that turning around his team of rag tag losers will propel him to the “big leagues” and be the key to turning around his miserable life. Things haven’t been going well for Ben lately – his wife (Natasha Leggero) left him for his assistant coach and best friend, his father (Rob Riggle) hates him, and he’s barely hanging on to his job – but when a 7-footer named Matty joins the basketball team, Ben sees a path to the top. The only thing is, the rest of the team still sucks, and Matty isn’t great, either.
Over the course of the season, Ben struggles to control his temper, rebuild his personal life and lead his team to victory, but for a Ben, none of that comes easy.
It may seem hypocritical to critique one show for its excessive vulgarity and praise another that features dancing tampons and full-frontal cartoon nudity, but in order to successfully pull off the extreme, there must be balance. Whereas “Big Mouth” blends its profanity with compelling characters and witty dialogue and pop culture references, “Hoops” solely relies on shock and outrage. After the first episode I was willing to let it slide in hopes that the humor would elevate as the series settled in, but after the second episode revolved around the basketball team shoving vodka-soaked tampons up their butts in order to get drunk, it was clear there would be no payoff here. Just like the tampons, which they forgot to soak in vodka.
What’s more concerning than the ceaseless cursing in “Hoops,” though, is the show’s lack of an identity. Cartoons are no longer just for kids, and some of the longest running cable TV series have proven that, each crafting their own unique styles of animation and storytelling. There are no defining qualities in “Hoops” – except profanity. It borrows bits and pieces from other animated series, like the ever-changing school sign from “Big Mouth” or the classic cut away from “Family Guy,” but these often feel like cheap imitations, mixed in as “Hoops” desperately throws everything at the wall in hopes something will stick. Ultimately, the best word to describe “Hoops” is random. At one point, a minor plot point takes up nearly five minutes of screen time to explain that one of the characters was actual the one responsible for the miracle plane landing on the Hudson River in 2009.
One of the most tiresome of these attempts at an identity are musical numbers interspersed throughout the season. A musical theme has the potential to link episodes or moments together, but here there’s no consistency in style or regularity, and the sequences are never addressed by any of the characters.
Another consistent characteristic of “Hoops,” although not a good one, is its dependence on overlong, drawn out gags that are rarely funny in the first place. Whether it’s a bit revolving around a dead horse or Coach Hopkins missing free throws, the show seems to try to pull off the classic rule of threes, except here it’s not funny the first time, nor the third – and definitely not the sixth.
Rarely does a 10-episode season feel so long, but “Hoops” manages to make even the quickest of runtimes feel like an eternity. With little to offer to the animation, comedy or sports genres, “Hoops” is better off left unwatched – even for the most die-hard sports fans.
Thank god the NBA playoffs are back.
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.