Why do we love to see “adult cartoons” where the characters curse like crazy? Maybe because the animated characters have more freedom to be insane than their live-action counterparts. Or maybe it’s just because cartoons that curse are funny. The main character in the new Netflix animated series Hoops curses so much that he makes Bob Knight blush. But is he more than just what comes out of his mouth?
HOOPS: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: We move over the rolling hills of Kentucky, “Basketball Country,” as it says on the sign. We then see the Lenwood High School gymnasium. The Colts are losing their game by a mere 42 points.
The Gist: Ben Hopkins (Jake Johnson) is the coach of the Lenwood Colts, and his team is beyond pathetic. Many of them, like Billy Joel fan Marcus (Sam Richardson), don’t even know how to play basketball. But that doesn’t keep Coach Hopkins from pretty much ranting, raving and cursing out the ref — quite creatively, we should add — whenever he thinks his team was wronged. When one player gets assessed a charge for running into a player who is twice his size, he basically accuses the ref being distracted by the hamster that’s in his ass, that was obviously inserted by the other ref.
After getting thrown out — again — he tells the team he’s failed them. DJ (Steve Berg) reassures him by saying, “it was one of your funnier putdowns.” Coach Hopkins promised them access to his favorite porn site if they won but gives them the password to it anyway; when the team objects that he’s leaving out his best player, Scott (Nick Swardson), who’s gay, the coach just gives Scott his credit card. “Go buy yourself something handsome.”
The next day, principal Opal Lowry (Cleo King) gives him an ultimatum; she’s under pressure from the school board to fire his ass, so he needs to win the next game or at least show improvement. Coach Hopkins’ plan is to recruit Matty (A.D. Miles), who’s a seven-foot-tall junior. Matty has never been interested, and he’s skeptical of the coach’s attention. Coach Hopkins thinks getting Matty on the team will get them winning, which will lead to bigger and better things, until he coaches the Chicago Bulls, has an infinity pool, and “everyone would be sucking so many of my dicks!”
So the coach goes to the only thing he knows will be a surefire way to get him on the team: He vows to get Matty laid, which he loudly discusses in front of a class with his assistant coach, Ron (Ron Funches), who just happens to be dating the coach’s soon-to-be-ex-wife Shannon (Natasha Leggero).
His hooker friend Connie (Mary Holland) wants $500 for penetration, but only $250 for a BJ. Coach is blown away (pun intended) by the fact that the more labor-intensive BJ is cheaper, and goes on a rant about it, but Connie is not negotiating. He’s got $89 to his name, so he turns to his famous ex-football star/current steakhouse owner dad Barry (Rob Riggle), who refuses because he thinks his son is wasting his time on his coaching dreams. Shannon won’t give him any money either. But the team feels bad for their coach and manage to fund the hooker. Of course, all goes awry when Coach drives up to Matty’s house with Connie and the cops come before Matty even has a chance to get his shoes on.
Our Take: Hoops creator Ben Hoffman (The Ben Show) has a history of letting the profanity fly, especially as his country singer persona Wheeler Walker, Jr. But, unlike a lot of shows that just use profanity as a crutch, Hoffman really uses it to define Coach Hopkins’ character and his insane dreams. Think about this; even though his team only scores points by sheer luck, Hopkins still curses and throws chairs like he was Bob Knight on a shot of 5-Hour Energy. Why is he so passionate about a team that’s not only awful but mostly indifferent about basketball?
It’s because of those dreams. Hopkins doesn’t want to be a nobody; he doesn’t want to work for his dad, and he doesn’t want to go down in flames as some unknown high school basketball coach. But the way he goes about it is, um, a tad inappropriate and would get him fired in a less basketball-mad state. So, even though Coach Hopkins curses like five sailors combined and has a bit of a twisted idea of how to lead people, you actually want to root for the guy to get ahead for at least a night.
The other part of the show that will be interesting to watch is how the Colts basketball team, now with Matty as its center, bonds together as an ersatz family. The team already talks about how the team is like a family when they hear about the possibility that the Coach will be fired, so watching Matty get integrated into this family, and see them rally around the coach, will be fun, but also hopefully will pack a tiny emotional punch.
Johnson is funny, as you’d expect. And the cast is full of funny actors, ones that have done a ton of work in the voice booth and in front of the camera. A great cast doesn’t always mean that an animated series will automatically be good. But if a show has even a little bit of heart behind the jokes, the voices elevate the funny stuff. And Hoops actually has a lot of hear behind the wall of curses.
Sex and Skin: Lots of talk about sucking dicks, which seems to be an obsession of Hopkins’, but it’s only talk.
Parting Shot: After the game — one they only lost by 16 — Matty tries to tell the Coach about his lonely existence. But the coach just says “BOORRRING!” “Matty, you tall lanky weirdo, I gotta say: This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. And that is definitely a line from Little Man Tate. I think.” The coach loves Little Man Tate, but doesn’t have a full copy of it on his cracked 1st-gen iPad, so he has no idea.
Sleeper Star: Cleo King is funny as Principal Opal. “Ben, you know how this works as well as I do. You can’t be an asshole and a losing coach. In Kentucky, baby, winning cures all.”
Most Pilot-y Line: Maybe the parts where he tells high school students about how everyone is going to suck all his dicks. But at least he gets called out on it.
Our Call: STREAM IT. It’s easy to dismiss Hoops as just curse-filled and crass. But the cast is great, and you start to root for Coach Hopkins and his team by the end of the first episode. It isn’t always funny, but it’s just funny enough and has enough heart to be a decent show.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company.com, RollingStone.com, Billboard and elsewhere.