‘Hoops’ Review: Netflix’s Unabashedly Ridiculous Cartoon Wastes Jake Johnson’s Comedic Voice

There is, pointedly, not very much to “Hoops.” Netflix’s new comedy, from creator Ben Hoffman and executive producers Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, has about as much ambition and patience as its lackadaisical, hotheaded main character. Ben (executive producer Jake Johnson) is an abrasive Kentucky high school basketball coach whose only real goals in life are to win some games, make his ex-wife (Natasha Leggero) regret their separation and piss off his successful father (Rob Riggle). That he’s only occasionally successful when it comes to alienating his dad rarely bothers him; Ben’s a textbook Teflon man, and tomorrow’s another day. For the most part, both he and the show itself are perfectly happy to stumble through their toxic misadventures and encourage everyone they meet to indulge their basest instincts.

Plenty of comedies have been based on less, and “Hoops” has the advantage of a solid voice cast that also features Ron Funches as Ben’s assistant coach and Cleo King turning in the show’s most fun performance as the school’s frustrated principal. And if you’re going to cast someone as a raging ne’er do well, you can’t do much better than Johnson, who’s raised exasperated yelling to an art form thanks to roles like Nick Miller in “New Girl” and Peter B. Parker in “Into the Spider-Verse.” “Hoops” doesn’t have the heart of either of those projects, nor does it seem to have much interest in evolving its characters beyond their most basic loglines. That wouldn’t be as much of an issue for a foulmouthed animated comedy if it weren’t for the fact that this foulmouthed animated comedy isn’t half the joke machine it would need to be in order to justify its total lack of nuance.

Because for as wild as “Hoops” can be, it just doesn’t have much in the way of punchlines at all. Johnson’s good, but he’s not good enough to sell yet another one of Ben’s meltdowns as even vaguely interesting, let alone funny. It also doesn’t help that Ben, well, sucks; he’s more than happy to offer up prostitutes to his underage team and frame another teacher for child abuse if it might help them play a bit better. The entire point of his character seems to be that he’s got about as much charm and interest as a urinal cake — a tough sell for a “protagonist” if he doesn’t have any jokes to cut the acidity of his personality.  Occasionally, one of Ben’s pubescent students — usually AD Miles’ 7-foot tall misfit or Hoffman’s “Timebomb,” a tiny tornado of a human being — will crack a decently weird joke. But for the most part, “Hoops” doesn’t push itself to be much more than it is: a mean, horny comedy about a mean, horny guy and the people unlucky enough to put up with him. They might not have a choice about spending time with him, but luckily, we do.

“Hoops” premieres August 21 on Netflix. 

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