Finally, a great comedy about fantasy football.
On The League (FX, Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET), a merry comedy about the miseries of contemporary masculinity, five overgrown adolescents engage in their bonding over fantasy football. In America, 27 million adults count themselves owners of make-believe football teams, and they may be disappointed to see that The League concerns itself with their passion only superficially. If you are well-informed enough to know that the Lions suck and the Mannings do not, then you are perfectly well-equipped to appreciate all of the football references here, which are well outnumbered by jokes that rely on the viewer's familiarity with human genitalia.
The show is as potty-mouthed and testicle-minded as a live-action basic-cable series can get. Chuckling and snickering at The League, members of the target audience may tingle with shamed self-recognition or quiver with simple shame, even while savoring small jolts of petty transgression. However, if you are the sensitive sort, you will want to skip The League and indeed the following paragraphs outlining its central characters. I would also recommend skipping these if you are a minor: Though somewhat dirty, they are not titillating in the least, so what's the point?
Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi), the first among the crew to start a family, began the league as an escape from family life—a naive idea, of course, since you can run but cannot hide. In any event, his wife Jenny (Katie Aselton) controls his draft picks in addition to rest of his life, for instance decreeing that the co-requisite for his viewing hard-core pornography is working out on their NordicTrack.
Kevin's younger brother, nicknamed Taco (Jon Lajoie), is a big stoner, a success in the league despite being fuzzy about it and so much else. He is motivated only to tap the asses of so many disposable chicks and to write songs. The following lyrics are excerpted from a ditty he composes for Kevin's daughter's fifth birthday, a tribute to her conception: "And then your dad was so excited to get inside your mom/ That he forgot to put a condom on."
Pete (Mark Duplass), the most sympathetic of the characters, gets separated from his wife somewhere before the second episode. The immediate reasons for the split include her giving away his lucky T-shirt to their housekeeper—it reads, "I shaved my balls for this?"—and her energetically performing prostate stimulation on him over his protests.
Steadfastly crass in content, The League is generally subtle in execution, and there is fine wit in the way wounded Pete shrivels into a ball after this violation.
Ruxin (Nick Kroll) is frustrated that his wife still is not putting out many months after delivering their first child—a circumstance all the more dreadful because she does not shut up about the new fullness of her bust and because she has forbidden pornography in their home. He is evocative and tasteless in describing his frustration: "My balls are like New Orleans, and the levees are about to burst." Rounding out the group is Andre (Paul Scheer), labeled a "sweet gullible little sucktard" for such displays of cluelessness as smoking and claiming to have gotten high off of a joint rolled with not weed but pubic hair.
To grasp the nature of these characters is to know their interactions. The man-on-man razzing involves the usual stuff—jests about penis size, sodomy, being pussy-whipped. Indeed, one plotline demands that characters employ the word pussy 13 times in as many minutes: One night at a couples' dinner, Jenny becomes so loaded on white wine that she boasts loudly of her sexual talents, inspiring Taco to compose a Lonely Island-quality rap song titled "Vaginal Hubris."
All very funny, all slightly worrying. These sad clowns, beset by grotesquely shrewish women, retreat to a juvenile mentality as if it were a storm shelter. In their emasculation, they surpass even Paul Rudd's character in Knocked Up, who sneaks around on his wife in order to play Rotisserie League Baseball, and to sympathize with them deeply seems an indication of one's own pathos. They have consigned themselves to the peewee league for many seasons to come.
Troy Patterson is Slate's television critic.
Still of Nick Kroll in The League courtesy FX.