A binge of The League is the perfect way to kick off the strangest football season ever
Five years after the forever unclean comedy ended, it's time to bow down to the Shiva — and The League.
The NFL season is set to kick off on Thursday, and yet it's hard to believe that it really will. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, major college football conferences have canceled their fall slate and the MLB has, perhaps blindly, continued to push through their shortened season even as the virus has made its way through multiple teams. In fact, the only league to flawlessly pull off starting their sport up again has been the NBA, and that is because they've been playing in a very expensive bubble at Disney World. But, with so much money at stake, the NFL proceeding with their normal schedule, in their normal stadiums, with fans at some and none at others is sure to result in the strangest season ever. And that description of the strangest season ever and it being hard to believe that something exists just about sums up The League.
Debuting in 2009 and running for seven seasons, the FX comedy from Jeff and Jackie Schaffer was seemingly created in a lab to be the perfect companion for the network's legacy series It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia — and it was. Like Sunny, The League put a vulgar, disgusting, and hilarious spin on the traditional sitcom setup of a longtime group of friends. But the creative team also made the smart move to distinguish itself by getting in on fantasy football at the height of the craze. That hook was almost a trick in a way, though, just to bring viewers in, throw a random NFL name or cameo in, only to keep you with the crude humor and talented ensemble and guest stars.
Now, five years after the series finale, this weird show that featured one of its main characters often dressed up as Mr. McGibblets (see above), multiple poop-related emergencies, and Seth Rogen as a librarian-pornographer named Dirty Randy is the perfect way to get you ready for the weirdest season of football to date. If you don't believe us, then here are a few reasons to check out The League and make yourself forever unclean.
Building a loaded roster
With The League, the Schaffers aimed to make a semi-improvised series, like Jeff has done with Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and to do that they put together an eclectic cast with no established stars: mumblecore director Mark Duplass as Pete, Duplass' actress wife Katie Aselton as Jenny, standup comedian Steve Rannazzisi as Kevin, sketch veteran Paul Scheer as Andre, comedy musician Jon Lajoie as Taco, and writer-improviser Nick Kroll as Rodney (but everybody calls him Ruxin). They proved to be an ideal fit, feeling like a true group of friends who bonded over being terrible human beings. And their great work immediately raised the profiles for many of them: Kroll has created and starred in the Kroll Show and Big Mouth and launched the popular Oh, Hello Show with John Mulaney; Scheer hosts the beloved film podcast How Did This Get Made? and has appeared in everything from Curb to The Good Place to Fresh Off the Boat; and Duplass has continued his behind-the-scenes work, all while seeing his onscreen career take off with roles in Zero Dark Thirty, Bombshell, and The Morning Show, for which he's earned an Emmy nomination.
But the success of The League cast pales in comparison to their success in landing high-profile guest stars. Among the actors to appear in at least one episode are Rogen, David, Jeff Goldblum, Will Forte, Adam Brody, Zach Woods, Ray Liotta, Keegan-Michael Key, Sarah Silverman, Aziz Ansari, Bob Odenkirk, Timothy Olyphant, and Snoop Dogg. And that doesn't even include the wildly ridiculous list of actresses who have played love interests of Duplass' Pete. For League newbies, Pete is very confident...but not really for good reason. He works a very nondescript, boring office job that he doesn't appear to be interested in or good at, and his only real interest is his eight-team fantasy football league (somehow the eight-team part is more pathetic than the fantasy football part). And still, Pete has dated women played by Leslie Bibb, Brie Larson, Lake Bell, Allison Williams, Ali Larter, Anna Camp, Brenda Song, Brooklyn Decker, and Meghan Markle. Yes, you read that right, both Captain Marvel and an actual princess. In fantasy football terms, he's the Adrian Peterson of dating.
Teaming up Rafi and Dirty Randy
Dozens of people were just named to demonstrate how loaded The League was, but the most important name was purposefully left out because he deserves his own tribute. While the first season of the series was good, The League went up a level in the second season premiere with the introduction of its funniest character: Jason Mantzoukas' Rafi. Unaffectionally known as "Bro-lo el Cuñado," Ruxin's obnoxious, deranged, disgusting brother-in-law was always a guaranteed hurricane of laughs and disaster when he appeared, whether he was talking about how attractive his sister is or eating a hot dog while sitting on the toilet. Technically a recurring guest star, Mantzoukas (a collaborator with Scheer on How Did This Get Made? and Kroll on Kroll Show/Big Mouth) became the ultimate scene-stealer, so much so that he eventually seemed as if he was a regular starting player on the team.
While Rafi was must-watch TV on his own, his character really became complete with the addition of Rafi's often-mentioned best friend and amateur porn director Dirty Randy (played by Rogen). The duo was such comedy gold that The League began setting aside one episode per year that was completely unrelated to the main characters and just featured the adventures of Rafi and Dirty Randy. Written by Mantzoukas and Rogen, season 5's "Rafi and Dirty Randy" found them road-tripping to Los Angeles to avenge the death of their friend Spazz (only for Dirty Randy to seemingly kill Rafi), while season 6's "When Rafi Met Randy" explored their tragic origin story and escape from a mental hospital. The final season even included an animated journey to Puerto Rico for the Dr. Andre Nodick filmmakers. No offense to Kevin and Jenny or Pete and all those impressive women, but, in the end, Rafi and Dirty Randy proved to be the show's true love story.
Making impressive player acquisitions
Oh yeah, this is a show kind of about football, remember? Airing between 2009 and 2015, The League serves as the ultimate time capsule for a very specific era of the NFL. As the characters debate what players to start, trade, or cut, they'll list off names that were at one point extremely relevant in fantasy — even if only for a week or two. Upon rewatch or first watch, it's a jarring hit of nostalgia though to watch actual plots based on players you haven't heard of or thought about in years. Like what was the last Stevie Johnson, Ronnie Brown, or Mike Tolbert conversation that you had? Luckily, the majority of the NFL player cameos have aged better, including appearances by future Hall of Famers like Antonio Gates, J.J. Watt, and Adrian Peterson.
But The League topped any of those other moments with the opening of the final season. For context, the Schaffers are massive Seattle Seahawks fans and in Feb. 2015 they saw their beloved team one yard away from winning their second consecutive Super Bowl. While everyone in the world was expecting the Seahawks to hand the ball off to their All-Pro running back Marshawn Lynch for the easy game-winning touchdown, for some inexplicable reason, they threw the ball...right into the arms of a New England Patriot. The interception and egregious play call sealed Super Bowl XLIX as an all-time classic. Just months later, the Schaffers would hilariously mock their own pain with the help of Lynch.
Scoring some winning songs
As previously mentioned, cast member Jon Lajoie is best known outside of The League for his comedy musical stylings, and he brought those talents to the character of Taco, the young stoner-entrepreneur of the crew. Taco's performances were a staple of the show from the beginning as he sang the wildly inappropriate "Birthday Song" at his niece's party in the pilot. The hilarious hits continued with "I'm Inside Me," "Vaginal Hubris," and the theme song of his sex bed and breakfast. These tracks, as well as Taco's ringtones, guest bongs, and complete lack of interest in his fantasy team, often made us wish that every night was Taco Tuesday.
Drafting up memorable terms
Maybe as much as any show in recent memory, The League coined a long list of memorable new terms. That being said, I will not be explaining the meanings of Eskimo brother, fear boner, rosterbating, or vinegar strokes on the pages of Entertainment Weekly, so you'll just have to watch to learn them in action.
And with that, it's time to go pay your respects to The League — and the Shiva...and Shivakamini Somakandarkram.
All seven seasons of The League are available to stream on Hulu.