The League has always been an uneven show. Its frequent shifts in quality are due in large part to its Curb Your Enthusiasm-style improvised nature. The show’s writers devise the episodic scenarios, and the cast, full of quick-witted comedians, come up with the specific dialogue on the spot. During The League’s early seasons, the combined efforts of the writers and actors gave us such brilliant episodes as Season 1’s “Mr. McGibblets” and Season 5’s incomparable “Rafi and Dirty Randy,” as well as distinctive phraseology like “Eskimo Brothers,” “Vinegar Strokes,” “Pocket Dogs,” and of course “Shivakamini Somakandarkram!”
In seasons five and six, the show began showing signs of old age. The episodes’ storylines lacked energy, the cast was grasping at straws trying to produce new signature phrases and insults, and the show seemed glossier, more traditionally sitcom-y.
The first couple episodes of Season 7 continue The League’s descent into sitcom land. Much of this season’s plot revolves around the fact that Pete’s (Mark Duplass) long forgotten ex-wife Megan (Leslie Bibb) has secretly been dating the much-reviled Andre (Paul Scheer). It doesn’t get much more sitcom-y than that.
These episodes often reach into The League’s back catalogue of jokes and visual gags to get some of its biggest laughs, which certainly loses this season some points for originality. This season being The League’s last, however, might allow for some level of nostalgia; I will admit that the sight of Taco’s (Jon Lajoie) Mr. McGibblets suit never fails to bring a smile to my face, nor does the constant reminder that Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi) and Jenny’s (Katie Aselton) son will forevermore be known as Chalupa Batman, or C.B. for short.
That said, these are some of the best episodes of The League in a long while. For all of their cheap laughs and easy nostalgia, they manage to recapture some of the spirit of those earlier, energized seasons. The premiere’s cold open involves a few of the things that make The League, The League: Kevin’s a clumsy doofus, Taco’s stoned and weirdly confident, the gang is generally mean-spirited and emotionally ambivalent toward one another, and there are many, many sports cameos that mean absolutely nothing to me. Kevin stumbling around a beach while engulfed in flames is a fantastic way to start a season of The League.
Some other golden tidbits from the opening scenes of Season 7: The gang trying and failing to tide themselves over between football seasons with fantasy soccer, Andre “burning” Pete by noting that he bought an outfit at Footlocker, and the various trophies the gang presents to Andre as a replacement for the late, great Shiva (my personal favorite being Kevin’s “When She-Dre met He-Dre.”)
Yes, Andre won the Shiva Bowl last season. With it, he won Ted’s beach house which was promptly burned down by Rafi (lots more about Rafi soon). His big win is now a loss, as Andre owes $150,000 in fire damages. In the only significant plot development of the premiere, the group agrees that this year’s loser (the Sacco winner) incurs that $150,000 cost. This could prove interesting but probably won’t be super significant until later this season.
While Andre is the fantasy league’s reigning champion (groan), Taco is the Sacco. That means that the rest of the league (specifically, the obsessively sadistic Pete) gets to impose punishment upon him. Pete decides that Taco is not allowed to use bathrooms for a month – he is confined to the use of Porta-Pottys. Naturally, this leads to Taco installing a Porta-Potty in Kevin and Jenny’s living room.
Speaking of Porta-Pottys, it’s now time to talk about Rafi, the unequivocal best part of The League played by the uniquely hilarious, intensely vulgar, and certifiably insane Jason Mantzoukas. Rafi has long been The League’s breakout character. He makes his Season 7 entrance in the only way he can – by emerging from the recently set up living room Porta-Potty, and scaring the shit out of everybody. Regarding the Porta-Potty, he announces that he’s “loving this new kitchen setup,” produces from it a pan of garlic bread and proclaims it to be “fresh out of… the oven?”
At one point, Rafi introduces the gang to his “very serious girlfriend,” which turns out to be a watermelon with a hole in it. Two holes, actually. When they leave Rafi alone with his “girlfriend,” he looks down at it (her?) and says, “They loved you.” He also upgrades from his beloved pocket dogs to the new “crotchet dogs” – it keeps the hot dogs hot.
Rafi has the same effect on these two episodes as he does on the whole of The League; he takes otherwise standard, slightly above-average sitcom material and elevates it to a level of sheer insanity and batshit craziness. The more Rafi in a given episode of The League, the better; any episode of The League in which Rafi does not appear is worse off for it.
It seems as though The League’s writers recognize this simple fact, as we get lots and lots of Rafi in these episodes. The second episode of the season in particular has some incredible Rafi material. We have also been promised another Rafi stand-alone episode this season, which is amazing news. (Though I will say that the most recent Rafi/Dirty Randy episode was freakishly subpar.) I look forward to seeing how Rafi is written off of the show this last season of The League. I’m sure his exit won’t be easily forgettable.
The rest of the cast is pretty on-point, especially Nick Kroll as Ruxin. The addition of Leslie Bibb to the cast is not really a good thing, especially because it comes along with an extraordinarily tedious storyline. Katie Aselton is bitingly funny as usual, Rannazzisi is a great klutz, and Duplass is generically humorous.
All in all, this is a promising start to The League’s last season. While it is in no way as youthful and funny as its earlier episodes, it demonstrates that the powers that be behind The League understand what the show’s fans find funny and what they don’t. These episodes lean on some dumb sitcom tropes, then later have Rafi try to auction off an Asian woman, saying about the gang’s fantasy draft “You auctioned off all these men. Why can’t I auction a woman? That is misogyny – a word I was recently told.”
The League Season 7 Episodes 1 & 2 Rating: 8/10