Au Revoir 'The League': Why We'll Miss the Nastiest Comedy on TV
If ever a show was engineered not to win an Emmy, it was “The League.”
The FX comedy ended its seven season run tonight with a 40-some minute finale, unmourned by the critical establishment, uncelebrated by the mandarins and poohbahs of programming, but all the same,it will be missed.
Bravely, stoically, “The League” stood alone for these many seasons as the antidote to that fatal flaw of TV’s new golden age: taking itself too seriously.
In an era when every show wears the “Breakthrough!” “Compelling Drama!” “Darkly Subversive!” or “Novelic!” in somber gothic lettering across its forehead, “The League” respond to these well-spoken days with a hale cry of “Suck it!”, in the words of its hero, the immortally despicable Ruxin.
“The League” did not use comedy as a jumping off point to make important statements. It didn’t subvert the genre or challenge the audience’s expectations. It didn’t tackle the great issues of our day in special episodes. Its ramshackle plotlines often felt like the writers had pulled them together at the tail end of an epic binge, just as the last dregs of the tequilla were being drained.
All “The League” cared about was being as obnoxiously, ridiculously, self-hatingly funny as they could dream, week after uncelebrated week.
The great television debate of our age is whether morally bankrupt characters (eg. Tony Soprano, Don Draper) can be compelling and even sympathetic. But “The League” offered us a third way in the false choice between boring good and fascinating evil; the possibility of loving the just plain gross.
There was no Satanic charm to this cast who were placed at the farthest reaches from cool (and even anti-cool) as you can get on the map. The show about a group of upper-middle class suburbanites obsessing over fantasy football, was not exactly a mob drama. There were no hate-yourself-for-loving-them Lotharios in this ensemble; just the ridiculous, awful, antics of a conniving cretin (Ruxin), a halfwit (Taco), an unmotivated jerk (Pete), a hapless dolt of a lawyer (Kevin) and his slightly less hapless but hopeless realtor wife (Jenny), and the most annoying, Ed Hardy-clad hanger-on ever to grace the airwaves (Andre).
Since “Seinfeld” broke loose the notion of the laughs to be had from riding along with the deeply self-centered, a whole genre has taken its protagonists to very dark places. The greats of the Scuzz Comedy genre, (“Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Workaholics” stand atop the pack) regularly take audiences to rancid corners worthy of a Philip Roth novel. But the these shows tend to work at the margins of society; if not making their protagonists sympathetic, they give the audience an out by painting them as woefully insignificant.
“The League” denied its viewers even that out, setting the show in affluent, comfortable suburbia, you ride along with the heroes’ malevolence at your own risk. The only serious question “The League” left its audiences with was: What kind of terrible person am I for laughing so hard at this?
Even when they broke away from the mid-American coziness, as in the annual, jaw-dropping Rafi and Dirty Randy episodes, it was to visit places so uncomfortable, so just plain wrong, that there was no walking away on any sort of moral high ground.
“The League” brought to TV a force of pure, no apologies, just plain unpleasantness, and in the end, it showed how enjoyable it is watching people say and act the way our worst and most cowardly selves dream of acting, and how much fun you can have when you have no message higher than “Suck it!”
In its last episode the show ambled off stage in a finale as ramshackle and preposterous as any fan could have hoped, before signing off with one last horrible prank on Andre of the future. It wrapped up nothing, offered no catharsis or resolutions, no final moment of sympathy, and I wouldn’t’ve had it any other way.
Shivakamini Somakandarkram, soldiers. Rest easy. You’ve done good.