November 21, 2013

THE SKED Season Finale Review: “The League”


Incivility, narcissism, oafishness, insensitivity and general offensiveness is rarely as breezily funny as it regularly is on THE LEAGUE, which finished its fifth season on the new FXX network tonight.  The semi-improvised show created by Jeff Schaffer and Jackie Marcus Schaeffer, who were credited with the scripts for both halves of the 2-part season finale (directed by Jeff Schaffer), hit most of the series’ outrageous sweet spots.

Since this was a season finale, the chief concern of the hour was who would walk away with the coveted Shiva trophy as winner of the gang’s fantasy football league–and who would be stuck with the Sacko aka the Ruxin, so named for the giant testicles and the bust of Rodney Ruxin (Nick Kroll) that decorate the prize for last place.  Andre (Paul Scheer) long-conned Pete (Mark Duplass) into relying on a fake Twitter feed for Vernon Jordan (eventually with the help  of the actual Vernon Jordan) that would land Pete into the Sacko competition, while Jenny (Katie Aselton) insulted husband Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi) with the revelation that while she might not be sleeping with an old boyfriend, she was–even worse–consulting with him rather than her husband on setting her line-up for the Shiva Bowl.

That still left plenty of room for other awful things to happen.  Ruxin, married to Catholic Sofia (Nadine Velazquez), discovered to his horror that his only chance to raise their son Baby Geoffrey as Jewish was to go through Sofia’s sociopathic brother Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas), he of the open-door bathroom policy and toilet-kitchen.  (The most insane episode of this season was what on another show would have been a planted pilot for a spin-off fearing Rafi and guest star Seth Rogen in his recurring role as porn star Dirty Randy–written by Mantzoukas and Rogen–heading to LA to avenge a friend’s death, except that Rogen isn’t doing regular TV and the episode ended with Rafi and Dirty Randy blown to bits, which didn’t keep Rafi from turning up back in Chicago shortly thereafter, no worse for wear.)  Since Rafi had been teaching Geoffrey that the Jews killed Jesus with a knife (you don’t want to know what he thought a dreidel was for), this was unlikely, until Rafi set his sights on Ruxin’s quasi-Orthodox sister Rebecca (guest star Lizzy Caplan).  For her, he was even willing to self-circumcise, which wasn’t such a big deal since his tip was black and he hadn’t felt it in quite a while anyway.  Meanwhile, Taco’s (Jon Lajoie) latest plan for TacoCorp was the EBDB, an exhaustive database of Eskimo Brothers–well, as exhaustive as it could be considering that Taco was using his computer’s hard drive as a file cabinet.  (Also a problem:  all the women Andre listed as conquests turned out to have died on the Titanic.)  Andre, suckered into a merger with the other toe-besity plastic surgeon in Chicago (guest star Aziz Ansari), found himself exiled to El Salvador to run No Child Cleft Behind for 3 years, until the TacoCorp van carrying Rafi and Rebecca in mid-coitus backed up (Rebecca couldn’t hit the break, it being Shabbos) into the surgeon’s car, crushing his hand.

The League has the casual feel of comics hanging out at a middle-of-the-night after-party–the insults alone are worth tuning in for–but it’s carefully constructed and tightly edited, without the self-indulgent feel of some of the Apatow movies that use semi-improvised scripts.  Although the plots revolve around invective and humiliation, the show never has the “cringe-comedy” feel that’s become trendy on cable, because the cast has mastered a cheerful resilience that makes them seem like a team of Wile E. Coyotes, able to bounce back instantly from any fall off a sheer emotional cliff.  No matter what happens to them, you never have to spare them much sympathy (god knows the other characters don’t).  The regulars mesh together with ease, and there’s almost always a terrific guest star or two on hand (this season, apart from Caplan, Rogen and Ansari, Jayma Mays, Adam Brody and Ali Larter were among the guests, not to mention the genuine football stars who regularly contribute good-sport appearances).

Never overly ambitious, The League spins out 13 variations each year on the same themes with great success–it’s already been renewed for a 6th season.  Along with It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, The League was chosen from the FX line-up to spearhead primetime on FXX, and while its ratings aren’t outstanding (around 0.3), they’ve been fine for a low-budget series on a network no one knows about, and especially impressive for their young skew (something like 80-90% of its viewers are under 50, and it’s safe to assume that they tend to be disproportionately young males, a group prized by advertisers).  At this rate, its likable gang of monsters could keep pursuing that Shiva indefinitely.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."