We’re all about comics here at Panels on Pages, but a geek cannot live on comics alone. Outside the Longbox is our chance to spotlight something outside our typical four-color realm – be it movies, music, TV or whatever.
Fantasy Football is one of the most popular pasttimes in this country, so it seemed inevitable that there would be a TV show centered around it. In 2009, the cable network FX premiered The League, a half-hour sitcom about a group of friends living in Chicago who compete with each other in a fantasy football league. When the show was first announced, many viewers were likely skeptical that such a show would be interesting or funny to those who didn’t follow pro football or participated in fantasy leagues, but similar to how David Fincher’s The Social Network and the popular web series The Guild aren’t really about Facebook and World of Warcraft, respectively, The League is entertaining even for non-fantasy football participants. The show’s popularity has grown steadily during its first three seasons, due to the quality of its writing and the funny, relateable performances given by its talented, likeable cast.
The league is comprised of five main characters, with the remaining three members of the league residing out of town, according to the pilot episode. These five characters include sardonic divorcee Pete (Mark Duplass), the shallow and misanthropic Ruxin (Nick Kroll), the cluelessly arrogant Andre (Paul Scheer), the amusingly dim slacker Taco (Jonathan Lajoie), and the team commissioner, Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi). Kevin is aided in his league planning by his wife Jenny (Katie Aselton), who knows even more about the game than he does and constantly tries to get a spot for herself in the league. Some of the episodes center on one or more member doing all they can to hinder their competitors’ progress, while other episodes make only a passing mention to their game and instead focus on the personal and professional crises of the characters, which are more than often self-inflicted due to their own shallowness. The show also features occasional cameos from real-life NFL players and announcers like Terry Bradshaw, Antonio Gates, and Chad Ochocinco, many of whom react quite negatively to the league’s fanaticism and childish pettiness in pursuit of victory over their peers. Despite their flaws, or perhaps even because of them, the characters who comprise The League all remain likeable in the same way that the hilariously despicable protagonists of Seinfeld or It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia are. We laugh with them because we see at least a little bit of ourselves in them and can understand at least some of their motivations.
Each episode is very loosely scripted, which gives the actors plenty of opportunity to improvise. This gives the show a spontaneous feel that is missing from many contemporary sitcoms. The actors are all convincing in their roles and play very well off of each other. Every scene in the show plays out less like a scripted show and more like genuine conversation between friends about life, work, and football. Even when situations get escalated for comedic effect, they avoid devolving into the cartoonish excess that plagues most shows of its ilk. The League is a fresh, original variation of the tried and true model of the ensemble sitcom and is a great companion to the other excellent comedies on FX such as Always Sunny, Wilfred, and Louie. The show just finished its third season on FX, and the first two seasons are currently streaming on Netflix Instant. The League is highly recommended for anyone looking for a comedy that has the right combination of heart, wit, and raunchy humor. 5 out of 5 “Shiva Trophies.”