Let me preface this by saying that I don’t believe this is necessarily an “F”-worthy episode of some other, completely different, television show, starring one or two of the same characters from The League in a completely different framework and world. It’s probably a C+ or B-. But as an episode of The League—a sitcom about six friends/relateably awful people, and the fantasy football league that tethers them together—this episode failed.
Let’s take this in parts:
Part I: “The Cold Open”
Woah! Leading off hot with some good ol’ footballing and fantasy trading. It doesn’t say overwhelmingly positive things about a show when a return to status quo is downright tittilating, but it’s exciting enough to put that negative thought away. As Ruxin is labeled a “welcher” by Pete and Kevin, it seems this episode may be on the precipice of some well-calculated, goofy comedy. This is great.
Everyone’s talking about Sophia’s new veej, and it’s fun to wonder where that will go… maybe it’ll be too small and hurt Little Rodney, as an homage to Pete’s run-in with some over-zealous kegels? Or, mayhaps, Ruxin will be weirded out by seeing a nubile set of genitalia on his wi— no, never mind, Sofia’s dead.
Part II: “Or… Is She?”
Or… is she? As perfectly timed as the announcement is with the completion of a trade, it seems suspiciously like a scheme from Ruxin. Especially when he bereavement-mails his friends into giving him a win in fantasy that week, then later announces there’s no body to bury.
Someone once said to me that they didn’t like Dark Knight Rises because Batman, as a narrative whole, rarely has bait and switch enemies: The villains are always clear-cut; never cloaked. Now, I’ll be honest and say I don’t know if that’s exactly right in regards to the all-of-Batman, specifically, but it’s a good (albeit, again, perhaps incorrect re: The Batman) example of a certain annoying plot device: The dreaded twist. Call me Shyama-lame if you must, but I don’t always need my media to lie to me for 45 minutes then say “gotcha!” I’m worried this will hinder my enjoyment of tonight’s The League. “Oh no,” I groan, “I’m going to be wondering if Sofia really is dead the whole time, and then if she’s not—while, frankly, it doesn’t really matter to me emotionally—I’ll have to admit The League tricked me. And then I’ll have to go back and reassess every single joke or comment in this new light. That’s not a ‘twist.’ That is a chore.”
Luckily, once we get to a funeral, I feel comfortable assuming she is, in fact, dead. Phew. Now, when Ruxin yells in true despair during the eulogy because Kevin reneged on a trade, I give a gentle tip of acknowledgement towards my screen. A slight nod of my head in thanks, that the show has indeed gotten back on track.
Part III: “The Rest Of The Episode”
Okay. This is where The League takes a turn for the mind-boggling. There’s a lot to unpack here. First, the jarring and rapid switch to not only animation, but a completely different storyline and focus shift from our normal league to Rafi and Dirty Randy, as Rafi recounts the tale of how they rescued Sofia’s body.
Second, a few troubling discoveries are made throughout their story, including:
- Rafi’s committal of outright sexual harassment against his sister as a child.
- The doctor who operated on Sofia’s metal hand.
- Dirty Randy’s open chest cavity, thanks to an over eager mortician.
- Chupacabras are real (?)
- Puerto Rico is part of the United States—hahahahaha, but no, seriously, Rafi is like not a good person.
In theory, there’s nothing wrong with this Rafi/Dirty Randy story (besides, you know, the whole Rafi straight up repeatedly trying to molest his sister part, but that’s somehow not even the most offensive thing about this episode). There may not be anything wrong with mixing animation and The League, either. But the combination of Rafi&Co. with cartoons makes no sense. Rafi and Dirty Randy are already cartoonish figures; the laughs come from these very real men in a very real world, still managing to cram an entire porn set into Andre’s bedroom, or cooking pancakes in a port-a-potty. It’s real Rafi saying he has a “pube beard of bees,” because we picture what it would entail for a real human to accomplish that… and it’s astounding. If you show us the literal, drawn picture of Rafi with a hive of buzzing bees coddling his junk—with no repercussions in the 2D world—it’s hard to muster more than a shrug, or a half-hearted “Yep. Guess that’s it.” And this is the problem with this episode of The League: It’s just not an episode of The League.
It’s not that shows can’t try something new; surrealism can be a powerful tool in humor. Switching up the fundamental format of a show doesn’t have to be a disaster. It can be exciting, adding a breath of fresh air to an otherwise stalling show. Community, for example. And comedy that may seem “weird” on its surface tends to just use an absurdist style to prove or make extremely relatable points and jokes, e.g. The Mighty Boosh. But this episode of The League is weird and it is different. Period. It’s impossible to warm up to, and never even tries to utilize its own pushed boundaries.
There’s about one good shadow of an episode contained in the conversation between friends deciding how much leeway to give Ruxin’s fantasy team in his time of mourning. A little ambitious, yes, but reminiscent of the old League we knew, and—at one point—truly did love.
It’s also a League that this episode seems desperate to distance itself from. If this was a late, ninth inning swing by writers trying to re-invigorate a show for the viewers, then it’s just a simple, no-harm-no-foul miss. But when a show is blown out this hard, it feels insulting to the audience and our intelligence. There’s an implied disdain for the conventional League setup that is so easily thrown aside: Like they’re not even bothering to throw us under the bus, but limply holding out a foot for us to trip over ourselves.
And hey, okay, look: I make a lot of jokes about my love for television that border the line of intellectual property theft from a Cathy comic strip. But it’s because I really love TV. (It feels like most of you do, too.) So when an episode hits so thoroughly far off the mark, it gets borderline upsetting. To feel as though the time and the energy and the feelings required to really watch, and follow, a show aren’t being reciprocated… is to feel disrespected. Or confused. Or angry. Or sad. Most of the stages of grief, actually, now that I think about it.
Part IV: “Back To Reality”
Huh. Guess Chupacabras are real now.
- Really, deeply curious to know how other people felt about the episode. Did anyone have a deeply joyful time watching it, forcing me to re-evaluate the size and temperature of my heart?
- A minor point, but I’m weirdly ok with the way Sofia is killed off. Maybe my brain is rationalizing because she was so frustrating as a person — and I so desperately want to like this episode that felt so promising at the start — but I think it may be surprisingly feminist to have a woman die during vaginal reconstruction? Like, we shouldn’t have to do that stuff! It’s needlessly dangerous when unnecessary. Good for The League.
- I’m not mad at this episode…more frustrated and confused. Would love to know if circumstances conspired to make this season horrifically difficult to produce or if no one cares anymore.
- I agree, why didn’t she go to Andre? He’s the #1 plastic surgeon in Chicago, “and that means something.”
- Pete puts Sofia’s death into a harsh and twisted light: What if Ruxin is pulling the ultimate Welch. It might be dismissed pretty quickly however, when Rafi comes in, aggrieved. But then they’re at a funeral parlor and Ruxin says they’re having an empty casket funeral. But then Rafi corroborated, so it seems like she might really be dead. What I wouldn’t give for a solid, League “B+” plot such as this.
- Wisest/most realistic take on funerals I’ve heard: “We loved her. We want to put her in the ground for all of time.”
- “The old lady sitting next to it at the bus stop is for scale.”
- “Randy, we need to find out what a morgue is!” These tears of laughter are bittersweet tonight, Rafi.
- Me, trying to process through this episode with a friend: