TV Review: ‘The League’ Returns For More Funny Fantasy

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CHICAGOFX’s “The League” is one of the most consistently inventive and clever comedies on TV right now. It’s also remarkably dirty and only getting more so. With a season premiere in which Seth Rogen plays a porno director named Dirty Randy, “The League” seems to be pushing even more envelopes as other comedies on the network (“Louie,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”) take their own boundaries further and further. I worry that boundary-pushing will defeat the friend dynamic that really makes the show tick but the first two episodes of season three of this surprise hit are funny enough to put those worries on the bench for awhile. Television Rating: 4.0/5.0
Television Rating: 4.0/5.0

Like so many great comedies, what truly allows “The League” to stand above most network television is the strength of its ensemble. These are simply talented, funny people and any conversation about the best comedy ensembles currently on the tube that doesn’t include this show is incomplete. We are in the ensemble age of comedy with great crews on “Parks and Recreation,” “Community,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and more (“Louie” being the exception that proves the rule) and “The League” is one of the more consistent ensemble shows on the air. There’s not a single weak link.

Said ensemble is led, mostly, by Pete (Mark Duplass), a character who felt more like the central lead in the first season but has blended seamlessly into the ensemble last year and at the start of this one. This is one of those rare shows without a true lead. Everyone would be eligible for supporting awards. The “everyone” is a group of friends who also happens to be in a fantasy league. There’s the aforementioned, relatively-nondescript Pete, who seemed like he might be the “single guy comedy” at the start but the writers don’t focus much on his dating life any more. Essentially, he’s the straight man now to a group of total nutjobs. Pete’s friends and fantasy colleagues include the married Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi) & Jenny (Katie Aselton), the abrasive Ruxin (Nick Kroll), abused Andre (Paul Scheer), and totally bizarre Taco (Jon Lajoie).

Mark Duplass. THE LEAGUE premieres on FX.
Mark Duplass. THE LEAGUE premieres on FX.
Photo credit: Jeremy Cowart/FX

As is often the case in a real fantasy football league, the new season opens with a lot of bragging on the part of last year’s winner, Ruxin. In fact, he even creates a pretty funny parody of “The Superbowl Shuffle” to commemorate his win. Whenever someone obnoxious gets even more so, it’s tempting to knock them down a peg, and so a controversial decision at the new-season draft is made to ensure that Ruxin has a lesser chance at a repeat. Meanwhile, the gang is still unleashing Hell on the last-place finisher, Andre. Apparently, in their league, the bottom-dweller must undergo pranking during the entire off-season, culminating in one giant prank that involves the aforementioned porno director and what looks like the worst adult film ever produced.

“The League” actually works best when it focuses on the dynamic within the group instead of the wacky hi jinks they get into. As much as I love Seth Rogen, some of the porno stuff in episode one is just goofy, and plotline in the second episode involving a Swastika painted on Ruxin’s driveway is just ridiculous. I vastly prefer the show when it’s just the guys sitting around the bar talking trash with each other. And the relationship dynamics (especially between Rannazzisi and the great Aselton) are better than on most shows in which “family life” or “romance” are the more-obvious theme. These are likable, funny people.

I really like “The League” but I worry about the writers keeping up their boundary-pushing pace. If we’re working with Swastikas and porno at the beginning of season three, where will they be in season seven? The fact is that I worry because I enjoy this show as much as I do. And, yes, “The League” is consistently funny enough that there’s reason to believe it will be on in season seven (like the network’s stalwart “It’s Always Sunny…”). If they stick with the characters and the talented people who play them, “The League” will survive. And maybe someday it will get the general praise and attention it deserves.

‘The League,’ which airs on FX, returns on October 6th, 2011 at 9:30PM CST. It stars Mark Duplass, Stephen Rannazzisi, Katie Aselton, Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer, and Jon Lajoie, with a season-premiere guest appearance by Seth Rogen. content director Brian Tallerico

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