[This is a review of The League series finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
Despite being one of cable TV's perennial underrated comedies and ratings underdogs for the entirety of its seven-season run, The League never wavered when it came to its comedic style. Shameless, acerbic, crass, and almost always just barely staying in bounds, The League's humor could also be characterized as consistent -- in tone and in scoring big laughs. Unsung but not completely overlooked, The League was like that veteran slot receiver you could always turn to for a solid flex play on any given week.
But with The League officially retiring from television after 84 episodes, it's starting to sink in just how much that consistency and reliability for laughs will be missed. On the bright side, at least we can say the series ended in the same spirit in which it began -- with its self-centered main characters vying for their fantasy league trophy at the risk and expense of just about everything else in 'The Great Night of Shiva.'
Staying true to its original colors, The League benched sentimentality in its finale (for the most part), as it pitted its characters against one another for the ultimate grudge match, where the only thing that mattered was winning The Shiva. And how fitting it was that the title of Shiva Bowl Champion was completely up for grabs. Everyone was in the playoffs, and the most points would take the crown.
For the characters of The League, these stakes normally couldn't be higher, but on this particular week, many of the league's members had even more to play for. Pete (Mark Duplass) had a chance at winning a million bucks in a daily fantasy tournament (much to the chagrin of his friends); Ruxin (Nick Kroll) wrestled with a decision of whether or not to crush Andre (Paul Scheer) with the news that Pete was the real father of the unborn son Meegan (Leslie Bibb) was pregnant with; and Jenny (Katie Aselton) and Kevin (Steve Rannazzisi) went head-to-head to decide who would be forced to undergo sterilization surgery, with the "winner" being awarded "The Snip" trophy. Then, there was also the matter of Pete and Andre's season-long bet over who would end the year happiest that needed settling, and whether Taco (Jon Lajoie) would actually "vanish" from his group of friends and the league entirely, or not.
With the finality of the series hanging over the episode and with the forces the show's characters ended up facing, the possibility of the group being pulled apart felt very real for the first time. However, that feeling was fleeting, as The League's finale reinforced what the show has always been about: Friendship and camaraderie; but also, and more importantly, doing whatever it takes to mercilessly beat your friends.
And we've never seen this balance play out any more poignantly than with Ruxin's dilemma, which is aided (or exacerbated, depending on how you look at it) by the advice of his future self, portrayed by Curb Your Enthusiasm's Larry David in a brilliant and hilarious cameo. When shown a glimpse into his future the and high likelihood of winning The Shiva, Ruxin realizes that telling Andre about Pete and Meegan is not the way to go. However, this decision turns fantasy football karma against him, as Ruxin loses in the worst imaginable way, to a coin flip against the actual coin.
Meanwhile, Pete takes a similar karmic slap to the face after winning the million dollars, but also winning the dreaded Sacko, the sting of which seems to outweigh any joy that would usually come with such a hefty payday. Even the act of winning didn't feel nearly as euphoric or satisfying as it would have against his friends, as Pete's jovial trash talk -- which would normally be accepted and appreciated on the league's message board -- was considered offensive, off-putting and unwelcome amongst his new competitors in the big-money tournament.
But perhaps the biggest testament to the group's dedication to The Shiva and the league came from Kevin, who -- even after losing both of his testicles due to an unfortunate accident that resulted from Jenny's rage at winning The Snip -- still cared about the league first and foremost, as he laid in a state that could be taken as a metaphor for how his character was often portrayed.
At the end of it all, the only character who appeared to be happy was Andre, which immediately seemed too good to be true, given that his character has never been allowed such a luxury among his group of "friends." And in hilarious fashion, this illusion was quickly dashed by an ending that was as fitting as it was funny -- as a future Andre and his 18-year-old son receive a smack-talk message to end all smack-talk messages from the present-day gang, who reveal that Pete is the father while welcoming Andre II to the league and its signature brand of humiliation.
As funny as the episode was on its own, the adjective that kept coming to mind while watching it was fitting. In the world of The League, everything seemed to play out as it should; with no one proving to be worthy of The Shiva's glory, despite devoting everything toward the quest of winning it. And as fans of the show, isn't a fitting end all we really wanted in a finale?
While the show consistently generated big laughs, perhaps the best part about The League was it never changed and never compromised when it came to its humor. There was a hint of heart, but it was always about The Shiva and the thrill of beating your friends -- and for that, we'll always have a special place in our own hearts for The League.
What did you think of The League series finale? Will you miss the show? Let us know in the comments.
Photos: Byron Cohen and Jessica Brooks/FX
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