You may have heard of it, you may not have, but there’s this little half-hour sitcom on FX called The League. It runs through (fantasy) football season and comes on right after the lovably low-brow FX staple, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but chances are you aren’t watching it. That’s a bigger mistake than leaving Eli Manning in your lineup on a bye week.
The producers of Curb Your Enthusiasm created this semi-improvised comedy that centers on five friends and one of their wives as they compete week-by-week in a serious-as-a-quarterback-sack Fantasy Football competition that bleeds into every aspect of their regular Joe lives. Fear not, before the anxiety can sweep you up, know that you’ve only missed one episode this season and that if you take my advice, you can tune in tonight and make up for your past mistakes with the second episode of this third season.
Why You’re Not Watching
You don’t “get” Fantasy Football First of all, half the people who play Fantasy Football don’t “get” it, but their buddies are playing so they join in out fear of exclusion. Don’t deny it; there are many of you out there. The great thing about this series is it both glorifies and completely demolishes the prestige of succeeding in Fantasy Football. Just as one champion is touting his or her victory, it’s all shot to hell when the trophy ends up where the sun don’t shine – and yes, this has actually happened twice already on the young series. You will, however, have to get used to hearing football players’ names shot back and forth like they’re common knowledge, but you may learn a thing or two, so it’s alright.
Wait…who are these people?
It’s what’s-his-name from that MTV comedy show (Human Giant)…and is that the chick from that Dax Shepard movie on Netflix (The Freebie)? Is that El Chupacabra (Reno 911!)? Sure Paul Scheer, Katie Aselton and Nick Kroll aren’t household names. Sure, with the exception of Aselton, everyone on this show looks surprisingly like your real life buncha losers from the office, not a group of pretty people worthy of television. But that’s not the point. These ruffians disguised as well-to-do adults with real lives are nothing more than the dudes you used to hang out with in high school. And college. And last week at happy hour. From the out-of-touch tag-a-long brother, Taco (Jonathan Lajoie); to the falsely-confident friend with a surprisingly good job and disturbingly terrible fashion sense, Andre (Scheer); to the couple so obsessed with the game they inadvertently teach their five-year-old daughter trash talk like “take a ride on my suck stick,” Kevin and Jenny (Stephen Rannazzisi and Aselton); these characters are like your friends, only funnier. So who cares if you can’t manage to remember Mark Duplass’ (Pete) or Nick Kroll’s (Ruxin) names? You’ll be laughing at their hilarious quips either way.
It’s on during the Jersey Shore
Alright, fan of low-brow television. I get it. You like things to be messy and dirty. You enjoy programming that feels like a train wreck and makes you feel better about your own life. I get it, because I love it too. But to that point, I offer up this sitcom: an incredibly lowbrow comedy without all the shameful side effects. How many times do really need to see Snooki smush Vinny? Whatever your answer is, I’m putting my foot down: you’ve seen enough. How many times did the Jersey Shore folks steal someone’s wedding tape because it may have caught footage of their disputed foot race? How many times does Sammi try to get Ron to do what she wants by using a dog training manual on him? How many times does the Situation blindfold his lady so he can sex her up and secure his Sunday lineup without her knowing? The answer is never, because these are the actions of members of The League. Both Thursday night shows can be despicable, but only one is realistic enough to include awful actions you’ve probably thought about doing yourself. You can admit you relate – we won’t tell anyone.
What You’re Missing
A sharp take on the uncouth antics of the typical boys’ club Dr. Pepper may only be for men, but this show is equal opportunity, if you dare. If you were the type of person who rolled his or her eyes at the kids daring each other to run naked through the quad or putting peanut butter under the handles of each other’s cars in high school, you aren’t going to enjoy this show very much. If, however, you were the sort of person who never did that sort of thing, but relished the opportunity to get a laugh as a bystander, the series presents a bit of a sweet spot. It’s incredibly self-aware of its antics and their immaturity – like the ones that opened Season 3 which include Andre growing his hair long and dancing around downtown Chicago like the Pied Piper as part of his punishment for taking last place in the league – and the series lets that awareness inform the comedy.
Some of the best trash talk you’ve ever heard
Looking for a good comeback? Watch this show. Seriously. Half the dialogue is trash talk – glorious fictitious-appendages-in-places-no-object-should-ever-go trash talk. And what makes it even better is that much of the show’s dialogue is improvised, which means these little gems often come straight from the inner-geniuses of the talented comedians behind our scrappy characters.
It ain’t pretty. It’s not illustrious. It makes lawyers and doctors into jackasses and one housewife a salty sailor. It’s the truth. The reality is there are lots of husbands watching porn on their iPhones while it’s wrapped in a Ziplock bag in the shower, like Kevin did last season. The reality is your friends are probably big enough jackasses that they’d rig the draft to keep you out of first place when you show up late, like the league did to Ruxin in the Season 3 premiere. The reality is there's always one member of the group who’s a little off, yet gets a mind-boggling amount of tail, like Taco. And finally, my favorite “the reality is:” even the housewifiest housewives aren’t all reading Goop.com and trying out Ina Garten’s latest recipe. Some of them are just as brash and glued to ESPN as their husbands are. It’s not reality in a look-isn’t-it-cute-that-I-don’t-believe-in-marriage-and-wear-my-hair-in-a-ponytail, Whitney Cummings sort of way, but rather the often unrepresented woman-with-a-real-pair-of-huevos sort of way.
You can improve your own Fantasy stats…probably
Maybe it’s just that the insane level of competition inspired me to up my game, but after watching The League, I’m a bit more judicious in my Fantasy team choices. That’s because while the series is focused on laughs, it is still first and foremost a show about Fantasy Football. They don’t skimp on the details, and while you won’t get any real tips on who to play next Sunday seeing as the series was filmed long before the games actually happen, you will learn valuable lessons like don’t be a slave to the rankings, don’t have your daughter call into a Fantasy Football radio show from which you’ve been banned, or don’t make your league password something non-masculine like “the king of chardonnay.” These are all valuable lessons in the arena of Fantasy Football and all things you can learn from The League.
The Bottom Line
It’s comedy, not rocket science It doesn’t take a genius to know when something’s funny and last episode’s “Shiva Bowl Shuffle” aside, this show is simply good comedy at its basest level. It’s potty humor crafted in a smart way and it works. Besides, what other viewing option could possibly make more sense after an episode of It’s Always Sunny?
The League airs Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. on FX.
F/X makes a lot of (supposedly) good shows that I just don’t watch: Rescue Me, Sons of Anarchy, The Shield, Terriers, Nip/Tuck and The League. There’s just not enough time to catch up on all of them, but that’s where Netflix comes in to let me scratch at least one of those off of the list.
As mentioned in my Sports Night FYC, I am not a sports guy. I don’t follow sports, I don’t watch sports and I know very little about sports players and references Yet for some reason, I dig sports TV shows. Sure, The League isn’t strictly a sports show. It’s not about actual athletes, it’s about sports fans. Either way, it turns out that show that my DVR used to record a minute or two of every week after It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is actually pretty damned hilarious.
Who Made It: The League was conceived by husband and wife team Jeff and Jackie Marcus Schaffer, who between them have produced Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, EuroTrip and Disturbia.
Who’s In It: Mark Duplass (The Puffy Chair, Greenberg), Nick Kroll (Dinner for Schmucks), Jonathan Lajoie, Stephen Rannazzisi (Big Day), Paul Scheer (Human Giant, Piranha 3D), Katie Aselton (The Puffy Chair, The Freebie).
What’s It About: A bunch of assholes and their fantasy football league. And when I say assholes, I mean that in an endearing way. This is a show about a group of terrible people who do terrible, embarrassing things to each other all in the name of winning a pointless competition amongst themselves. Basically, think of it like Curb Your Enthusiasm where every character is some variant of Larry David and all they care about is football.
Why You Should Watch It: Are you a fan of Curb Your Enthusiasm? It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia? Just mash ‘em together and you’ve got The League. That may sound like a complaint - that the show is just that simple, but it’s not. Of course that’s not to say that a show about five friends’ misadventures with a fantasy football league is deep and complex - far from it - but it sticks to a tried and true formula of bitter, miserable people being bitter and miserable to each other and yet still being friends.
Everyone secretly thinks that their group of friends is as funny as the group on The League, that’s just the way it goes. But no one in real life gets up to sitcom-styled misunderstandings and mayhem, it just doesn’t happen. And that’s why shows like The League and Curb are so great. They’re the kind of sitcom world we wish we could live in. Not a bunch of friends getting together at a coffee shop every day, but a bunch of friends who escape their mundane lives by entering this bizarre fantasy world where they have no morals and are perfectly happy to throw their friends and family under the bus if it means comedy gold.
And in the case of The League, it’s gold indeed. It’s also remarkably vulgar for a basic cable television show. Not necessarily in language - even F/X has its limits - but in its topics and situations. There’s nothing off limits on this show. Everyone is at the mercy of what these brilliantly decadent jerks will do to each other.