8.5

The League Review: “That Other Draft”/”The Draft of Innocence” (7.01/7.02)

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<i>The League</i> Review: &#8220;That Other Draft&#8221;/&#8221;The Draft of Innocence&#8221; (7.01/7.02)

For six years running, The League has retained a place in my TV universe like Derek Smalls’ role in the hierarchy of Spinal Tap: floating in the lukewarm water between other shows that run much hotter or colder. It’s a comfortable enough spot where I can comfortably check my social networking messages while I wait for the next inventive zinger that Ruxin throws at his friends or for an appearance by the always welcome Rafi.

Even if the fantasy football jargon and appearances by Rich Eisen or NFL stars like Marshawn Lynch leave me wanting, I stick with the show in an attempt to dissect exactly why six people who clearly don’t like each other would choose to hang out all the time. In that respect, the show is the perfect transposition of Friends, with no concerned “very special” episodes or “Will they or won’t they?” love story bullshit. The real question with The League is: will they or won’t they all die in a murder/suicide pact by the end of this seventh and final season?

If that doesn’t happen, chances are the main sextet will end up accidentally doing themselves in at some point. One of the unusual charms of this show is that no one survives these seasons unscathed in some manner, be it taking a naginta to the cock or getting the word “sacko” branded on their back like a tramp stamp. What the show almost never allows for are straight up victories, something that co-creator Jeff Schaffer likely brought over from his days working on Curb Your Enthusiasm. Someone may win the Shiva, but it always comes at a price.

From the tone of the first two episodes, all indications are that Schaffer and his wife Jackie are looking to shake things up in this seventh season. In part I am talking about the fact that the gang decided to do an “auction draft” rather than the usual way of picking their fantasy teams. Mostly, though, it’s in the emergence of Andre as a force to be reckoned with.

For six full seasons, the guy (played with charm by Paul Scheer) has been the boob of the show, failing in relationships and suffering the barrage of insults he receives for his terrible clothing and worse social skills. In these opening half-hours, though, Andre comes into his own. He’s gotten himself into a stable relationship (even if it is with the ex-wife of one of his buddies) and is enjoying being the league champion. And then he turns around and shows off his martial arts skills to save his pals from a gang of marauding Chinese restaurant workers. Surely, this moment of glory will be short-lived, but we can all enjoy it until Ruxin knocks him down a peg.

Then again, Andre is also the sole source of the season’s drama so far by hooking up with Pete’s ex Meegan. That’s drama in its most literal sense as it actually winds up being both hilarious and a little sad to watch the friend group try to negotiate these choppy waters. Poor Pete gets left out of an all couples date night, and then will only speak to Andre using an intermediary. Mark Duplass has never been the strongest comedic presence on the show, but really comes into his own by getting a little dark and a lot spiteful.

Otherwise, The League is off to the kind of start we’ve come to expect. And for that reason, it’s a great thing to see it back in the weekday schedule. The plain truth is that in about 11 weeks or so, when the season wraps up, it probably won’t be missed and will get quickly replaced by some other decent but not groundbreaking half-hour. It will have enhanced our vocabulary of insults (my favorite right now is “shit sipper”) but will otherwise not leave much of a mark on the cultural firmament.

Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.

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