The cast of The League takes their improvisational skills to new heights in the show's third season, by far the best yet.
The League: The Complete Season ThreeDistributor: Fox Connect
Cast: Mark Duplass, Nick Kroll, Katie Aselton, Stephen Rannazzisi, Paul Scheer, Jon Lajoie
Release date: 2012-10-09
After gathering everybody together in a makeshift Sukkah designed for Sukkot, the Jewish harvest festival, Taco (Jon Lajoie) tells everyone that after Sukkot has finished he will commence "Tacote". He tells them, "Tacote is an ideal plane of existence where the Twelve Tribes of Israel come together with people who are high on mushrooms and groove to Aphex Twin."
What's striking about that nonsensical image, aside from the fact that it probably exists in some iteration in a music review somewhere, is how well it summarizes what makes The League so brilliant. When it debuted in 2009, it was marketed by FX as "a comedy about fantasy football", which meant that the only people likely to tune in were those who play the notoriously addictive online game. (Count me guilty as charged.) However, it wasn't long into the first season that any notions of this as a "bro" comedy were significantly off. Yes, there's plenty of sexist and homophobic humor to play on the football fan stereotype, but The League isn't really about boys being boys. At its best, the program goes for all-out absurdity, whether it's Taco getting high with a gun turned into a bong while wearing a children's TV character costume or Andre (Paul Scheer) growing breasts after eating too much soy.
Given the semi-improvisational nature of the show, these moments are not difficult to come by. Every episode tends to gravitate toward the insane, and with the skill set of the actors it's almost always funny. This is especially the case with The League: The Complete Season Three, by far and away the best season thus far. Completely unwilling to let logic guide these episodes, the showrunners and actors let their creativity get the best of them, and the results are drop-dead hilarious. The League's affinity for the over-the-top solidifies the identity that's been forming since the end of Season One: it's not a show about fantasy football, it's a show that reflects how the crazed competition that drives fantasy football defines the lives of a group of serious misanthropes. The players of The League, although they are not superspies or sardonic single dads, fit in quite well amongst the FX comedy lineup.
Whereas past seasons have mostly riffed on unrelated events, however, Season Three commits to an overarching storyline. In the first episode, "The Lockout", by far the most insane adventure of this series, the group leaves behind Ruxin (Nick Kroll, always given the best one-liners) while picking the draft order, and with the benefit of his absence they cheat him out of the first pick. Ruxin, a self-proclaimed terrible person, sees through the deception right away and calls the group out on it. Unsurprisingly, they all keep up the lie, and they're actually successful...
...that is, until the deranged finalé, "The Funeral". After suffering a stroke brought about by anger upon discovering the lie, Ruxin decides to nullify the entire fantasy season. In the most unconventional of Viking funerals, the league is destroyed. Even though the majority of this season was as free-form as anything the program has done before, it's nice to see these thirteen episodes tied together with something of a story arc, however thin it may be.
There are so many elements of The League that make it the strongest of the FX comedies: talented improvisers, zinger-filled dialogue, and a set of characters that naturally lend themselves to sharp humor. There's also a wealth of guest stars, all of whom naturally fit in this already well-established cast: Sarah Silverman, Jeff Goldblum, Will Forte, and Seth Rogen all have single-episode spots that are each memorable in their own right.
Also, much like The Simpsons and Scrubs, it always manages to score dynamite secondary players. The League has Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas), its most demented creation. Rafi is the “El Cunado” (brother-in-law) of Ruxin, and any situation he is involved in invariably results in something terrible happening. His philosophy is succinctly depicted in his preference for using knives instead of discussion to settle lineup disputes: “Words are bullshit. They’re just useless sounds we make with our stupid mouths!”
Rafi can thus be said to live by a maxim David Mamet penned so eloquently in his play American Buffalo: "Action talks, and bullshit walks." The choices he makes are rarely the right ones, nor are they ever sensical, but they're all about action. In that way, he's truly the defining character of The League, even though he isn't one of the regular cast members. Taco may get the majority of the laughs (which he gets a lot of this season), but it's Rafi's constant boundary-pushing that summarizes what it is that makes Season Three so great. When a simple premise like Thanksgiving dinner can result in Andre accidentally eating Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi) and Jenny's (Katie Aselton) daughter's class guinea pig, you know this is a program unlike anything out there.
It is quite a lot like the Twelve Tribes of Israel jamming to Aphex Twin with a bunch of high people, and it's a great thing. The fact that The League opts for that instead of the lazy, beers-and-bitches humor one would expect from a show "about" fantasy football speaks volumes about its creativity and edge.
The bonus features included on the Season 3 DVD, while not plentiful, are still worth viewing, especially for die-hard fans. Two minor but mildly entertaining featurettes are included. The bloopers and deleted scenes provide further evidence for the improvisational skill of the actors; a lot of the time, it's a wonder these scenes got cut. Fortunately, the majority of the episodes on this two-disc set are extended ones, which add extra scenes and remove any bleeping, which is always fun.