Review: The League - The Shiva Bowl (season finale)
by Jonathan Toomey, posted Dec 10th 2009 11:02PM
(S01E06) "What I tell you? Hot girl. Volkswagen Jetta. It's a law! Like water. Or dinosaurs." - Taco
I really want to like The League. It's full of things I love in a TV show -- male camaraderie, football, and endless dick jokes -- yet I still can't get into it. But, the like the good little TV blogger that I am, I re-screened the first five episodes before viewing the season finale earlier today to make sure I gave it a fair shake.
The League is far from the worst thing on TV, and it's definitely the the best comedy FX has rolled out since It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. However, I'm gonna stick with what I've said already -- there's some serious potential here, but a lot of things need to change before The League returns for its second season next summer.
The biggest issue is identity. Too much of this season was spent trying to figure out exactly what kind of show this is going to be. Is it a just a buddy comedy with a hint of football tossed in or is the fantasy football going to play a bigger role? Does every episode have to revolve around football or can it be neglected completely and still work? Can the wives and girlfriends take center stage for a full ep and reach the same comedic level as the guys? All these questions and more were answered over the course of the season, and "The Shiva Bowl" did a fairly good job of synthesizing everything that did work about the season and putting it all together.
With the season ender approaching, all the guys were justifiably on edge fully knowing that Pete, league champ three out of the past four years, could finally tumble at the hands of Andre a.k.a. the guy who drafted Keyshawn Johnson and traded for Plaxico Burress. Andre had no business being in the playoffs and naturally, once his source of good luck was discovered, it sparked a keen interest in all the guys (except Taco, but we'll come back to him).
Dating the real live Shiva turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to Andre in terms of the league, and it was a nice touch because it shed some light on the past that all these guys share, even if it was a little cloudy. Were they all friends with Shiva in high school? Based on their obsession with her incredibly long last name and the goofy, nerdy head-shot from the yearbook, it felt like Shiva was more than likely on the receiving end of many a taunt from those guys back in the day. However -- and this may have been due to her status as the super hot, successful, and confident doctor now -- Shiva got along with all of them just fine. The entire plot was a really solid balance of the stakes in the league coupled with the guys and the hair-brush/framed picture/vibrator stealing history they share.
The B-plot was also refreshing. While it didn't beat out Taco's stint as the life-size Mr. McGibblets, his job at the VW dealership led to some great moments. Highlight? Finding out that he was only hired as a janitor but he quickly stripped off his coveralls to reveal a shirt and tie so he could pose as a salesman and pick up women. Maybe not the most creative of ideas, but it was certainly better than having him off in the wing just waiting to whip out his acoustic guitar and sing a raunchy tune.
With the first season over, it'd be wise for Jeff and Jackie Marcus Schaffer to trust their actors. It's my understanding that like Jeff's past work with Curb Your Enthusiasm, some of The League is partially improvised, and that aspect of the show just needs room to breath. Too much of the early episodes seemed scripted solely to generate buzz (vaginal hubris; Eskimo brothers; etc.), and it was clear in the finale that just letting these characters be themselves can lead to many more genuine laughs as opposed to things you're supposed to laugh at.
[Watch clips and full episodes of The League over at SlashControl.]