100 Years, 50 Losers: #3. Coach McGuirk
Posted by Andrew Unterberger on December 23, 2008
“Life sucks, Brendon. There’s your lesson. Go enjoy it.”
Coach John McGuirk, Home Movies
Voiced By: H. Jon Benjamin
Born to Lose: Coach McGuirk is just about as bleak a projection of adult loserhood as exists without being overtly depressing. McGuirk lives by himself, has zero romantic success (aside from Paula’s nutty friend, with whom he almost hooks up with twice–once where he chickens out, and once where he has a heart attack), hates his job as a soccer coach (except when he can blackmail his students into doing favors for him with the threat of bad grades), and fails miserably in his various other ambitions (including stand-up comedy, psychic fortune telling and driving a car onto the stage in the middle of a play). He’s not well-liked, he’s not taken seriously by anyone, and he’s in typical middle-aged gym-teacher shape–he should be virtually unwatchable for those of us slightly worried about projections of our own lives twenty years down the line.
Nonetheless, McGuirk is not only Home Movies‘ best, most compelling character (and the show has a pretty good claim to being maybe the second best animated TV show of all time), but one of the funniest characters in TV history. Mostly I feel this is because most TV shows tend to take aging, prospect-less losers and go one of two directions with them–to ennoble them and make them pathetically kind to everyone, or to embitter them and make them unnervingly nasty to everyone. McGuirk, on the other hand, is neither of these–he’s certainly not overly gregarious, since he tends to insult or take advantage of the only people who can even stand him. But he’s not really that bitter, either–he’s not thrilled about his station in life, sure, but he doesn’t seem to mind an existence consisting mostly of going to the mall drunk and undergoing degrading science experiments for free DVD players all that much.
Grounding McGuirk’s character, of course, is his relationship with Brendon, who lacks a father figure for most of the show’s run (he has a real dad who shows up midway through the second season, and who’s actually a pretty decent guy, but is always busy with his work and ends up marrying a real wench). Brendon comes to McGuirk for advice on most of his life’s problems, ranging from flunking history class to fighting with his friends to sucking at the guitar, and McGuirk’s advice is usually terrible to the point of genuine destructiveness, but Brendon doesn’t seem to hold it against him that much–he’s smart enough most of the time to know when the Coach has no idea what he’s talking about, and just seems appreciative enough of his effort to keep coming back to him in future episodes. And every so often, the Coach legitimately hits one out of the park, as when he correctly pins Brendon’s issues with his future mother-in-law to his own burgeoning attraction to her, or when he smartly advises Brendon on how to handle the school’s new lethario Octavio when it becomes obvious that he’s using Melissa.
It’s a very touching relationship, but one that never even borders on sentimentality. He clearly cares about Brendon, but has an awful way of showing it–like when he gets (well, steals) Brendon a bike, but takes it back when he realizes Brendon’s father had already gotetn him one–and often fails to come through for Brendon when it’s inconvenient for him to do so. He’s even a little too liable to kick Brendon when he’s down, as when he tells Brendon during the middle of his disastrous production of the school play, “It’s kind of a disaster….like, a historic disaster. And that’s good…in a way…because you’ll be sort of famous, for putting on the worst play ever in this elementary school.” Still, Brendon’s clearly the closest thing to family that McGuirk has, and he seems to understand that, often showing up unannounced and unwanted at the Small’s residence, even if he doesn’t act the part as well as he should.
And all that shit aside, the dude just is just at the center of some seriously hilarious moments. There’s the episode where McGuirk accidentally goes on a soujurn in the woods with a man-love cult and ends up eating poison berries and going crazy (his first words upon being discovered by Brendon, Jason and Melissa at a nearby overnight camp: “Brendon, eat these berries. They’re poisonous”). There’s the episode where he shows up at Fenton’s birthday party and ends up teaching the kids how to (incorrectly) play dice, taking all of their money and impressing Fenton’s mom. And then there’s my all-time favorite Coach McGuirk moment, where when taking a contemplative walk on the beach, Brendon trips over an extremely hung over and sunburned McGuirk (hidden under a bunch of weeds), who asks him “Brendon, what are you doing in my house?” Brendon responds that he’s on the beach, and McGuirk amends his question, “What are doing on my beach?” He then looks around, thinks to himself for a second, and puts his head in his hands: “Oh, man, not again.”
Adversary in Loserdom: A lot of my favorite Home Movies episodes are centered around the dynamic between McGuirk and Brendan’s significantly more bookish school teacher, Mr. Lynch. As the only other member of the staff that tends to tolerate McGuirk, he often gets cajoled or bullied into McGurik’s plans–double dates, discount trips to Mexico, inner-circle corruption–and though they start out hating each other, he and McGuirk usually work up a bizarrely compelling bond by the end of their episodes. It’s the closest thing Home Movies has to those great Brian-Stewie “Road To ___” Family Guy eps.
Some More Quotes For the Hell of It: “Brendon, there’s nothing wrong with lying to women. Or the government. Or parents. Or God.”
“Now when I was in college I went through some weird times…I ran with a gang. The gang was called the Feelgoods. It wasn’t the toughtest gang in the world… it was more like running with the cast of a broadway musical. Very annoying. A lot of freaky interpretive dance stuff – beads, makeup – in other words, DRUGS, Brendon…”
“Per day, I would say I hate far more than I feel like I like something. I like my western omelet, but while I’m eating that there’s about 17 other things that I hate, like my apartment, my breath, whatever’s on the TV, whatever’s in the paper. Then I walk outside and it’ll be a nice day. Well that’s great that’s a good feeling for a split second and then I realize I hate my neighborhood, because I… you apparently can’t play music after 6:00 pm… in this country…”
“THIS IS WHY MUSIC IS EVIL!!!!”