Until now, my weekly repertoire of shows has been “Grey’s Anatomy,” “The Mentalist,“ and “Modern Family.” A medical drama, a crime show with a twist, and an Emmy-winning comedy. But this fall I’m adding another show to my “download and watch immediately” line-up: “The League.”
Last year, when a friend recommended I start watching “The League,” I was hesitant. I’d never caught on to the “Friday Night Lights“ craze, and I’d always associated a certain stigma with sports movies. Quite frankly, they’re boring. It’s the same story every time. A team faces some adversity, whether it’s based on race or lack of skill or a down-on-their-luck coach. The team seems destined to fail until they band together through those values we Americans hold so dear to our hearts: hard work, persistence, and teamwork. And then just as the team seems like they might achieve success, there’s a dramatic setback; maybe the powers-that-be deny the team some right they deserve, maybe there’s a sudden injury to a key player, or maybe a player or community member dies. All of a sudden, it’s David vs. Goliath: the team faces infinitesimal odds, and it will take even greater adherence to those American dreams for them to succeed. Maybe they do succeed and defeat the odds. Then again, maybe they don’t, yet manage to learn the most important lesson of their lives. Either way, it is made very clear that this kind of enlightenment was only available through the world of sports.
Not only is the plot replicable, but it’s safely marketable. It plays on our basic hope for the underdog to win, and leaves us feeling optimistic whether the team ultimately wins or loses. But to me, the formula is stunningly boring and has left me jaded to the sports entertainment industry as a whole.
So I was skeptical about “The League.” But boy, did it surprise me.
“The League” is a sports show framed from the other side: the non-athlete. The main characters are a few middle-aged men competing against one another in a fantasy football league. While they spend a little time discussing players and match ups, watching games, and yelling at the TV, the majority of the show follows the lives of these men as they hang out in the bar, complain about their jobs, and chase women. It’s “Sex and the City“ with a Y chromosome. The five main characters have a little something for everybody: there’s the high school nerd who married the hot wife; the overly neurotic friend who constantly turns to his wife for fantasy advice; his stoner brother who hits on anything that moves; the leader of the group; a man recently divorced and on the prowl; and the token loser, a plastic surgeon who is constantly roasted by his buddies.
“The League“ exemplifies certain characteristics of the shows I already watch regularly. The show is easy to relate to, offering interesting stories behind the dramas, as in “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Like “The Mentalist,” “The League“ builds the story on the intricacies of the main characters. Undoubtedly one of the best episodes this season was when the brother got addicted to a toilet seat made out of cocaine while dumpster diving. Random, but absolutely hilarious.
Finally, “The League” benefits from a style of natural comedy similar to “Modern Family.” The best jokes are driven by situational irony and uncommon reactions, not over-thought witty lines. And when there is the occasional quip, it’s so good you miss it if you’re not watching closely.
So for those of you lucky enough to have a cable connection, 10:30 p.m. Thursdays on Fox should be a half an hour of your day accounted for.