“Ménage A Cinq”

It’s kind of amazing that a semi-improvised show about a fantasy football league has lasted six seasons. And given how mediocre this season has been, “Ménage A Cinq,” as the beginning of the finale, should continue the trend of blah. But for the most part, everything that happens during this episode is decently funny, firing on, if not all cylinders, at least most of them. Several of the threads that have been limply hanging over the season come back in serious ways—it’s possible that the writers did have a lot of funny ideas this season, but that they just saved them all for the big finish.

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The best plot in the episode is the conflict between Andre and Pete over Emma, a woman getting an obscene amount of plastic surgery from Dr. Nowzick, who characterizes her body as his David. (This plot might get the most mileage out of Andre’s job of any episode the show has ever done.) Of course, this story lets Duplass do his “flirty douche Pete” voice, which somehow never fails to be mildly amusing, at least. And the idea that Pete will get the first pick on Emma’s waiver wire because no other guy knows how attractive she’s going to be after the surgery is one of the better instances of the show shoehorning football terminology into the minutiae of everyday life.

Andre blackmails Pete into planning a date with “him”/his creation, which is simultaneously classic Andre, a possible callback to Andre wheedling favors out of Jay Glazer, and a culmination of the weird Andre-Pete relationship that’s been brewing this year, replacing the Pete-Kevin friendship. And after the date, the culmination of Andre and Pete’s relationship is Pete’s inability to sleep with Emma. The psychic presence of Andre escalates decently well, from the disembodied voice of Paul Scheer to the bad CGI Andre covering Emma’s breasts, which are ridiculous, but the right kind of ridiculous for this show. It’s a push into the surreal, but it’s not like anyone ever came to The League looking for realistic comedy.

The inevitable hookup between Emma and Russell more than justifies the CGI Paul Scheer and lets Rob Huebel totally cut loose, getting to show off his vinegar strokes and yell “soft cheese, hard dick.” In this case, keeping Russell’s sex addiction pent up the whole season was definitely the right call—it would have gotten old(er) over the course of the rest of the season, but making Russell a slightly more normal member of the ensemble led to some good jokes. In particular, one of the better bits of “Ménage A Cinq” is that Russell is actually really, really good at fantasy football. I was expecting him to win the beach house and simply depart from the show, but having Andre’s business totally implode while leaving room for the events of the next episode is even better.

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And Russell’s abandonment of the opening of Ménage A Cinq the wine bar gives Paul Scheer a chance to pretend to be a sommelier, which is okay as far as it goes (Scheer’s weird accent is enjoyable enough). This entanglement between Russell and Emma also sets up the return of Trixie, Andre’s ex-fiancée and forever soulmate, which is surprisingly (a word I feel like I should use for everything good about these episodes) effective. Trixie’s blindness (caused, remember, by her allergy to Andre’s semen) is a little lazy, but the character is still great because she’s a more intimidating, female version of Andre who’s reviewing her ex-fiancée’s wine bar for some reason. Jayma Mays is hilarious, even better than she was in her first few appearances on the show, particularly when she’s spitting in disgust at the rest of the league. Shiva has sort of played out her role as a constant antagonist for the league (and she’s a bit too reasonable to work in their crazy world), but I would be very into Trixie serving that role going forward.

All things considered, this is a pretty good episode of The League for this late date. The weakest part of the episode is the Taco story, which just serves to give Jon LaJoie something to do other than using his brothel to ensnare Russell. And as much as Taco preventing himself from sleeping by chewing on a stimulant plant is lazy and not particularly funny, if that’s the worst part of the 70th episode of the show at least something is still going right.

Stray observations:

  • “I thought all this work being done would make me feel some kind of way.”
  • Pete’s superdate includes Alinea, one of the nicest restaurants in Chicago (or so I’m told). I wonder how he got that reservation.
  • Andre’s sister is “living the quiet life up in Scotland on a sex farm.” There’s a Sarah Silverman cutaway we are desperately missing.

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“The Beach House”

If “Ménage A Cinq” is good, the supersized season finale is pretty excellent, paying off everything else that’s sort of just been sitting limply this season like Kevin’s low T (hey, he’s back to normal size!). The stakes of the beach house haven’t been especially compelling until now, and honestly, it seemed like everyone had forgotten about fantasy football, but once the cast gets to hang out at a very cool-looking beach house, it seems a lot more real, and the winner of the Shiva Bowl somehow manages to become even the slightest bit important again. I mean, I’d want to live in that house, even if it was only for a month a year (and even if Andre had to be on top).

“The Beach House” kicks off on a high note with the culmination of Rob Riggle’s recurring role as Ruxin’s boss, mocking the premise of an eight team league and giving the dude free reign to actually yell in a way that honestly kind of startled me. That’s not the kind of outburst you normally see on The League, for sure. But Riggle is just one of the many solid guest stars in this episode, who all bolster the flagging main cast. In particular, TV’s Rich Sommer shows up as Ted’s lawyer, executing the will of a guy who apparently was head and shoulders above the rest of the characters. Somehow, Frederick the lawyer is almost as much of a weasel as Harry Crane on Mad Men, if closer to the insecure, weak Harry of the first couple of seasons of that show.

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The best thing about “The Beach House” is that it acknowledges the show’s age in all sorts of hilarious ways. The reading of the league’s history is decent, and Kevin’s Seabiscuit ejection into the ocean is pretty well plotted, but what really makes these callbacks is the return of Antonio Gates as Ruxin’s nemesis. For a brief moment, I thought there was a chance Ruxin would actually get the agent job and be written off the show (Nick Kroll has stuff to do!), but of course he gets confronted with a potential client in the form of the first football player to make a serious impression on the show. Even the flashback to Gates’ first appearance is funny, and gives us a chance to see Ruxin really squirm, something Nick Kroll excels at. The presence of overly aggressive agent Tom Condon, one of many football cameos here, certainly doesn’t hurt.

The extra running time is actually helpful, allowing the writers to find in a crazy number of runners, and give them the right level of repetition to actually pay off. I’m thinking of the “don’t scroll through other people’s phones” rule, which is put into a play a surprising number of times, and just keeps getting funnier (it’s a good rule!). And it helps contribute to the funniest moment of the season, when Mike Perrera, head of NFL officiating, reviews several of the league’s activities. Perrera’s deliver is excellent, and his use of his stripes (and the kitchen hood) is a great blurring of the NFL and the mediocrities of the characters. This whole sequence is hilarious, which actually gives me some hope for next year.

Best of all, though, we get ghost Ted. Somehow, Ted is a real ghost—Rafi can see him too—and he changes Taco’s lineup in exchange for Kevin initiating the events that blow up the beach house. Adam Brody is always welcome on this show, even from beyond the grave. I’ll admit, I thought at first that Ted had somehow faked his own death, but it might be even better to have him just pop in as a ghost sometimes. The League’s indulgences in its weirder side have been increasingly important to its freshness at this point (I’m thinking especially of “Rafi And Dirty Randy”), and Brody’s appearance here is no exception, particularly when it provides a solid framework for Rafi to “take care of it.”

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Andre, in the end, is the winner of the Shiva—with the help of the rest of the non-Ruxin members of the league, which actually makes sense given the familiarity with which we should see the ensemble by this point. No one cares who wins the league (as long as it’s not Kevin), which makes it all the more reasonable that, basically, everyone wins. Andre has his brief moments of triumph with his “Shake It Off” reference, the revelation that he’s as into eating booty as Kevin Gates, and a wardrobe that actually works better on the beach than it does anywhere else, before having it all taken away by Rafi’s exploding house prank. Will Teflandre be able to bounce back and emerge victorious next year? Does it matter? As lazy and uninspiring as this season has been, a finale this strong (and the suggestion that Pete will become a ref) have made me accidentally excited for next season all over again. Bring on the year of the Dre.

Stray observations:

  • Rich Sommer’s shorts.
  • Was it obvious to everyone else that Jenny had stolen the Shiva for herself? The montage of her afternoon with the trophy was excellent (though I worry the Shiva may actually have been damaged in the explosion).
  • “It’s just pun stuff, just to keep the mind nimble.” Weirdly, Ruxin has somehow described my sex life.
  • Pilot is, unfortunately, sick and couldn’t take you home on the rest of the season. But it was fun to hang out with you guys for a night! Someone will see you next year, frittatas.

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