I should preface this by saying that I really couldn’t care less about football outside of The League and Friday Night Lights. When I watch The League, I represent at least some portion of the show’s fanbase that is watching without getting a single one of the references getting thrown around. But that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying the show. I was totally surprised by how much I actually like it which is why it took me two seasons of prodding before I got into it.
Now I count The League as one of my favorite shows on TV. When I put on FX on Thursday nights in the fall, I’m now more interested in The League than It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. This is not something I ever expected to happen to me when I first heard that FX was going to have a show about a fantasy football league. I’ve not only never participated in a fantasy league, but my limited knowledge of how the game of football is played has been cobbled together through watching movies and TV shows.
As near I can tell, The League has two main segments to its audience with some healthy overlap. The show appeals to sportsfans (duh) because if it didn’t, it would kind of be a complete flop given its premise. But someone like me who knows next to nothing about football can watch an episode and laugh at the more out-there jokes without getting lost in the sports references (which have gotten sparser as the show has gone on).
I think that even at its densest amount of sports talk and jargon, the show never alienates the kind of viewer that might be tuning in because they’re a big fan of Nick Kroll or Paul Scheer. Even when the comedy is at its broadest and Taco is throwing monkeys from moving cars, the average jock tuning in after Sunny can find something amusing in that too.
If the show tipped the balance any further in either direction it would run the risk of alienating a major part of its audience, I think. But it does a fine job of mixing the more absurd humor with the topical sports references/jokes.
This isn’t to say, of course, that these two types of viewers are mutually exclusive. I know lots of people who are big sports fans and also appreciate the show’s comedy for being one of the funniest on TV right now, and I imagine that to them, the show is even more spectacular than I think it is.
There are certain aspects of the show that I know appeal to my friends who are in fantasy football leagues and know what it’s like to orchestrate elaborate three-way trades and accuse each other of colluding to get the number one pick in the draft. And while I can understand these situations and process why they would be entertaining to some people, I’m more interested in what scheme/invention/Vinegar Strokes Symphony Taco is working on or what ridiculous new fad Andre is going to be engrossed in.
Many of The League’s best episodes, at least to me, happen to have very little to do with fantasy football, which sounds counterintuitive considering the show has a very basic premise. “The Expert Witness” and “High School Reunion” are standouts yet they pretty much ignore the fantasy football aspect of the show, which is a testament to just how good it can be.
Having Jeff Goldblum do a terrific guest spot as Nick Kroll’s father is insanely funny and a pitch-perfect bit of casting. That episode doesn’t even have a little to do with football. And yet, “Sunday at Ruxin’s” (an episode heavy on the fantasy football stuff) is also one of my favorites.
The League is a show about sports that doesn’t even need to address sports to succeed. As it’s evolved over the past three seasons, the show has established the competitive childishness of its characters and then started showing us how they’d behave in more everyday situations, outside of the fantasy universe. But each episode contains enough player references to keep the average viewer/sportsfan entertained. That’s the genius part of the show.
Besides being a funny show for someone like me, it’s also given me enough sports culture knowledge to fake my way through conversations about sports a male in his early twenties would otherwise be expected to be able to take part in. I’ve encountered people in my life whom I’ve had very little in common with as far as television shows go (but who am I kidding, that’s all I really try and bond over) but who share a love for The League that we can use to jump start a conversation.
So thank you, Jeff Schaffer for creating a sports show for sports illiterate people and making small talk that much easier for me.
Guest post by Matt Ern. The League returns tonight at 10:30pm on FX.