In 10 Words or Less
It just gets better
Likes: Paul Scheer, Nick Kroll, Nadine Velazquez
Dislikes: Seinfeld, Fantasy Football
Hates: Paul Scheer's character
The Story So Far...
FX continued its impressive streak of original and unique series with the introduction of The League, a heavily improvised sitcom from some Seinfeld alumni, focusing on the highly-competitive and verbally-abusive members of a fantasy football league. Each season follows the league as they compete for the trophy and the opportunity to lord over their friends until the next season, but that's just the reason they are together. The show is more about who these people are and what they do in life, just flavored by the constant presence of fantasy football. The show is now in its third season, and the first season was released on DVD and Blu-Ray in September of 2011, and DVDTalk has reviews of both editions.
The great things about a sitcom built around people playing fantasy football is the natural sense of structure the subject lends the show. Each season of the show is about a season of the game, starting with the draft and wrapping up with the championship. There's no need for artificial constructs to bring characters together, and there's a plot to keep things moving that doesn't require a lot of service or bring a lot of change to the characters. They get to be themselves and live their lives and the football season gets us from point A to point B (and somehow makes it seem like access to NFL stars like Terrell Suggs and Josh Cribbs is a normal thing.)
That frees up the show to do basically whatever they want with the characters, as long as there's a reference to football here and there. So instead of having to sit around watching these guys drool over stats or drink beer while watching Sunday's games, we get to watch them argue over who runs more bizarrely, Ruxin (Nick Kroll) or Andre (Paul Scheer). Yes, they do talk alot about which player to select, and the first episode is mainly about the draft (this year organized by Andre in Las Vegas) but that doesn't stop the show from focusing on the people in the show, whether it's Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi) and Jenny (Katie Aseton) trying to co-exist as spouses and league competitors, or Pete (Mark Duplass) struggling with the fact that he's dating Kevin's ex (and that she still thinks fondly of a certain part of Kevin.)
While the realistic dynamic between these players and friends is what drives this show, there's a sense of the absurd that gives it its unique flavor, and it's embodied by an old favorite and a new arrival. Kevin's brother Taco (Jon Lajoie) is one of the finest idiots anywhere on TV, and though he has a heart of gold, he's rarely working toward the same purposes as the group, which leads to trouble. The problem is, he's a really nice guy, so it's easy to believe they would keep him around, despite his hare-brained schemes. That believeability does not extend to "Bro-lo El Cunado," Ruxin's maddening brother-in-law Rafi (played wonderfully by Jason Mantzoukas.) If there's something wrong to be done or twisted to say, Rafi will be there to do it, say it, and then try to have sex with it. It can be safely guaranteed that if Mantzoukas is on the screen, something hysterical is about to happen, with "The Kluneberg" being the pinnacle, bringing Taco and Rafi together for pure ridiculousness (not to mention a cameo by Scheer's Human Giant collaborator Rob Huebel.)
As the show drops into high gear this year, perfecting the voice and tone, and mastering the skill of juggling several stories at once and having them all pay off, with the penultimate "Kegel the Elf" being a work of comedy art, the main problem from season one becomes even more obvious, and that's the Seinfeldian creation of too-clever words and phrases for universal parts of life. The cast and crew have done such a tremendous job of crafting a realistic group of friends (even with some of the wackiness they get involved in) that to drop terms like "rosterbating" or "fear boner" in as if they are completely natural is borderline insulting, especially when they almost always explain what the term means after using it as if it was as common as the word "the." It's a testament to how good this show is that it can overcome such overreaches at creating laughs.
The second season of The League is split over a pair of Blu-Ray discs, which are packed in a standard dual-hubbed Blu-Ray keepcase with a promotional insert for FX' shows and a two-sided cover with episode lists on the inside. The discs feature the standard Fox Blu-Ray menu set-up offering options to watch all the episodes (with Season Mode keeping track of what episodes you've watched), select shows, search chapters and bookmarks, adjust the set-up and check out the extras. There are no audio options, but subtitles are included in English SDH, Spanish and French.
The 1.78:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfers (18.5 MBPS) look far better than the first season, and far better than the broadcast episodes, with appropriate color, deep black levels, correct skintones and a super-sharp image boasting a high level of fine detail. From top to bottom, these episodes look fantastic, with no noticeable problems with compression artifacts.
The audio is presented via DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks that are pretty much the same as last season's. The series is pretty much entirely about dialogue, so there's not a whole lot to work with aurally. The center channel tackles the majority of the presentation, though there's an occasional off-camera sound effect in the side speakers.
Once again, you get extended versions of seven of the episodes, which offer up some slight differences here or there, like extended runs during the gang's frequent insult fests (though it's hard to miss the strip-club nudity added into the first episode.) There's nothing that really jumped out about these cuts, but one can't complain about getting more of The League. The same goes for the11 minutes of deleted scenes (split between the two discs), which should really be called "More Taco" as it seems Taco was frequently excised from the show, sometimes with very good reason, though his gift to Andre in his office is hysterical. Some of these are extended scenes though, so it's not all new.
"The Joy of Painting Stuff" is over six minutes of more proof that Scheer may be the funniest man working today. Playing off the Kluneberg painting in the fourth episode, Scheer channels Bob Ross as he paints a knock-off of the work, complete with utter inappropriate commentary. Less enjoyable is El Notario, a five-minute stretching of the notary public runner in the fifth episode that's only saved by an appearance by Ruxin (Kroll.) There's even more Taco to watch in the "Taco Tones Productions Presents" collection, which includes a longer cuts of Taco and Chad Ochocinco's "I'm Inside Me" (featuring Andre), and Taco's Naginta song, the full video from Ruxin and Sofia's wedding and the music video for Taco's "Vinegar Strokes." The Ruxin video is especially appreciated, as there are some details you might miss when it is shown during the episode.
Like the previous set, there's a nine-minute gag reel, which does have some definite laughs (unlike many recent gag reels I've watched) and fortunately, the "Alt Nation" featurette also returns, offering up eight minutes of alternate takes from the show's improvisation, which makes for plenty of laughs, with Scheer and Mantzoukas taking home the prize for best alt performances. This could be three times as long and probably could only get better.
The Bottom Line
After a surprisingly solid first season, The League has made the sophmore slump hang its head, coming up with one of the best second seasons in sitcom history, having found just the right fit for its characters. The Blu-Ray looks great and sounds pretty good, and delivers some quality extras for fans to enjoy, and a great way for newcomers to catch up with the group.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.