Offering just a taste of the potential that is now being realized in its second season, these first six episodes of The League nevertheless show sparks of comedic brilliance. The cast of comedians ad-lib extensively in this series spotlighting a small fantasy football league set up between friends. The league has been going on for years, and it may be the thing the guys are most passionate about, to the frustration of the other people in their lives. While some episodes, including the pilot, are a little heavy into the football obsession for the casual fans, it is when the fantasy league isn't at the forefront of events that the comedy truly shines.
FX has been looking for a good companion comedy for their hit, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, for a long time now, and it looks like they've finally found it. Using a similar style where the actors improvise many of their lines and scenes, The League seems to offer characters and personalities very much in tune with the depraved gang from Philly. But while the entire gang of Sunny is made up of...well, losers for lack of a better word, several of the members of this fantasy football league are quite successful in their real lives. It's just that when they get together each fall, they seem to bring out the worst in each other.
The league commissioner is Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi), a district attorney in the "real world." He can get a little cocky at times, but is generally brought down to earth immediately by the fact that his wife, Jenny (Katie Aselton), basically runs his team for him and everyone knows it. The three-time defending champ is his best friend Pete, who's still the most mysterious and laid back member of the group.
The most obnoxious of the gang is defense attorney Rodney Ruxin (Nick Kroll). He's never won, but you wouldn't know it to hear his arrogant assuredness. He also is far more obsessed with the league than any other participant. Ruxin's polar opposite is Andre (Paul Scheer). While he's arguably the most successful of them in his private life, where he's a plastic surgeon, Andre is constantly the butt of jokes from the guys because of his social awkwardness. And because of his near-crippling desire to fit in and genuinely be liked by the guys, he's easily manipulated and taken advantage of. Pete, in particular, has a penchant for buttering Andre up with kindness just so he can trick him into making a bad trade.
Kevin's little brother, Taco (Jon Lajoie), rounds out the group, even though he doesn't always remember that he's in the league. Generally stoned and confused, Taco says some of the most outlandish things, but can also be convinced to do the most ridiculous things. On one occasion, he dresses in a Mr. McGibletts mascot costume and sneaks into Kevin's house because Kevin wants to scare his daughter away from her annoying new Mr. McGibletts toy. Unfortunately, as it's Taco he's dealing with, things get a little out of hand and the police wind up involved.
At one point, we see how badly the boys obsess over the games when they're invited over to Ruxin's house one weekend for lunch. As she has put a lot of effort into a multi-course meal for her guests, Ruxin's wife, Sophia (Nadine Velazquez), bans any of them from watching the games. Pete's problems begin much earlier, as his wife Meegan (Leslie Bibb) doesn't want him to play this season at all. It comes down to finding out if he can convince her to let him participate, or if he'll have to choose between his marriage and the league.
Another subplot that runs up to the finale involves Andre beginning to date an old high-school friend named Shiva. As a joke, the league had named their trophy The Shiva after their old high-school valedictorian, and even had her picture on it. But none of them were friends back then, so it's not exactly something to be honored by.
There are only six episodes in this short first season, so we move abnormally fast through the football season. While it takes a few episodes for the series to really find its groove, that turns out to be nearly half the season. By the end of its run, you can see potential greatness. The set also offers "Extended Cuts" of each episode, offering more raunchiness than could fit onto the FX cuts. As the guys are at their finest when they're bantering, the additions strengthen the comedy.
Because many of these guys come from the stand-up comedy circuit, the show has several comedy guest appearances, including Bobby Lee, Rob Huebel, and Matt Walsh. The football connection lures in such luminaries as Antonio Gates and Terry Bradshaw.
If you are a fan of Jon Lajoie, who plays Taco in The League, then you will love the extra features on this first-season set. He performs three songs, including the incredibly disturbing birthday song he sang to Kevin's daughter Ellie at her party. The other two each feature a focus on the genitalia: one on the woman's and one on the man's.
Then there are the "Taco" features, including a funny children's show send-up that sports Lajoie in character and in the mascot costume from Episode Four. "Mr. McGibbletts' Fun House & Dojo" is set in a classroom and offers fun learning opportunities about sex ed, math, and self-defense. At least it does until Kevin comes in and ruins the fun. "Three Penis Wine" is an odd commercial that kind of needs to be seen to...still really not be understood.
Paul Scheer only gets one feature, in character as Andre, but it's a clever way to bring attention to the outlandish clothing the character wears, and delve a little deeper into why those decisions were made.
As much of the show is improvised, there are many alternate takes to key scenes and exchanges throughout, mostly focusing on various insults the boys sling at one another. Wrap up the package with deleted scenes and a blooper reel, and it feels like there's almost as much extra content as there were actual episodes.