Monday, October 3, 2011

Netflix Instant Watch: The League

A few years ago, when everyone was tuning into FX for It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, I was too lazy to get off the couch after the show was over and ended up watching what was next on FX's Thursday lineup: The League. This show has since become one of my favorite weekly TV indulgences, along with 30 Rock and Bored to Death.

The first season is an engaging introduction to the overall series. Even as the show gets off to a slow start in the first few episodes (it seems to struggle initially with character development), The League only makes forgivable mistakes. Like in many sitcoms, the writing assumes its audience to be ultra-familiar with the characters immediately; however, on The League, unlike these other sitcoms, the characters aren't really recognizable types. They're always surprising and a little bit disgusting (which is FX's favorite quality in shows if you look at The League, Sunny, and Archer). That's what makes this show so fundamentally enjoyable; you're never exactly sure what's going on, and then it uncompromisingly offends and delights.

There are some familiar faces on The League. Mark Duplass, who we know and love as the director of 2010's mainstream-mumblecore comedy Cyrus, as well as the indie films The Puffy Chair and Baghead, plays the endearingly selfish, universally-beloved Pete. The other guys in Pete's fantasy football league include the hilarious/pathetic fedora-wearing Andre (Paul Scheer), the successful-yet-somehow-unfulfilled Ruxin (Nick Kroll), the adorably ignorant Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi), and the indescribable Taco (Jonathan Lajoie). Each of these characters are weird and hilarious enough to carry entire episodes, but it's the group dynamic that makes The League a real pleasure to watch.

Katie Aselton, Duplass's real-life wife and the director of 2010's independent feature The Freebie, is the requisite female character, but to her credit holds her own; she's foul-mouthed, competitive, and treads the fine line between "one of the guys" and "not a real person" surprisingly well. For all the movies and television shows written or directed by women, those that supposedly combat the "women aren't funny" movement in Hollywood (see: What's Your Number, 2 Broke Girls, The New Girl, etc.), it's rare to see a truly funny female character in a non-female exclusive environment. Aselton's character is perfectly capable of faults and mistakes like the rest of the characters, so she's not on that pedestal usually reserved for friend's wives on TV shows. She's also a little smarter than almost anyone else in the league, except Duplass, so the two of them often have great underlying rivalries.

The first season of The League, which premiered in fall of 2009, is available on Netflix Instant. Season 2 is on DVD. Season 3 premieres next week, and features a musical number with Maurice Jones-Drew, a new puppy, and a Lord of the Rings reference in the first five minutes. The show just keeps getting better and better; get in on it while it's still cool.

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