The League -- An early look
by Jonathan Toomey, posted Oct 28th 2009 9:01AM
Fantasy football is a tricky thing. You either love it or you hate it and that largely depends on whether you're good or bad at it. For the most part, the same can be said about FX's newest comedy The League. When it's good, it is good, but when it's bad... well, you get the picture.
The show, which premieres tomorrow night, Thursday 10/29, at 10:30 p.m. after It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, is FX's first solid attempt to produce a lasting companion piece to Sunny and, given some of its predecessors (like Starved or Testees), it'd be easy to write The League off. But, like a two-minute drill that gradually picks up steam, The League might actually go... all... the... way.
OK -- no more football metaphors.
After screening the first two installments, there are certainly some striking differences between the two eps. The pilot focuses largely on the tight-knit group of friends who comprise the league and how their everyday lives create complications when trying to figure out who to start at quarterback this week.
Mark Duplass stars as the league's reigning champion Pete, whose wife Meegan (Leslie Bibb) doesn't think fantasy football is worth all the time that he puts into it. On the flip side, Stephen Rannazzisi plays Kevin and his wife Jenny (Katie Aselton) essentially runs his team for him. Kevin's brother Taco, played by Jon Lajoie (yes -- the pedophile beards guy), is the one who has no sense whatsoever about football yet still seems to make great picks. Nick Kroll plays Ruxin, the one who's never won before and will do anything to take home the championship this season despite sexual frustrations at home with his wife Sofia (Nadine Velazquez). And, rounding out the group is Paul Scheer's Andre, the rich, successful doctor with no real smarts who makes boneheaded moves like drafting players who retired three seasons ago.
The pilot explains all this and, for the most part, suffers as a result of the expository necessity because these are known characters -- sex starved men with nagging wives, little kids, job problems, and borderline alcoholism. It all gets in the way and at times the pilot can be tedious because of that. It also suffers because, believe it or not, there's too much emphasis on fantasy football. But again, it's all set up and it needs to be explained.
By the second episode, once the fantasy draft is over and these characters are able to settle into their routines, that's where the fun starts. Is it a lot of dick jokes? Yeah, for sure, but in many cases, it is very smart humor. Wait until you hear the explanations behind things like "vaginal hubris" or "Eskimo brothers." The humor factor is also greatly benefited by Lajoie, who brings his viral video sensibilities to a few scenes where he picks up a guitar or microphone. Additionally, it's not just the guys having fun. The wives steal plenty of scenes on their own, whether it's feeling each others breasts or putting a finger where it shouldn't be.
Co-created by Jeff Schaffer, one of the twisted minds behind Curb Your Enthusiasm, it's somewhat comforting to know that there is a certain level of comedy pedigree pulling the strings, but it's still hard to see how a show with this premise can develop into a lasting hit. The potential exists, and in some ways it's a shame that it's not possible for a single camera comedy to react to current events in the same way that South Park does, because every week in the NFL provides something to laugh at. From what I've seen so far, the same thing, unfortunately, can't be said about The League.