FXX’s The League kicks off its sixth season this week with “Sitting Shiva.” One of the members of the fantasy football league dies and the others gather for the funeral, which happens to be concurrent with this year’s draft. Trying to pick a team and observe tradition for the deceased is hard while dodging family members and friends. Which makes for the funniest draft since the one in the delivery room, several seasons ago.
The League is much like network sister series It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia in that it revolves around a group of guys and one girl, who wants to be one of the guys, picking on one another and being inappropriate, with hilarious results. The League is less gross and the characters are both more likeable and more relatable than IASIP, with actual emotional bonds underlying the cruelty. But it is as amusing as the long-running hit, having earned a following in its own right and its place on the network.
Yes, it’s incredibly wrong to make fun of death. Yet, somehow The League gets away with it. From the moment Ted (Adam Brody) is killed, through the sex in the morgue and the flash-mob-of-one, jokes land pretty steadily throughout the half hour. It’s almost Seinfeld-like in how cold the characters can be towards outsiders, even as they stay affectionate towards one another. But it also has that edgy, modern sensibility that makes it very watchable.
The dynamics of The League have shifted in “Sitting Shiva.” Jenny (Katie Aselton) is more accepted than ever, thanks to her win last year and current responsibility of planning the draft. Her husband, Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi), is in a shame spiral due to his Sacko loss, making him the butt of everyone’s jokes because he’s an easy victim. This frees Andre (Paul Scheer) to stop being the one always dumped upon, and despite their efforts to bring him back down, he’s now the smooth “Teflandre.”
There is a sense that balance in the clique will eventually be restored. Yet, the way that The League constantly mixes up the chemistry is part of what keeps it fresh. Certain individuals will have their ups and downs, but these are plot-driving devices, not permanent shifts. There’s an overall consistency and continuity amid the weekly stuff that keeps it interesting.
“Sitting Shiva” makes an obvious play on the word ‘Shiva’ with a short i sound, referring to the Jewish mourning practice, and Shiva with the long e sound, the name of a female classmate of the group’s and the title of their league trophy. In retrospect, this seems like a necessity for the show to eventually get to this, and thus, the death should not be a surprise. Yet, it still elicits several chuckles when you hear the word and its varied pronunciations discussed on screen.
One thing I have complained about in the past is the overuse of NFL cameos with athletes that cannot act. Sometimes The League makes good use of its guest stars, such as Cameron Jordan and Jordan Cameron at the funeral in “Sitting Shiva.” But other times, it does not, such as pretty much everyone in Kevin’s opening dream sequence this week. Sure, some of The League‘s viewers are also football fans who get excited by these appearances, as many in the cast and crew do. But not all of us are, and given that the writers known how to effectively use some of them, the others drag down the episodes quite a bit by comparison.
Still, even with some bad cameos, “Sitting Shiva” is a memorable half hour and a great way to begin a new season. It sets up some arcs, reinforces favorite elements of the show, and is frequently fantastically funny. Six years in, it shows no signs of staleness, and I look forward very much to what else it has in store this season.
The League airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on FXX.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00NAZFCNC][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00F9CZRFM][amazon template=iframe image&asin=B003JMENFY]