“The League” returned for its sixth season last night, and if you have somehow missed out on this show for the last five years, it’s time to start paying attention. “The League” is a semi-scripted, semi-improvised comedy about six high school friends, now in their early thirties, who live in Chicago and care way too much about their fantasy football league (disclaimer: the fictional high school they attended, North Winnetka High School, is based on my real high school in Winnetka, which is New Trier High School, so I may be a bit biased in my love of this show). But despite the name of the show, it is only tangentially about fantasy football. What the show really deals with are the everyday lives of six friends who want nothing more than to give each other shit. They will stop at nothing to win their fantasy league and humiliate each other in the process. For someone living the mid-twenties dream, it gives me hope that with the right group of friends, I can still have fun while living in the suburbs with a wife and two kids. For those who are new to “The League,” here’s a quick rundown of the cast:
The Starting Six
Peter “Pete” Eckhart (three-time champion) – Pete reminds me of Peter Gibbons in “Office Space.” They both work at dead end, corporate jobs and exert as little effort as possible. When you first meet them, they have personal lives that are at rock bottom.
Kevin MacArthur (one-time champion with an asterisk) – Kevin is a fairly successful assistant district attorney. Kevin is also a bit of a sad sack, and for the first couple seasons, Jenny, his wife, actually ran his fantasy football team. The one year Kevin won, the league was going to nullify the season until he gave up naming rights to his second child.
Rodney Ruxin (one-time champion) – Rodney, or Ruxin as his friends call him, is Jewish and a product-liability attorney–a stereotype if there ever was one. Ruxin went to Northwestern, is married to a smokeshow, and has a good paying job. On paper, he has had the most success both professionally and personally.
Dr. Andre Nowzick (one-time champion) – On the surface, Andre would appear to have found the most professional success since he is a plastic surgeon living in an incredibly nice, downtown apartment. However, to quote Dane Cook, Andre is that “friend nobody likes.” He is incredibly insecure, which makes him the butt of every joke, and he is perpetually trying to be cool in the least cool ways.
Taco MacArthur (one-time champion) – Taco is Kevin’s brother. He is also that kid who got really into weed in high school and never got his life together. Taco is constantly trying out new business ideas that never actually work. His only success was buying dallascowboys.com, which he sold to Jerry Jones for $250K. We do learn in Season 5 that if Taco wasn’t high all the time, he would probably be the most intelligent member of the group.
Jenny MacArthur (one-time champion) – Jenny is the most recent league champion and the very attractive wife of Kevin. She is the mother of two children, Ellie and Chalupa Batman (or Christopher). She’s a successful real estate agent and probably the most normal of the bunch. It is unclear what she sees in Kevin.
Notable Bench Players
Sofia Ruxin (Ruxin’s wife) – Sofia Ruxin is to “The League” what Sophia Vergara is to “Modern Family.” It’s no coincidence they share a first name. She’s Latina, she’s smoking hot, and Ruxin way outkicked his coverage on this one.
Rafi (Sofia’s brother) –Rafi is that guy on Tinder who doesn’t make it more than two messages without one of them being “Butt stuff?” He’s a deranged, sex-driven psychopath. If you took all the deepest, darkest corners of the Internet and rolled them up into one person, you would get Rafi.
Shivakamini Somakandarkram (The Shiva) – Shiva went to high school with the guys and she is the woman responsible for taking Kevin’s virginity. She used to be incredibly unattractive, so, naturally, the guys named their fantasy football trophy after her. They have been known to “Shiva Blast” (shout her full name loudly) and sing a song with lyrics made entirely of her name. It turns out Shiva got hot after high school and Andre has a brief fling with her before she finds out about their fantasy league.
Episode 1: Sitting Shiva
“The League” has always been a show that straddles the line between hilarious and cringeworthy. One second, it will quite literally make you laugh out loud, and the next, it will make you avert your eyes as you say to yourself, “I can’t believe they went there.” Last night’s episode reminded me a lot of that scene in “Wedding Crashers” where Will Ferrell proclaims to Owen Wilson, “I got one [a funeral] Saturday. You’re coming with.” You probably laughed and marveled at how Will Ferrell was able to pick up girls at a funeral, and then later when Owen Wilson stood up at Vince Vaughan’s wedding and said, “I crashed a funeral earlier…” and the whole place gasps, you realized you were a terrible person for laughing the entire time. That was last night’s episode of “The League.”
In order to dissect last night’s episode, I’m going to run through the various scenes, rating them on how cringeworthy they were (one being least, five being most) using the “see no evil” emoji, which I am renaming “cringe monkey.”
The NFL Combine
The show opens with a dream sequence featuring Kevin trying to make it at the NFL Scouting Combine (narrated by Rich Eisen and acted in by a number of real NFL rookies). Unfortunately for Kevin, he ends up getting destroyed physically and emotionally, and he pisses himself while the players chant “Sacko” (the name of the player who finishes last in their fantasy league). Kevin wakes up to Jenny telling him to, “go back to bed, Sacko” before asking why the bed was wet.
Verdict: Considering the last bad dream I had–I woke up thinking there was a mouse on my head, jumped out of bed, got tangled in the sheets, and broke my toe on the bedpost–I’d call this scene hilarious, good, clean fun. One cringe monkey.
After the opening credits, we open in the MacArthur living room as the group decides on a draft location. Jenny has let being champion go to her head and she has created everything from calendars to mugs with her face on them.
Verdict: If you have ever lost to your girlfriend in an athletic competition, board game, or really anything, imagine the aftermath of that times 100 and you would understand what Kevin is going through. As painful as this scene is for Kevin, it’s hilarious for us. One cringe monkey.
Chicago Street Golf
Ruxin, Pete, and Taco head out for a game of street golf around Chicago, which prompts Ruxin to say that “as low-rent as this is, it does maintain the basic function of golf, which is to get away from your wife and children.” Preach Ruxin, preach.
Verdict: Street golf isn’t a half bad idea. In real life, you would get arrested, but man, it would be fun driving a golf cart around downtown Chicago, hitting drives down Michigan Avenue, and playing bunker shots from North Avenue Beach. Two cringe monkeys for the broken car window and golf ball in the soup.
The show takes a dark turn when Ted (played by Adam Brody) Skypes the gang while walking to an AIDS fundraiser. Ted lives in California, has AIDS, and won the league back in 2012. While on the call, Ted gets hit by a car and dies, setting off a series of events that make up the majority of the episode. Everyone attends Ted’s wake, where they learn that someone must watch over the body the night before the funeral (apparently this is called a Shomer in Judaism). The friends volunteer and decide to host their fantasy draft with Ted’s body in the temple, because “Ted would have wanted it this way.”
Verdict: I’m really torn by this scene. On one hand, the gang desecrates the body in every way possible from high-fiving his dead hand, to having him cheers a beer, to lighting up a blunt in his mouth. Pete rightly points out that “some people might find this disrespectful.” On the other hand, four of the best one-liners from this episode come from this scene. I’m giving it three cringe monkeys because it was so damn funny, but I’m probably a terrible person.
Did anyone else see that Hooters commercial with 10 of the hottest girls I’ve ever seen? I live a block away from a Hooters. There’s nothing but daddy issues, tattoos, small boobs, and bad teeth at my Hooters. I’m suing for false advertising.
Jordan Cameron Jordan
An episode of “The League” wouldn’t be complete without cameos from a couple NFL players. In this episode, we get Jordan Cameron, Cameron Jordan, and J.J. Watt attending Ted’s funeral. Pete, Kevin, and Jenny play a prank on Ruxin, who, earlier, had accidentally drafted Cameron Jordan (a defensive end) instead of Jordan Cameron (a tight end). Cameron is black and Jordan is white, so they make Ruxin try to figure out who he actually drafted. Spoiler alert: he can’t.
Verdict: Two cringe monkeys because it was slightly painful watching Ruxin squirm.
The Flash Mob
A running theme throughout the episode is Andre’s sudden gain in confidence. He is no longer the butt of the joke and instead takes to making fun of others. The rest of the group starts calling him “Teflon-dre” because nothing will stick to him. The guys try numerous tricks to cut him back down to size, including convincing him that Ted’s will asked that the group perform a flash mob at his funeral led by Andre. For a while, it looks like this is going to work, until Andre ends up saving the Rabbi’s life and all is forgiven. This new confidence is a big change for Andre, and it will be interesting to see if this character shift is maintained throughout the season. It’s a bit refreshing.
Verdict: This was the scene in which I had the most secondhand embarrassment. Tricking your friend into ruining a funeral with a dance routine is pretty cringeworthy. Also, Andre is just really awkward. Four cringe monkeys.
The episode ends with Ruxin, Pete, and Taco stealing the coffin away from the other pallbearers (our three NFL players) in an attempt to recover their draft board (Taco had hidden it under the body). They barge in on Kevin and Jenny having “sad, middle-aged sex” in the morgue. I have yet to experience sad, middle-aged sex, but if it involves impromptu sex with someone who looks like Jenny while at a funeral, sign me up. I mean, come on, “Ted would have wanted it that way.” J.J. Watt catches up with the guys, shames them, and walks out with the coffin in one hand. Little does he know, Taco has jumped into the coffin, replacing Ted, so he can reclaim the draft board. The episode ends with Taco jumping out of the coffin as it descends into the grave, proclaiming to the family, “I got it. Oh, don’t worry, it’s just a draft, Ted’s still dead.”
Verdict: Popping out of your dead friend’s coffin as it descends into the grave in front of his grieving family is about as cringeworthy as it comes. Five cringe monkeys.
Best One-Liners Of The Epsidoe
• “One got me right in the taint” – Kevin being hit with a football during his dream
• “And we have urine, that’s a combine first” – Rich Eisen referring to Kevin pissing himself
• “Empirical evidence would point to you wanting to gargle Pete’s pudding, but I think in this case, it’s just looking for wins” – Ruxin explaining why Kevin’s mouth is open in the draft board picture
• “I’m going to take Julia Jones–it’s gotta be tough being a woman in the NFL” – Taco drafting Julio Jones
• “Let’s get some LeGarrette Blounts up in here. Let’s get messed up” – Taco drafting LeGarrette Blount and assuming he can smoke a running back
• “Such an idiot. I’ll take Chad Ochocinco of the Montreal Alouettes” – Taco referring to Ruxin’s draft pick and then making his own
• “Can you guys not be morons for one day?” – J.J. Watt to Pete, Kevin, Jenny, Taco, and Ruxin
• Andre – Teflon-dre is on a roll
• Jenny – Confidence is running high after last season’s win. Too high?
• Pete – Perennially strong player who hasn’t won the Shiva since 2008. Could this be his year?
• Taco – Despite not having a basic understanding of football, he’s only been the Sacko once. He’s got a confidence about him that I like.
• Ruxin – Took a lot of shots in this first episode. Confidence is definitely down.
• Kevin – Being the Sacko and having his wife as the Shiva has hit Kevin hard. He’ll need a big confidence boost to get out of this rut.
Prediction to win the league: Even though they haven’t finished drafting, I’m picking Andre. Everything just seems to be going right for him after the first episode.
Prediction to win the Sacko: I’m predicting Kevin. He’s in a rut right now, and his confidence is wavering. He’ll need a big boost to get back on the right track.