Generally speaking (very generally), people watch comedies for two reasons: 1) To see a twist on the familiar, or 2) to see something unexpected.
That said, I don't play fantasy football. No real reason why not; it just isn't my thing. But every player I've ever spoken to about The League praises it for being wildly accurate—albeit, you know, comically heightened. The constant trade talk, the constant trash talk, the making fun of a guy named Taco…all apparently very real. I have to take their word for it, but the sense I get is that it rings very true.
(Side note: Am I the only person not in a fantasy league? Even the dude next to me at this coffee shop is checking his stats. The little kid on the other side is doing math homework—covert fantasy stats training?)
I enjoyed season one of The League, then, not for the football talk but for the circus of weirdness that sprung from the mundane. Nick Kroll's character wanted advice from The Oracle—a kid—so badly that when the kid's parents thought it was rightfully weird, he snuck The Oracle out of the house and inadvertently wound up in a compromising position just as the dad (Matt Walsh) arrived. I enjoyed Paul Scheer's Andre and his many Justin Timberlake hats/desperate attempts to seem cool. And Jenny was pretty badass, too, snagging some of the best one-liners and almost all of the sympathy. The characters at times weren't fully formed, but their relationships to each other felt genuine. That was the strength of The League, and it didn't matter whether or not I'd logged into a site to put in picks for wide receivers and hit buttons to do things—as is my understanding.
The season two debut "Vegas Draft" deepens a few of those relationships (and the comedy surrounding them) but leaves a few short. High off his victory last year, Andre decides to surprise the others with a destination draft this season; thus the gang spends a few days in a Las Vegas suite picking players pool-side with Chad Ochocinco. And even though Andre fronts the bill (ostensibly) for everything, the guys credit Pete at every turn, to Andre's constant frustration. ("This was designed by Santana.") It's fun to watch everyone gang up on one person, then give that person a break when someone even more unfortunate shows up in the form of Raffi, the substitute leaguesman. He has no clue what he's doing in football—he blindly picks a kicker in the first round—and makes a constant fool of himself, including showing off his "penis beard." (Strangely, we don't find out until the next episode that Raffi is Ruxin's brother-in-law, which would have driven the point home that Raffi is a necessary burden.) Jenny desperately wants to be in the league this year, but Kevin won't allow it; then, when she finds out a spot had opened up, and the guys voted to give it to Raffi, she's pissed.
The resolution of Kevin and Jenny's feud is strangely sweet even though the rest of the episode plays out like a funnier version of Entourage. The boys go to strip clubs and regular clubs, and there are shots of sunny weather and drinking abound. Unlike Entourage, though, those scenes eventually serve a purpose. The strip club becomes yet another chance to get a competitive edge when it turns out one of the strippers is an expert at fantasy football. And the final party scene forces Kevin and Jenny to have it out and make up. But there's also a strange performance by Taco that feels like more of an excuse to show off Jon LaJoie's real-life talents than anything, and even in the loose context of "Vegas Draft," it's a stretch. His ringtone pursuit was much more entertaining.
But The League has learned not to include too many of these self-masturbatory moments (or even real-masturbatory ones, like Ruxin and his line-up gettin' freaky), and instead push the humor between the characters, plus the occasional wacky gag. Take the scene in the airport: Faced with the challenge of determining a draft order, Kevin decrees that the first person through security gets the first pick. Chaos ensues. Taco crawls along the floor and unloads his packed cactus; Andre gets sass from a guard for wearing stupid clothing; Ruxin realizes he has a fake bomb in a box, courtesy of Ruxin, and Pete eventually wins, pushing an old lady in a wheel chair along with him just as he's tackled by security. ("You can body cavity search me all you want, all you're gonna find is Tennessee running back Chris Johnson!") The League does these heightened moments well, and even though I can't truly watch it for its twist on the familiar, there's plenty of surprises to be found.
- People sometimes complain that The League is pretty filthy, but I don't really find it to be dirtier than It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia or especially Louie. It's all about intention, and on The League it's more about letting the characters talk as they would in real life, uncensored.
- I have a feeling we're not going to see much of Pete's ex this season, which is probably a good thing. Though they need to find something for him to do pretty soon.