Normally when considering two back-to-back episodes like "St. Pete" and "The Funeral,"I think it makes the most sense to judge them on their individual weaknesses and merits. But the two final episodes of The League for this season functioned like an hour block rather than stand-alone half hours, so it's difficult to grade one without the other. The promise of "St. Pete," which had a couple nice plot arcs and a lot of good rapid-fire dialogue, was eclipsed by the sheer confusion and weird sentimentality heaped on in "The Funeral." Unlike last season's relatively solid but quiet finale, this time the series ended with one of those knee-jerk, cut-off moments that left me wondering if the writers had simply run out of steam and decided to throw in a lot of things, stir, and hope for the best.
But before I get all down on "The Funeral," which I think rivaled "The Sukkah" for groan-worthiness, it's worth talking about what worked in "St. Pete." Calling back the line-up choosing shenanigans that began in the premiere was a nice way to round out the season and a reminder that the show has roots in some sort of narrative arc, rather than a series of zany mishaps and shit-talking. Kevin, the most weak-willed of the bunch, draws up an "Alternative League" chart, in which he determines that even if the original picking order had held and Ruxin had chosen first, he would have still ended up in the Shiva. Kevin's never won the Shiva bowl before, a fact that Jenny rubs in his face constantly, so his machinations to make sure that he actually earned it fit in well with the character he's developed throughout the show--nervous, gullible, but still covetous for those Shiva bragging rights.
The other element of the story is Pete, who never seems as invested in bragging rights as he is in putting various people in their place. Andre is foremost, but Ruxin is a pretty big target too, now that he might have a shot at being somewhere other than the absolute bottom. Pete basically decides to intentionally bomb his lineup, dragging Ruxin down with him into the bottom, or committing "Shivacide" as it were. When Ruxin finds out his fate, he runs into Ellie's room to sulk and beat up stuffed animals, happening upon Kevin's poorly-hidden documentary evidence that the gang roundly screwed Ruxin on the lineup this year.
This, I think is where things really fall apart. "St. Pete" had some stuff in it that I didn't love. lKevin and Jenny's little couple tiff was grating, and Kevin's desire to try for another MacArthur baby seemed far too spontaneous and offhand for the nervous wreck we know Kevin to be. But there were some great moments, too. Andre's insistence on being everyone's emergency contact seemed just irritating enough to be in character, without any of the costume nonsense from last week, and the scene where he mimed opening a window as everyone else mimed sealing all the exits and entrances was really funny. And, as always, there were some real gem punchlines threaded through the whole thing: Taco describing himself as "a wide-eyed naif, stealing other people's mail" and his complete incomprehension at Ruxin's mounting fury at him were hilarious, as was Ruxin's assertion that "the app that I want for my phone is 'phone.'"
But the end of "St. Pete" took an odd left turn into the kind of drama that The League doesn't handle well. Ruxin, in a fury over the lineup cheating, has a minor stroke. Part of my problem with this episode was the whole handling of it. For someone with a medical degree, Andre seems to have no idea how to do CPR, and Taco's idea of peeing on Ruxin as he collapses ended up being more of a cringe than a chuckle. I kept expecting the whole thing to be something Ruxin faked to be able to reset the season, but that wasn't the case. He wakes up in the hospital, part of his face paralyzed, to see Rafi trying to smother him with a pillow, delivering the terrifying reassurance "Good news, your dick still works."
It's not really clear why Rafi ends up there, except to make a bad situation worse, but his brand of psychopath seemed out of place in an episode that was already fatally scattered. Ruxin's video will (which obviously ends with a post-humous "Suck it" to his loved ones) bequeaths his lineup to Andre, who valiantly tries not to fuck it up as Rafi brandishes knives at him and insists on drafting the Hulk onto the team. The highlights of "The Funeral" turn out to be when the characters imitate each other. Andre failing to impersonate Ruxin well is spot on, as is Jenny's impersonation of Sophia to get in and see Ruxin. And despite everything, it's hard not to laugh when Jason Mantzoukas turns on the crazy as Rafi, as when he brings two knives and a gun to the bar. (That's four lethal weapons, counting his dick, y'see.)
Ruxin manages to recover from his stroke by sheer will and the miracle of seeing the actual Shiva on her rounds at the hospital, but the worst move of the show was Taco's bizarre Viking funeral. Taco takes Ruxin's near-death experience to heart, and decides that in order to fix it, he has to burn all of the detritus of the league--the Sacko, the Shiva, the specialty "Sacko" branding iron that Andre had to use, even Kegel the Elf--all in a boat. Rafi pulls up in the Bobbum man van (in which, awesomely, he listens to audio recordings of slaughterhouses) and everyone watches in horror as Taco sets the set pieces of the last three seasons alight. Oh, and Jenny turns to Kevin, eyes a-brim, and tells him she's pregnant. Nonetheless, Kevin plunges into the (oh man, so cold) lake to swim after the Shiva trophy he finally earned. It was messy and abrupt, not to mention oddly hokey. I'm glad that this season of The League moved further into darkly comedic territory, but episodes like this are happens when you haven't quite learned how to balance that with the dynamic of the show. But the growing pains its had still aren't enough to cancel out the enormous amount of fun the show is. At least most of the time.
- "I gave him an extra inch because it's all about hero worship, right?"
- "This is why I wanted a new kid. This one's no good"
- "Classic Forte slam"