[This is a review of The League season 7 premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]
In six years, FXX's fantasy football comedy The League has rarely dropped the ball, delivering consistent laughs created from genius improvisations, the unrivaled chemistry of its cast and unique catchphrases that have burrowed their way into fantasy football's lexicon. As incredible as it is, the show's track record - much like the NFL's best teams coming off deep playoff runs - carried high expectations as it entered a new season tonight.
Of course, the pressure on series creators Jeff and Jackie Schaffer was amplified given that this seventh season would also be the show's last, a fact The League's dedicated followers have only a couple of months to come to grips with before the fun's all over. Sad as the series' impending conclusion is, there is some good news: The fun got off to a hot start in season premiere 'That Other Draft,' an episode that scores comedic points in typical League style - with hilarious dialogue, unexpected NFL cameos, and a generous helping of raunchy humor.
For those who caught any of the premiere's promotional spots in recent weeks, its first NFL player cameo actually may not have been unexpected. Nevertheless, the appearance by Seattle Seahawks star running back Marshawn Lynch in the episode's opening scene may have been its brightest highlight, especially for NFL fans or really anyone who watched last year's Super Bowl (the game, not just the commercials). The scene's hilariously unsubtle nods to Super Bowl XLIX's most controversial play call and its neatly-inserted callback to Taco (Jon Lajoie) and Lynch's unlikely business partnership certainly set the right kind of playful tone for the episode, while also handing Lynch - a player notorious for being defiantly silent in media interviews - some great lines of dialogue to run with.
Off to a great start, the premiere then built off its positive momentum by jumping right into the insatiably funny dynamics of the group and the banter between its members, who are anxiously awaiting the real NFL draft, the upcoming season, and the dethroning of their annoyingly jubilant league champion Andre (Paul Scheer). And it wouldn't be an episode of The League without some clever jabs at Andre, as Pete (Mark Duplass), Kevin (Steve Rannazzisi), Ruxin (Nick Kroll), and Jenny (Katie Aselton) unveil homemade trophies to mockingly "celebrate" their champ's achievement, with each one being more emasculating and degrading than the last.
After a surprise appearance from Pete's ex-wife Meegan (Leslie Bibb) and an even bigger surprise that she's secretly dating Andre, the episode still hasn't even introduced its A-story at this point, yet it still manages to generate plenty of laughs as Kevin discovers that Taco has actually embraced his Sacko punishment of being banned from using toilets by moving a disgusting porta-potty right into his big brother's living room. Taco's invasion of Kevin's space is certainly a familiar and often-used gag, but The League continues to keep this situational comedy fresh by giving Taco new ways to infuriate his older sibling.
Playing on other well-worn character relationship dynamics, the premiere also finds a new way to make Kevin jealous in finally introducing that A-story, as we learn that Jenny has won a sweepstakes to announce the Chicago Bears' third-round draft pick alongside former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon (leading to another fun cameo), and on Kevin's birthday, no less. Aside from the gang's scheming to devise a more suitable punishment for Taco, Jenny's journey to the NFL Draft is ultimately what ends up driving the remainder of the episode.
However, this plot-driver is really a vehicle built to carry jokes more than story, as is always the case with The League. So, although the reveal of Andre and Meegan's relationship is a fun stop the vehicle makes along the way, the actual payoff from the situation is derived from Pete, who is more disgusted with the fact that Meegan went to Andre for fantasy advice than the new couple's romantic status.
With all the laughs that are had, 'That Other Draft' is far from a perfect episode, as the foreseen sabotage of Jenny's big moment and a disappointingly uninspired appearance from Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas) prevent it from entering the pantheon of The League's greatest entries. There's also a bit involving Taco begging for a certain type of punishment that's just more off-putting than actually funny or clever.
That said, all in all, the episode marked a superbly strong start to what looks to be another solid season of The League. Even though it leaned heavily on callbacks, old gags, and player cameos, the reliable group dynamics, snappy one-liners, and organic cast chemistry still made it comedically accessible to series newcomers, while treating loyal fans to its signature brand of improvisational comedy. Let's just hope upcoming episodes stick to the winning formula, while mixing things up just enough to keep The League interesting as it nears its series finale.
The League season 7 continues next Wednesday with 'The Draft of Innocence' @10pm on FXX.
Photo credit: Patrick McElhenney/FX