Welcome back to Channel Chaser! I’m finally back on comedy for this week’s show review, and I’m starting to think that I have a type in terms of what kinds of shows make me laugh. Well, I’m not sure what this says about me, but today I’ll be talking about FX’s raunchy, rowdy sports sitcom The League.
I like to think of The League as a sort of companion show to FX’s other risqué comedy program, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: they’re similar in many respects, especially the tone and type of humor involved. Just replace Philadelphia with Chicago and the beer-soaked barflies who go off the rails on about every social issue imaginable to an equally dysfunctional group of football geeks who seek to humiliate each other in both fantasy and real life.
So was Sunny part of the inspiration for The League? Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer for that one. But if I were a betting man–like the main cast in this show–then I’d have to say yes. With the usual wager, of course.
In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, The League isn’t actually about football. It’s about fantasy football, and the people who make the fictional sports happen: specifically, a group of overgrown adolescents whose only real goal in life is to make their friends/opponents suffer as they seek to win The Shiva (a victor’s trophy named after the high-school girl one of the main cast first had sex with) and avoid the dreaded Sakco (a last-place trophy crowned by–you guessed it–a petrified bull scrotum).
The series revolves around a core cast of main characters including divorcee cubicle drone Pete Eckhart, bizarrely mismatched husband and wife Jenny and Kevin MacArthur (see what I did there?), conniving attorney Rodney Ruxin, the painfully unfunny and inept doctor Andre Nowzick, and the sincere stoner Taco MacArthur. These five make up the major part of an eight-team fantasy league whose inner competition can, and often does, get out of hand really, really fast.
The main source of humor in the show is the fact that the characters will do anything–and I do mean anything–for the sake of their fantasy glory. This includes, but is not limited to, becoming each other’s slaves, trading away naming rights to their children, and some things so vile and appalling that decorum prohibits me from describing them in this column. Trust me; watch the show and you’ll know what I mean. Their perspective is so incredibly skewed toward their hobby–or rather, their obsession–that fantasy often takes precedence over real life in silly and sometimes even mortifying ways.
Where The League differs from its spiritual originator It’s Always Sunny is in the method of conveying humor. In Sunny, the reason the contemptible band of people making up the cast are still funny despite their obvious problems and tremendously bad taste is because, much like Seinfeld before it, it is a show that focuses on the things most people often think but are afraid to say in public. However, Sunny also isn’t afraid to tackle social issues such as gun control and politics. The League mostly steers away from this kind of critiquing in favor of an even more basic approach to talking about the everyday facets of life that we tend to take for granted or hide from others: especially ones in reference to sex. Seriously though, if you’re not comfortable, or are not at least able to sit though some incredibly uncomfortable sexual situations and dialogues, this show is not for you.
On the flip side, the acting in this show is really great. The chemistry of the cast is wonderful, and The League is populated by a who’s-who of famous guest stars and real-life professional football players who make regular appearances in the characters’ lives, including such well-known faces as Jeff Goldblum, Jay Cutler, Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, Marshawn Lynch, Sarah Silverman, and Seth Rogan.
My hat especially goes off to Nick Kroll, the Comedy Central comedian who plays the delightfully horrible Ruxin (he hates being called Rodney). Ruxin is probably my favorite of the cast just because he is completely unapologetic for how much of a scumbag he is and has no filter and no shame for anything he does. He’s also got the self-effacing Jewish comic routine down pat (even pausing at one point to note how he looks like a “Nazi propaganda cartoon of a Jew”).
Taco is also up there for me, but I feel that the show kind of ruined his character in the later seasons. At first, he’s a breath of fresh air among the other obsessed characters because he doesn’t care about their games (or much of anything) and is blissfully ignorant of the damage his attempted good deeds cause. Later on, though, he becomes less innocent and is made to appear just as cynical and self-serving as the other characters: a missed opportunity if there ever was one. Definitely check out the season five episode “Flowers for Taco” though: it’s one of the best, and novice actor Jon Lajoie really shows off what good comedy is all about when Taco is deprived of his drugs and forces the other league members to re-stone him because he’s just too good for them without the drugs.
My Rating: 4/5
Sophisticated, The League is not. But I would argue over it being intelligent comedy, despite the rather adolescent overtones its humor regularly takes. If you’re a fan of comedy that makes you burst out laughing and gasp in shock and horror at things you can’t believe you’d ever see a person do willingly, then this is the show for you. It might also help if you’re a football fan, but personally I thought it was plenty good even for not knowing anything about the game. It’s really a matter of personal taste whether you’d pick The League over It’s Always Sunny, but in my opinion, I’d put them on the same playing field.
Channel Chaser is written by Kyle Robertson. You can check out more of his work on his website. Check back every Wednesday for new articles.