Netflix Sitcom Brews Brothers Goes Down Easy

Maybe it’s the pandemic talking, but Netflix’s beer-filled sitcom “Brews Brothers” wins you over with its amicability, even if it’s not as funny as it wants to be. The constant jokes in this series (with eight episodes premiering on Friday) often feel like they're trying to be as big or gross as possible, all without rocking any boats, or alienating people who don’t know a stout from an IPA. But balanced with a clear interest in the world of breweries, and the people who would populate them, the lightness makes for an easy watch. Even if there’s not a lot of original frat humor going on, you don’t mind going back for the show’s next wacky scenario. 

Adam and Wilhelm are the “brews brothers” (get it?) at the center of this universe of people where the personalities are raised to be a little kookier than sitcoms might be. Wilhelm (Alan Aisenberg) owns Rodman’s, a small brewery that is struggling out in Van Nuys, California, an extension of his more blue-collar approach to beer. Adam (Mike Castle) enters the picture in episode one, after having been kicked out of Portland for his IPA snobbery, and the two are shown to be beer fanatics with totally different approaches, and a dysfunctional history because of it. Beer brings out Adam’s most condescending side, while for Wilhelm it brings out his excitable side, and his inability to shut up about Belgian culture. As the series from creator Greg Schaffer wants to make clear, they’re both kind of dorks, playing heightened ideas of real beer snobs and schlubs. 

The first episode sees the two brothers go head to head in a beer-making contest to impress a distributor—Wilhelm uses a bat to stir his stuff, and Adam dresses up in a full lab coat. Meanwhile, Rodman's employees Sarah (Carmen Flood) and Chuy (Marques Ray) get in the mix, inserting their own humor as observers. When it's revealed that one of the brothers used their urine to top off the flavor for what becomes the winner, it sets off a whole quest to duplicate it, and bathroom and brewery jokes ensue. That's "Brews Brothers" during just the first two episodes, and that's its wackiness in a nutshell. 

Among the businesses outside Rodman’s is a clever food truck called the Kid’s Menu. They serve, as you may guess, mac and cheese, chicken fingers, carrots—stuff that buzzed adults wish they could have, but that only kids get. It’s exactly like “Brews Brothers,” which wants to give adults the degree of wackiness and comically exaggerated performances that are normally put into live-action kid’s shows. Showrunner Greg Schaffer has a history of writing and producing for Disney and Nickelodeon shows, and "Brews Brothers" almost seems like an experiment within his resume. 

This mix of juvenile obviousness and adult grossness is especially highlighted in its comedy, which can try too hard with cartoonish side characters (like Wilhelm's monk friends who show up to party, and then stay), or repeated jokes about how Wilhelm always picks the worst names for his beers. Then there's the way that Chuy is written to have a boundless kookiness for the sake of a random gag, or how Sarah has an anger problem that leads to slapstick. This isn’t like the beer-fueled antics of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (it’s not as clever or deranged), and the closest that "Brews Brothers" gets to edginess is when it takes a stand against tried-and-true white supremacists (jokes about being disabled are almost too cheap to be offensive). Instead it’s like a “National Lampoon’s” straight-to-DVD frat movie, a collection of beer, fart, and dick jokes that are often obvious, rounded up with a mushy idea of a makeshift, mostly white family. 

And yet, it works. Maybe it’s the show’s bright colors, constant sense of daylight, and clear sense of camaraderie, but “Brews Brothers”’ sitcom self-amusement is totally welcoming, and I found myself returning to Rodman’s each episode beyond any professional obligation. Part of that definitely comes from its unique set-up, as the show cleverly jokes about what it would be like to run a brewery, including the people who get "Founder" status, or the strange people who drop by. The performances have everyone on the same wavelength, and it creates a strong rhythm for these episodes where they’re scrambling to figure out some brewery-specific problem, while clashing with their heightened personalities. And yes, every now and then it’s funny too, often from a line that seems like it came from a side character's improvisation. Chuy had some of my biggest laughs, thanks to Marques Ray's deadpan delivery. 

There’s a quaintness to “Brews Brothers” that overcomes its lack of edge, and the way it plays like a Disney Channel show with a fake ID. Sometimes a little detail emerges from one of its characters, as when condescending beer fan Adam is revealed to have never been drunk (not a spoiler). After losing his sense of taste and smell after getting into a big fight (I won’t get into it), Adam gets a little buzzed, and sees the lighter side of a craft that can be labored, but also can help people have a good time. For some delights, there’s no sense in being a snob. 

All of season one screened for review. "Brews Brothers" premieres on Netflix, 4/10.

Nick Allen

Nick Allen is an Assistant Editor at RogerEbert.com and is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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