TV review: FX sitcom is a ‘League’ above the rest

By Alex Hanno

As prominent sitcoms such as “The Office” and “Two and a Half Men” wave goodbye to their heydays, where should audiences turn for doses of lighthearted television comedy? Though shows like “Modern Family” and “New Girl” are on the rise, viewers seeking more original and less family-friendly entertainment might want to check out FX, which hosts one of the funniest programs TV has seen in years: “The League.”

For those not in the know, “The League” follows six best friends, all in their mid-thirties, as they plod through their unfulfilling daily lives. The one thing that each of them looks forward to is their yearly fantasy football league, in which — in a trash talk-filled display of each trying to outperform the other — the men try to win the glorified “Shiva Bowl.” These friends are willing to do anything to win the trophy. They cheat and lie to and antagonize each other in hopes of holding the trophy for one glorious year.

Though the series charts the competition from start to finish, episodes tend to center around the random, outrageous life situations these six find themselves in.

Leading the group is the “normal” character, Pete Eckhart (Mark Duplass). Pete is recently divorced and is the most talented player of the bunch. Managing the league is his best friend Kevin MacArthur (Stephen Rannazzisi), a married father. Having succumbed to the habits of marital life, he often finds himself in need of his wife, Jenny (Katie Aselton), to help run his team.

The show’s primary antagonist is a successful and arrogant lawyer named Rodney Ruxin (Nick Kroll), who leads the charge of insults against the constantly bullied plastic surgeon, Andre Nowzik (Paul Scheer). Rounding out the group is the only friend who does not actually care about the League — Taco MacArthur (Jon Lajoie), a drug-using and womanizing musician whose endless investment opportunities seem to lead to nothing but trouble.

Whether or not the premise of fantasy football appeals to you, “The League” is a show worth watching. Viewers do not need to know anything about football to actually enjoy this show. Focusing more on constant rivalry and well-placed insults than anything else, the sitcom is like a more realistic, all-male, coarser version of “Friends” (1994-2004).

With episodes revolving around Taco’s quest to capture someone’s “vinegar strokes” on camera, to the group attempting to film a porno in Andre’s house to get back at him, there is no telling where and how far this show will go.

Unlike many of the sitcoms on TV today, “The League” is semi-improvised. Instead of feeling like an overly scripted, predictable half-hour, it more often feels like you are watching a group of close friends kill an afternoon at the local bar while poking fun at one another. It is witty and quick, and the main characters have such amazing onscreen chemistry that you can’t help but believe they really are best friends.

One of the show’s strengths comes in the form of its vulgarity. Realizing that real life is not limited to the things you can say or do on broadcast TV, FX pushes the limits with this show, allowing swears and constant sexual innuendo to seep into the program. Though this could be abused and hypothetically ruin the show, the vulgarity to date is well placed and appropriately used, allowing a more mature audience to enjoy something equivalent to a well-made, R-rated comedy on television.

An influx of talent, from regulars to guest stars, elevates the comedic caliber of the program. Though “The League” has featured a slew of NFL stars, comedians like Seth Rogen and Jeff Goldblum have graced its screen as well. Anyone familiar with Jon Lajoie will certainly enjoy his role on the show. A musician/comedian in real life, Lajoie adds his music to the series, often singing his own material or writing original, crude and humorous songs for episodes.

From its start, “The League” has been a show that knows and appeals to its fan base. Long-time fans will realize “The League’s” reciprocated loyalty; each episode harkens back to others in the form of recurring jokes or references, rewarding regular viewers for their devotion.

This loyal fanbase needs to be built up in order to keep the show running. Despite not being known for drawing in many viewers — it is a cable television show, after all — “The League” is well worth watching.

Not only does the show’s original plot break from the stilted structures of classic sitcoms, but “The League” also successfully goes further than most comedies can or are willing to go. Add in the semi-improvisational acting “The League” is known for, and the result is a mature but humorous show that is arguably more hilarious than anything else currently on TV.

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