The League is a new comedy premiering Thursday at 10:30 pm on FX following It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It's about a group of friends who all belong to a fantasy football league, although knowing much about football (fantasy or real) isn't a requirement to watch. On this show, the league is the loose explanation behind why a group of immature men get together every week, like alcoholism on Cheers, desperation on Entourage or Joan Holloway's breasts on Mad Men. It plays like a poor man's Judd Apatow film (and only slightly less-vulgar), with five shallow guys trading insults and bearing their souls about work and relationships under the pretense of figuring out which running back to draft in the 8th round.
While fantasy sports as a motif for a television show might be new, this type of male bonding isn't. The members of Howard Cunningham's Leopard Lodge were the source of a few story-lines on Happy Days, as were the guys on Al Bundy's bowling team on Married...With Children. And back in 1996, Dreamworks built its first foray into television on a similar concept. Champs (starring Timothy Busfield and Kevin Nealon) was a show about middle-aged men who talked about life and stuff while playing pick-up basketball. It lasted twelve episodes.
The League starts out promisingly enough, with last year's champ Pete (Mark Duplass) taunting the other members via webcam before the start of the season. As any veteran knows, good ball-busting skills are an important part of being a successful fantasy GM. Breaking an opponent's confidence, forcing them into ill-advised draft picks and trades is half the fun. The League continues this theme throughout the episode, but other than a few choice insults and a unique way of determining the league's draft order, the comedy is hard to find.
The biggest problem with The League is that they mistook vulgarity for comedy and its rampant use as a novelty. Unfortunately, coarse language on basic cable is nothing new. It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia has been for five seasons and South Park has been on for thirteen. Both shows are amazingly crude, but they're simultaneously witty, intelligent and subversive. On The League, filthy dialogue is the extent of the joke, and that's all you get.
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