At its best, The League, now on FXX, is a goofy, lowbrow, Seinfeld-ian romp. The series—the sixth season starts tonight—revolves around a fantasy football league that takes entirely too much precedence in the lives of its members. So you’ve got a group of friends with disparate personalities engaging in hilariously narcissistic and self-destructive behavior—and having occasional run-ins with celebrities—all to the audience’s benefit.
At it’s worst, though, it’s cover-your-eyes cringe-worthy. Stealing athletic shoes from a man in a wheelchair? Having another character hit the same man with a moving truck and later causing the man to crash into a player piano, one that plays an old, racist song? All that might have worked—if not for the scene in which one of the character’s dogs has sex with a blind man’s service dog. (Yes, the same episode had fun at the expense of the blind and the physically disabled.)
The problem with The League relying too much on absurdity (and improv) for laughs is that the writers can get caught up constantly trying to outdo each previous bit of outlandishness. Season 4 opened with the gang—Ruxin (Nick Kroll), Pete (Mark Duplass), Taco (Jonathan Lajoie), Andre (Paul Scheer), and married couple Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi) and Jenny (Katie Aselton)—holding their draft in a delivery room as Jenny gave birth. Ridiculous, sure, but also funny. And the only character who was harmed in the making of the episode was the baby, who, thanks to an ill-considered trade involving the naming rights, came out the hospital christened Chalupa Batman.
Compare that with how Season 5 kicked off. It wasn’t enough for the league to hold its draft during the perpetually picked-on Andre’s wedding weekend, against the explicit wishes of his fiancée. No: That would be tame, though it does contain some comedic potential. But the bride actually ends up blind thanks to Andre’s “death sperm” and cancels the wedding. I found the twist so off-putting that I only kinda sorta watched last season. And there were other problems. Andre was mopey. Kevin and Jenny went to embarrassing and painful lengths to have Chalupa Batman attend preschool with the son of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (aka the Cutlet, of course). The funniest parts of the season concerned Taco’s various entrepreneurial efforts. (His van was, by turns, a food truck called the Taco Truck that didn’t serve tacos; a dog-walking service called Heavy Petting; and a mobile man-scaping business called Pubercuts.)
The League works best when its members do ridiculous things—and all the repercussions come back on the friends. To paraphrase the old cliché, it’s all fun and games until someone else gets hurt.
Which brings us to the Season 6 premiere. Will The League return to harmless fun? Or will it make viewers like me reach for their pillows so they can hide behind them as they watch?
A little from Column A, a little from Column B. Jenny is delightfully obnoxious as the fantasy league’s reigning champion—a situation made more amusing by the fact that her husband, Kevin, is the reigning “Sacco” (the dishonor given to the guy who finishes last). Ruxin—the dweeby and tightly wound but hyper-competitive member of the group—gets some necessary comeuppance that reveals just how little he knows about football.
As for Column B, well, I don’t want to give too much away. I’ll just note that recurring guest star and Texans DE J.J. Watt speaks for the whole audience when he asks, “Can you guys ever NOT be morons?!” The answer, for better and for worse, is no.