I don’t watch football, and I certainly don’t have a Fantasy team, but I know a little bit about the phenomenon from personal experience, because my roommate, Adam, is totally obsessed with Fantasy sports and talks about them constantly. Having witnessed the highly emotional, incoherent absurdity of Fantasy gameplay firsthand, I initially felt pretty enthusiastic about the premise for the FX show The League, which catalogues the rabid, compulsive obsession of six Chicago football fans busting each other’s balls at Fantasy Football each week, by whatever paranoid, psychotic, or socially uncomfortable means necessary. The show is currently in its third season on FX, and Season Two launched on DVD and Blu-Ray late last month.
The level of fanaticism displayed by the characters on this show is a very, very slight exaggeration, which is why the premise is so simultaneously brilliant and subject to misinterpretation. I’ve personally sat through many, many angry, drunken tirades about imaginary shit that has happened between players who, in real life, were never even on the damn field at the same time as each other, about “trades” and “live drafts” and “meniscuses” and other vague concepts that I don’t really understand and don’t care about. A lot of the more ridiculous elements of being in a Fantasy League — like the constant, Skype-augmented Internet grandstanding, and terse interfamilial bitching that occurs when family members play against each other — are captured well and exploited effectively.
The main problem with The League is that the tone of the humor is so inconsistent. There are certain episodes where all the jokes are obviously supposed to hinge on the characters being horrible, irredeemable fuckholes, which is a style of humor that can sometimes, in theory, work (It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, for example, banks on that approach). In other episodes, though, the humor seems dependent on the characters being essentially affable, normal human beings who just get carried away by the aggressive fury of competing with each other. Either approach could probably work, but since the series waffles so much between the two extremes, getting a handle on the character dynamic becomes difficult and alienating, and certain episodes actually feel really weird and uncomfortable because the tone is so elusive. (For example, I know this is cheating, but there’s a Season One episode where everybody basically just sexually harasses Andre’s new girlfriend until she’s so pissed off and humiliated that she breaks up with him. You have to establish a pretty distinctive tone for the series ahead of time to make an episode like that work, otherwise it feels rapey and gross.)
Another problem with the series is that, although the characters are pretty clearly differentiated from each other, they’re also fairly one-dimensional, and their individual schticks get boring quickly. Ruxin is deadpan and misanthropic, Andre is pretentious and gets ripped on a lot for being a wuss, Taco is basically Kramer from Seinfeld, and Jenny is a woman. All of these character traits are established in the first episode, and none of them are developed further after that. Loose character sketches can be functionally appropriate in a show with a consistently broad style of humor, but so many episodes deal with the nuances of characters’ personal releationships (Kevin and Jenny have a fight about Kevin’s lineup, Ruxin’s wife won’t have sex with him because he’s watching too much football and not spending enough time with her) that the characterization often feels lazy and underdeveloped.
Season Two seems more uniformly resigned to a broad, emotional-slapstick approach than Season One, which makes it more engaging, if not necessarily better. The performances are solid, and the one-liners and situational humor are relatively sharp when the show decides to go that route. My roommate also pointed out a lot of jokes to me that are apparently really hilarious if you understand fuck-all about sports, so in that respect I’m not fully equipped to provide a comprehensive analysis, I guess.
As far as the DVD specs are concerned, a lot of episodes include extended versions, so if you’ve been diligently re-watching the same episodes over and over again on your TiVo for months, you’ll still find plenty of new material here. There’s also a deleted scenes reel, a gag reel, and a collection of alternate scenes (the dialogue on the show is mostly ad-libbed, so the alt scenes are pretty much variations on dialogue riffs from the actual episodes for the most part). In case you’re a really, really big fan of Taco’s music videos, those are included on the disc as well.
The League is basically not a terrible show, and if you’re looking for something to throw in when your friends come over, you could do a lot worse. The stars have a good rapport, and the show has a strong premise that’s rife for comic exploitation. It’s just disappointing to see such an amazing concept handled in such an unfocused way.