Title: “The Lockout”
September is rapidly coming to an end and we just passed the equinox last week, so it’s safe to say that autumn is in the air. For some, that means back-to-school and changing leaves, for others that means turkey and Halloween costumes. For me, it means football. But not watching football. And not playing football. And not even playing a football video game. No, autumn means watching a television show that is tangentially focused on a group of dysfunctional adults participating in a fantasy football league. It’s quite a few degrees of separation away from anything remotely athletic, but that’s usually how I operate.
Minute for minute, joke for joke, The League is by far one of the funniest shows on TV today, and you don’t have to know jack about football to get a kick out of it. I can only assume that being familiar with a few players would in some way enrich the viewing experience, but for now we’ll leave that as a silly hypothesis. After all, I’d much rather gush about my love for this show by highlighting one of my favorite episodes. (And no, I’m not talking about the one where Eliza Dushku is the sexy, flirtatious Krav Maga instructor, though anybody who’s read my Dollhouse article knows the affinity I have for the woman.)
The focus here is going to be on “The Lockout,” the third season premiere, and quite possibly the best season premiere of the bunch. See, the first episode of most seasons of The League tend to go all out, pulling out all the stops and sending the group on some gimmicky romp (like the Vegas draft that started Season Two, or the trip to the Dallas Cowboys training camp in Season Three). This episode, though, stays at home in Chicago, and because of that it’s a reasonably accessible jumping-on point, and in many ways a better first episode to watch than the pilot.
It helps that it hits the ground running with Rodney Ruxin’s absurd, cameo-filled musical number, “The Shiva Bowl Shuffle.” It’s a taste of how ridiculous the show is willing to become to get a laugh (a theme that ends up defining the climax of this episode). What follows is a fairly standard re-introduction to the main characters, with Andre serving out his punishment for losing the previous year by playing the flute at a bus stop as the others watch with glee. This flows into a run-of-the-mill (by League standards) bar scene, complete with semi-improvised dialogue and a dash of exposition. The stand-out moment, which in a way is indicative of the quality of ribald humor that this show’s peculiar structure is able to elicit, comes from Ruxin. He turns to a ragged Andre and asks “Do you see yourself more as a rapist who does magic, or a magician who also likes to rape?” That alone would be enough to make me giggle, but it’s Andre’s pitch-perfect, dead-pan response that speaks volumes about this show’s edgy, unremorseful sense of humor: “Okay, well, with me magic always comes first.”
Other than that line, it would appear that this episode is relatively tame. Within the first ten minutes or so, all the plot development we really get is Jenny trying to train her husband Kevin like a dog and the group fudging the draft order results to keep Ruxin from picking first. The situation remains fairly benign, typically sitcom-y. Of course, this is The League, so the status quo only sticks for a few minutes at most.
When Taco, Kevin’s stoner brother, is reintroduced, we are treated to a clip of his appearance on a Middle Eastern soap opera as an American “rapper/cowboy/cautionary tale” whose catchphrase of choice is “Bang, bang, what’s the hang?!” It’s goofy, but it’s Taco, so this really isn’t out of the ordinary. But it warms us up rather nicely for the reappearance of another bizarre character and audience favorite: Jason Mantzoukas as Ruxin’s criminally insane brother-in-law, Rafi.
Now, Rafi is one of the more ridiculous characters in a cast full of sociopaths and vengeful competitors, so you might think that he would seem out-of-place in a season premiere that I have, thus far, touted as grounded. But that’s the real accomplishment of this episode, that it can bring Rafi back to the group in a public library, introducing himself by saying (in a sing-song voice) “I am day-drunk and ready to see my dick,” and have that mesh with the rest of the plot. He doesn’t feel shoehorned into the episode, and it really does make sense for him and his associate Dirty Randy (played by Seth Rogan) to want to shoot a porno film called “My Orgy at Andre’s” at Andre’s apartment. It’s difficult to explain how seamlessly “The Lockout” flows from suburban married shenanigans, to fantasy football politics, to absurdist smut humor without forcibly sitting you down and making you watch it. Instead, I will simply reiterate that this episode is one of the best introductions you can have to The League, since it assumes you know nothing while still throwing you into the deep end of its more disgusting humor without so much as a warning or a floatie.
The ending of this episode also represents something that I love about The League: it’s a show that doesn’t care about consequences. Most of the time when I watch television, I pick it apart and become frustrated that events aren’t followed to their logical conclusions, that actions don’t bring about proper consequences. When it comes to The League, though, I never have that problem. Every episode reaches an insane, almost infeasible climax, and as soon as the punchline is delivered the credits roll. They make no qualms about the fact that The League exists solely in the service of humor, as a vehicle for a joke, and once it’s fulfilled that role it has no more reason to exist. Sure, I like character development as much as the next guy, but sometimes it’s just nice to sit down knowing that for the next twenty minutes I’m going to laugh, and as soon as I’m done laughing the episode will end.
So you can be excited about whatever you want this autumn. You can look forward to apple picking and pumpkin carving and whatever else. I’ll be over here laughing my ass off.