Roughly 27 million people, most of them men, enjoy it. They spend, on average, nine hours a week at their computers looking at it. There are countless Web sites and magazines devoted to it. And now, there is a TV show that revolves around it. I’m of course referring to fantasy football, the popular game that, while created in 1962, has grown exponentially in popularity thanks to the explosion of the Internet in the past decade. FX has taken the yearly tradition of men (and some women) around the country and has created The League, a show that revolves around the exploits of five men and their struggle to balance their family and social lives with their fantasy football league.
The show is largely the brainchild of Jeff Schaffer, who, although relatively unknown by name, boasts an impressive writing and directing resume: Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Seinfeld, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Eurotrip and Bruno. The show was co-created with his wife, Jackie Marcus Shaffer, who has done work on several films, among them High Fidelity, Oh Brother Where Art Thou and Old School.
Despite the impressive talent behind the scenes, I was skeptical at first. After all, how many jokes can you make about fantasy football that haven’t already been overdone? I didn’t think a show that was solely centered on a fantasy football league could last, and, to be perfectly honest, I still don’t. Thankfully, The League isn’t just about the league.
The League is just as concerned with the personal relationships of the members of its ensemble cast as it is with fantasy football. The characters play the roles found in any group of friends. Pete (Mark Duplass), the guy coming out of a tough break up, Ruxin (Nick Kroll), the guy who cares way too much about winning and will go to great lengths to do so, Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi), the guy whose wife runs his team, Andre (Paul Scheer), a successful yet timid doctor who doesn’t really know much about football, and Taco (Jon Lajoie), the unemployed guy who is always high yet somehow attracts every woman that passes by.
The personalities of all the characters mesh together well, and create for some hilarious situations, such as when Taco sang an incredibly inappropriate song at Kevin’s daughter’s fifth birthday party about the night of her conception. Lajoie, who was discovered by way of his YouTube videos, clearly stands out as the highlight of the show and needs to have an expanded role if the show is to continue going.
Entourage has enjoyed success because it depicts a life that regular guys dream of having, and I think The League will have success because it depicts a life that regular guys actually have. It’s incredibly easy for guys in the 20 to 35 age group to relate with the characters in the show, as we try to maintain our immature, slightly homoerotic groups of friends, while still managing to have things like “a job” or “a girlfriend.” And quite often the medium for our obscenity-laced communication comes in the form of a fantasy football league, and it is in this way that The League caters perfectly to its target audience.
Following It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is no easy task. Just ask the guys at Testees, which briefly ran after it last year. It was decently funny but paled in comparison to Always Sunny. The League has thus far shown it can hang with some of the top shows, and it is generating a considerable amount of buzz. It will be interesting to see if the show can maintain the storylines and keep the show fresh, but with such a talented production crew working behind the scenes, it appears headed in the right direction.