Fox // 2009 // 148 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 20th, 2010
Where you're judged by the size of your trophy.
"I took Shiva's vibrator."
It's time for another exciting NFL season, which means it's time for another year of fantasy football action. For the past four years running, former high school buddies Pete (Mark Duplass, Greenberg), Ruxin (Nick Kroll, Date Night), Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi, Paul Blart: Mall Cop), Andre (Paul Scheer, Human Giant), and Taco (Jonathan Lajoie) have competed against one another in their own fantasy league. Pete's been victorious two years in a row, but his teammates are determined to change that. Over the course of the season, the men's personal lives hit a series of colorful highs and lows (mostly lows), but that doesn't matter. Who will emerge victorious at the season's end?
Though FX is largely known for ambitious dramas like The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, and Damages, the network also managed to generate a pretty big hit with the edgy comedy It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Taking a cue from that program's success, FX launched three new comedies within the span of a year: Archer, Louie, and The League. Having seen at least a few episodes of each of these programs, I can say with reasonable certainty that none of them are quite on par with the aforementioned dramas and that The League is the weakest of the batch.
The show isn't bad, but it pales considerably in contrast to its inspirations. The show's "improvisation within a semi-scripted structure" format is essentially the same sort of thing being done on Parks and Recreation, The Office, and Curb Your Enthusiasm, while its emphasis on boundary-pushing shock value seems to directly mimic the sort of thing It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia does.
In the former area, the show struggles a bit simply because this cast is unable to generate the sort of consistently inspired material that made similar programs so successful. The members of The League too frequently wade into predictable waters, often latching on to the most obvious joke in any given situation and working it to death. There are definitely laughs here and there, but there are easily just as many eyeroll-inducing moments that simply don't stick. I think part of the problem is that the players feel too compelled to go for the most obviously dirty territory at any given time, lacking the ability to freewheel into less filthy (but potentially more humorous) territory.
That leads us into another significant problem, which is that too much of the humor is simply forced into the proceedings. Let me give you an example. There's a birthday party for Kevin's 5-year-old daughter, and all of the guys are there. Suddenly, Taco announces that he wants to sing the little girl a birthday song. Alas, the song proves to be an entirely inappropriate and very explicit little number about the conception process. The problem isn't that the gag is dirty; it's that the random nature of it feels lazy and uninspired. The League is at its best when it takes a cue from Curb Your Enthusiasm and actually does careful set-up rather than simply tossing the punchline out there without any preparation (consider the way a sex tape within the DVD case for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is introduced early in one episode and delivers several fun gags later on).
I don't want to simply rail on about the program's problems, because it's by no means a terrible comedy. However, I should also point out that the biggest problem for me is that the characters are so thoroughly unlikable. Now, I'm not saying I don't enjoy comedies with unlikable characters -- It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia thrives on having completely irredeemable jerks as its primary cast. However, this show wants to have its cake and eat it too, allowing all of these men to engage in unforgivable behavior on a regular basis and then attempting to depict them as endearing scallywags. Sorry, I'm not buying it.
Of the primary cast members, I found Paul Scheer's hopeless Andre to be the most compelling. Scheer is excellent at playing both the naïvete and the buried rage within the character, and he almost always finds something interesting to bring to the table. Katie Aselton is also quite good as Jenny, Kevin's football-loving wife who secretly calls the shots for her husband's team behind the scenes. The other players aren't bad, but just about everybody blunders at some point in the show -- even small guest players like Maggie Grace (Lost), Bobby Lee (MADtv), and Thomas Lennon (Reno 911!) can't quite make some of their bits work. Maybe that sparkling chemistry just isn't there with this group or maybe the wrong moments of improvisation were selected, but too much of The League simply doesn't work.
The DVD transfer is handsome, boasting sharp detail and considerable depth. Of course, this is by no means a visually striking show in any significant way, but it looks good. The audio is well-mixed, with the potentially annoying score thankfully dialed down enough to avoid becoming a nuisance. Emphasis is on dialogue pretty consistently. As for the supplemental package, a handful of odds n' ends are spread across the two discs:
* Andre: Dress with Style, Win with Style (6 minutes): We spend a few minutes out on the town with Andre as he picks out some terrible, terrible clothes.
* Legalize Kevin's Pubic Smoke (2 minutes): Taco sings a brief song of political protest. Sigh.
* Alt Nation (6 minutes): A collection of goofy alternate takes for several scenes. Interesting, this supplement features no-holds-barred language, while some of the other supplements (and the show itself) bleep f-words and c-words.
* Mr. McGibblets Fun House and Dojo (8 minutes): A brief episode of the children's show that plays a role in The League. Goofy fun that takes a predictably R-rated turn.
* Birthday Song (2 minutes): An extended version of the aforementioned birthday party song.
* Vaginal Hubris Extended (2 minutes): Yet another extended version of a Taco song. *sigh*
* Three Penis Wine (3 minutes): Taco does a commercial for the infamous Three Penis Wine. Meh.
* Archer Pilot Episode: The very first episode of the amusing animated spy show.
* Blooper Reel (9 minutes): The usual assortment of fumbled lines and giggles. Not a particularly good selection, if you ask me.
* Deleted Scenes: Each disc hosts a generous assortment of deleted scenes. As you might expect for a show that features a lot of improvisation, a pretty good chunk of material was cut from each episode.
The show isn't a laugh-free zone, as there were several sequences that actually made me laugh out loud over the course of this short season. However, these moments are spread just a bit too thin to leave a positive impression overall. Also, it deserves to be noted that The League is pretty good when it actually focuses on the minutiae of fantasy football leagues (which is less often than you might think), capturing the amusing eccentricities of a particular subculture with wit and intelligence.
I wish I could recommend that you join The League, but it just doesn't quite work for me. If comedy that's rude and rowdy generally appeals to you regardless of how well-constructed it is, perhaps you'll dig it.
Guilty. Better luck next season, boys.
Review content copyright © 2010 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 148 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Deleted Scenes
* Extended Songs
* Alternate Takes
* Bonus Episode
* Official Site