Imagine for a second that you didn’t read the title of this article. Imagine for a second I described a show where the season premiere featured a character with AIDS dying after getting hit by a car. Sounds like some kind of demented drama? Nope, it’s from one of the funniest shows on TV right now, The League, and that situation evolves into one of the funniest funerals on TV in years.
For newbies, the gist of the show is simple: the show stars five friends who are members of a fantasy football league – amoral lawyer Ruxin (Nick Kroll), socially oblivious surgeon Andre (Paul Scheer), league commissioner Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi) and his foul-mouthed, cunning wife Jenny (Katie Aselton), too-clever-for-his-own-good Pete (Mark Duplass), and perpetually stoned, womanizing entrepreneur Taco (Jon LaJoie). They spend most of their time coming up with creative ways to screw each other over so they can win their league, and will stoop to any grimy, hellish level to do it.
When The League is at its best, you will be able to predict exactly what’s going to happen at the end of the episode, but it will still hand-over-mouth shock you, and then finds a way to go even further. A combination of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Curb Your Enthusiasm, if you will, and not just because the show’s improvised. The show has been absolute gold since the first episode, and based on the first few episodes of this season, we’re in for another all-around great year.
It’s only been three episodes, but we’ve already seen examples of Classic League from each main character: Ruxin cheated at his son’s expense to further himself, Andre was tricked into doing something foolish just ‘cuz, Kevin experienced both intentional and unintentional humiliation at the hands of a gloating Jenny, and Taco (one of my absolute favorite characters on television) doing… ridiculous Taco things. The show, like many other FX shows thrives on A) gallons of chemistry between the leads, and B) characters who refuse to develop in spite of their best interests.
While lack of character development is one of the show’s strengths–lord knows what would happen if Ruxin ever developed a conscience–personality alterations are a way to keep things fresh, and Andre’s Tefl-Andre storyline (where he became cool, unfazed, and witty for once) was one of the best parts of first few episodes. The reintroduction of Russell, a character with a known sex addiction who seems just as mean-spirited as everyone else, should introduce a new dynamic to the group, even if his appearances continue to be infrequent. If fan-favorite Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas) shows up in this season, the odds of the two of them getting reacquainted for some debauchery is inevitable. I try not to speculate too much based on little information, but the ability to do so, as I noted earlier, is kind of The League‘s thing.
Though long-running storylines are a rarity in The League, there some to be two happening this season: the tension in the MacArthur house over housing both the Shiva AND the Sacko Ruxin, and Taco’s continuing business ventures. All signs point to new, big things for Taco Corp this year, including the development and eventual big money sale of the Eskimo Brothers Data Base, which has the potential to be yet another Fully Realized Taco Story. (Though really, aren’t they all Fully Realized Taco Stories? The guy hasn’t had a dud episode yet.)
As per usual, the show requires little-to-no actual knowledge of football, or even fantasy football, to enjoy. (I’m not entirely unschooled–I “play” in a fantasy hockey league and my team is entirely full of goons. I don’t do well in the rankings, but I’m having fun. My team’s name is The Expendables, by the way.) Prominent football players are always introduced, and the show is more about how the characters like to screw each other over than football itself.
The show refuses to shy away from the edgy and decidedly-over-the-line bits that make the show work. Whether it’s a child accidentally taking hormones and growing facial hair, Taco growing his company by hiring homeless people, or a sex addicted sommelier describing wine by what sexual perversion it reminds him of, I can only expect it to get worse/better as the season continues.
The show’s guest star game is still strong. We’ve already had Rob Riggle, Jay Glazer, and the usual litany of football players, including a solid comic exchange between Cameron Jordan and Jordan Cameron. JJ Watt also returns for another standout performance. As someone who doesn’t follow football, I can’t tell you anything about JJ Watt’s career, but if he gets injured or has to stop playing for whatever reason, I’d be perfectly happy with him being a regular on the show.
So far the only disappointment I’ve encountered this season was the end of the Tefl-Andre storyline. I feel that it could and probably should have lasted one more episode, and the way it ended was a touch anticlimactic, but as long as The League continues its unbroken stream of unapologetically edgy material, quick wit, lowbrow humor, and Taco-ness, we’re going to be in for another great season.
Every previous season of The League is available on Netflix. Feel free to binge so you can full enjoy a show about a bunch of backstabbing friends with only slightly stronger morals than Roger Goodell.
The League airs on FXX at 10PM EST