Fox // 2009 // 206 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Bromley // October 14th, 2010
Where you're judged by the size of your trophy.
I'm not somebody who cares much about sports, so it's a particularly pleasant surprise that I can still enjoy the sports-centric FX sitcom The League. Though the show is, on paper, about a group of friends obsessed with a fantasy football league, it doesn't require any specific knowledge about football or sports to be enjoyed (though if you are a fan, I'm sure it helps and can be enjoyed on some additional level). Really, the show could be about anything that's important to men but not really important in life; a similar, potentially less-accessible show could center on comic book collecting and it would mean more to me without being fundamentally changed at its core. It's really about the relationships between a group of friends with a very specific, very narrow worldview. In that way, it's totally relatable even with the sports premise.
The League focuses on a group of friends involved in a weekly fantasy football league. There's Pete (Mark Duplass, Humpday), the recently-divorced unofficial leader of the group and three-time champion of the league; Andre (Paul Scheer, Piranha 3-D), the geeky plastic surgeon desperately trying to be cool; Ruxin (Nick Kroll, Get Him to the Greek), the deadpan lawyer caught between his love for the league and his love for his wife and new baby; Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi, Paul Blart: Mall Cop), Pete's best friend whose wife, Jenny (Katie Aselton, The Puffy Chair), is actually the one making all the picks for the league, and Taco (stand-up comedian Jon Lajoie), Kevin's oddball stoner of a younger brother who has no interest in football or the league, but participates because it's something to do and his friends are involved.
Make no mistake about it: The League is not a great comedy. It is a good one, though, with signs of getting better, and is at least a solidly entertaining half-hour every week that's preferable to just about any sitcom offering on CBS or ABC. Its somewhat-scripted, somewhat-improvised format gives it a vibe not unlike FX's other sitcom, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and I make the comparison favorably. It's another edgy comedy that's unafraid to go to some dark and gross places and which centers on a group of people who aren't always all that nice or likable. But whereas Sunny isn't afraid to really go all in and commit to its own nastiness, The League often pulls back and, at the end of the day, wants us to essentially like its characters.
At times, The League tries too hard to have it both ways. It wants to be a show about how much fun it is to be a guy and in a fantasy football league and hanging out with your guy friends, but it also wants to be a show that makes fun of how juvenile guys are and how silly it is to take something like fantasy sports so seriously. I'm not suggesting it's impossible to pull of a show that does both things at once, but too often The League is playing it safe, trying to be all things to everyone. Think this stuff is awesome? Great. So do we. Think this is silly and stupid and these guys are behaving like jerks? Great. So do we.
Having said that, The League can also be a very funny show and has the potential to keep improving. The ensemble cast is almost all great, even though they haven't quite gelled yet -- the differing styles of comedy aren't working together yet in a way that feels intentional. While I really like actor/director Mark Duplass as Pete, the show's anchor (he's probably my favorite in the cast), he really doesn't have much of a character to play -- he's a detached smartass, but not much else. To hold the center, he's got to become more than just detached and bemused. Though it seems like he's set up to have an arc early on (his wife leaves him in the pilot), it's pretty quickly ditched and Pete takes a backseat to the wackier supporting cast surrounding him. That would be ok, too, if The League was better at surprising us; unfortunately, the supporting characters almost always say and act exactly as we quickly learn to expect.
The first six-episode season of The League arrives on Blu-ray in a decent package that offers two versions of every show: the original broadcast versions and "extended" episodes that include added bits and, of course, run slightly longer. The 1.78:1 widescreen shows look pretty good in HD, with reasonable detail throughout and bright, vivid colors. The series is made on the cheap and looks it, but that's also party of its low-rent charm. The 5.1 lossless audio track isn't called upon to do very much, but delivers the dialogue clearly and forcefully enough while still packing just enough punch when it counts. It's perfectly suited to a show like The League.
Though there's a healthy amount of bonus features included in the set, there aren't very many that are worth anything. A blooper reel offers a series of blown takes (ha!), though at least has the good sense to be dirty. The deleted scenes fare better, because if you're a fan of The League they offer more of what you like about the show; same goes for a series of alternate takes. There are a couple of longer music videos featuring comedian Jon Lajoie in character as Taco (I will never forgive The League for naming a character "Taco"): "Vaginal Hubris," "Birthday Song" and "Legalize Kevin's Pubic Smoke"; "Three-Penis Wine," a fake commercial hosted by Taco for a drink that's just what it sounds like and "Mr. McGibblet's Fun House and Dojo," featuring Taco as the host of a fake children's show. Also included is a short piece focusing on Paul Scheer's Andre called "Dress for Success" and the pilot episode of the FX animated spy series Archer (which, if you're keeping score, was also included on the Season Five release of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia).
The League is now in its second season on FX, and it's already shown improvement over Season One. My suggestion for going ahead? Ditch the stuff about the fantasy football league as much as possible. Yes, I know that it's the central conceit of the show, but it feels like the series simply wants to evolve into a relationship comedy about this group of friends. That's totally ok. Look how it's worked for Cougar Town.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 206 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Music Videos
* Official Site