The League: "The White Knuckler"
B+

The League: "The White Knuckler"

B+

The League

"The White Knuckler"

Season 2, Episode 3

Welcome, everyone, to The League's weekly coverage. The show has been improving with each episode, and given the feedback we've gotten on these reviews, it seems the fanbase has been steadily increasing. I'm thrilled to hop on board for the long haul; I would have been watching anyways, but now it's quasi-official. Apologies for the late post. Thursdays might occasionally get busy—it's the same night that my synchronized naginata troupe rehearses.

Luckily this was a mighty fine episode to ruminate on for longer than was probably necessary. I see "The White Knuckler" as a big step for The League. The first season coasted by on affable jokes and camaraderie, but the second season has worked to lay groundwork for a more sustainable model. Last night's episode was the first to mix social commentary and a long pay-off punchline with typical League buffoonery. It worked for a lot of reasons, and reveals the promise in The League's premise.

Let's start with that final scene. Taco is performing a rap about his naginata at a rooftop party. Andre has thrown the party in honor of his new plastic surgery partnership, and half the people in the crowd are black, including his new partner. Thus when Taco naively says, "Naginata, please," that half of the crowd leaves in a huff. Then, because Taco has no control whatsoever, the naginta goes flying and nicks Kevin in the penis. He goes down. Andre is quick on the scene, enlisting the help of Pete's new lady/Kevin's ex lady/The White Knuckler.

The scene is the culmination of an entire episode's worth of jokes, and I can understand why many of you felt it was contrived (as per the comments on the post prior to this review). It was a little forced, true, but this is also the first time as impressive a callback has been made on The League. It pulled in not only the joke about Kevin's "beautiful penis" in the vice grip of The White Knuckler, but off-hand jokes from the episode as well. Pete at one point asked Andre what he'd do in an emergency medical situation, and suddenly there Andre was, doing what he said only much more comically suspenseful. And even though Kevin was laying there bleeding, he stuck to the earlier banter and kindly asked Andre to call a real doctor. The show has increased its ambition, and I'm willing to forgive a few kinks along the way.

Dialogue on The League is improvised but needs to be airtight—there's very little extra time to play with. So to keep conversations moving, characters say the most outrageous things they can think of. "The White Knuckler," though, demonstrated the same principle holds true for when the boys are having heady, intelligent conversations. Theories leap from their mouths fully formed, and they're accepted as truth immediately to keep the action moving forward. It worked beautifully last night when the guys found themselves discussing the veiled racism of sportscasters: Black athletes are always referred to as "class acts," Latino ones are "firecrackers," and so on. It's the kind of theory you'd want to double-check in your own time before accepting as the truth. But because of the construct of the show, the theory is universally accepted, which is smart. The League works best when those ridiculous notions play themselves out, and the notion of veiled, seemingly inadvertent racism gave the boys another toy to play with in "The White Knuckler."

While the show is demonstrating signs of maturity, it's continuing to mine what's worked this whole time. Specifically, Ruxin is the same doofus he was in season one. He's the character who spends the most time on the sidelines, yet when he steps up and displays his competitive side, he does so with flair. He was the one, after all, who kidnapped a boy last season just so he could get draft tips. Last night, Ruxin finds himself mentoring a cancer-stricken boy for the Make A Wish foundation, and he capitalizes on this "opportunity" by getting the kid to ask for a Josh Cribbs visit. Then, while Cribbs is there, Ruxin weasels his way into Cribbs' good graces and plants the seeds for Cribbs to have an awesome game on Sunday—all for the boy's benefit, of course.

Ruxin rarely thinks twice about the evil things he does, as long as it's in the name of competition. The League, similarly, works best when the characters never look back, and the competition expands outside the fantasy football realm into everyday life. "The White Knuckler" took a lot of risks, and though some felt a little clunky in execution, there was still a whole lot to celebrate.

Stray observations:

  • "What is that?" "It's a short-sleeve shirt, I've worn it before…"
  • "How do you sleep at night?" "Usually on my side with a pillow between my legs."
  • "One thing you can't fix: an ugly penis."
  • What was up with Andre's chest hair?