The League is not the kind of show that'd take a ton of time explaining character backstory. It doesn't really need to, though; they get a much bigger kick out of, simply, making fun of Andre rather than going into great detail as to why they make fun of Andre. We all sort of discover details along the way. And nothing at all against those earlier episodes of The League (they were good), but I'm finding that the humor is really hitting when the show plays off its characters' insecurities. The audience, though, has to know a bit about these people for those jokes to land, and without big backstory moments—most of which would probably have been clunky—it takes a while to get to that place, where everything feels like it's firing on all cylinders.
We've arrived, though. "The Marathon" is the best episode of The League to date, the first that draws from the show's entire history and has its characters feeling fully formed. It's also directed by co-showrunner Jackie Marcus Schaffer, and its frantic-yet-controlled pace tells me she knows this show, and its sense of humor, deeply.
Right off the bat, two things set "The Marathon" in the big leagues. The first is that the episode's driving force is a grand joke at Andre's expense. He decides to run a marathon not because he actually wants to, but because he wants to be perceived as the kind of guy who would run a marathon, and then hit on ladies. His friends, of course, see right through his flimsy plan, and begin tormenting him/egging him on. Knowing his deeply competitive nature, Pete claims he will be running as well, and thus Andre has to go all out—wearing garish running clothes and drinking packet-upon-packet of S.P.U.N.K—to keep Pete away. Andre is the show's go-to punching bag, but what I like about that relationship is that Andre eggs them on, sometimes inadvertently and sometimes on purpose. Then every little new detail makes him even more frustrated. It's a vicious cycle. Andre thinks he's calling Pete's bluff by making a bet, yet Pete still doesn't care, staying out all night drinking with the waitress at the bar. Thus not only does Andre not get the girl, but the waitress has been converted to Pete's side, and now two people are torturing Andre. He gets angrier, more desperate, and finally hurts his toe so bad he can't run at all.
The rest of the characters involve themselves in the Andre plot, but each has their own business to attend to. Kevin and Jenny are adjusting to being in the league together. Jenny's loving it because it makes her all hot and bothered to talk smack to Kevin, who hates it. Passive-aggressively, the two try and take the other down; first Jenny asks Kevin to pick up their daughter on Sunday during the game, and later Kevin hides an injured player from Jenny and snatches up the player's back-up for himself. Ruxin, meanwhile, is being hounded by this woman Twila at work, also running a marathon and soliciting donations. He chews her out—typical Ruxin fashion, saying whatever random theory he has about their behavior—and now she wont notarize any of his documents. As luck would have it, though, Taco has begun a career as a notary and drags himself out of retirement (for a Sizzler gift card) to help Ruxin out.
Which brings me to the second thing "The Marathon" did magnificently: mixing up jokes and plot with ridiculous video segments. The episode kicked off with multiple shots of Andre in various stages of hair-growth, doing exercises like pole dancing and anal kegels. Later, Taco made his own surreal ad for his notary business, ending with the dunderheaded claim that "everything is free." The show effortlessly transitions away from the daily happenings of the league members and lets its characters get ridiculously silly in a sketch-like way. The cast was already full of comedy chameleons, and the show is becoming more adept as using them every week.
Of course, the things that elevates the comedy are the little character details. Taco brings a homeless person to Kevin's living room to shoot the video. Ruxin points that Kevin and Jenny's exchange is like "awkward Wimbledon." And again, not only Pete getting the girl, but Pete converting her to the Andre-hating camp as well. The League is building something great here. I just hope others are noticing.
- I hope the waitress becomes a regular character, actually. It'd be nice for the guys to have a foil whenever they go to the bar.
- Have we seen the last of Raffi? Hope not.
- "It's burning a hole in the hole in my pocket."
- Andre engaging in a "hydration contest" worked wonders. He's just so desperate to be validated.
- Wait, Hotel Rwanda was real?
- "Half full of days I can't remember."
- "Uh, Until Your Dreams?" "I don't know Spanish."