Mark Duplass, Stephen Rannazzisi, Jon Lajoie
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It’s always a little sad to watch a television program as it begins to show clear signs of aging, to spin around in circles rather than move forward, to neglect to find interesting or surprising storylines but instead present half-baked ideas with a simple shrug: “Wouldn’t it be kind of funny if this happened?” There are some sitcoms that can get away with this barebones plotting because after, say, six seasons, we know and love the characters so much that it’s enough to just hang out with them for a half-hour a week, even when they’re not involved in the funniest or most intricate plot—It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a show that comes to mind. It helps that Sunny goes over the top more often than it restrains itself (and that Charlie is such a magnificent character) but even when the series started to show signs of wear and tear, and when it started to recycle the same plots, it generally remains entertaining to watch largely because of the core group. There is also skillful writing that keeps Sunny fresh even when all signs say that it should be entering stale and well-worn territory.

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But then there are some shows that still require an “oomph” to its episodes as it enters what it basically the equivalent of the senior citizen years of a sitcom. If you’re working with a thin premise, mostly irredeemable characters, and average, predictable plots then there has to be something extra in place to keep a firm grip on the quality—and on the audience. The League is having a little trouble figuring out what that something extra should be; the bizarre, standalone Dirty Randy and Rafi episodes were certainly a good effort (the first more than the second), as are the attempts to bring in newer members to the fantasy league (like Russell) or killing off former members (you’re forever in my heart, Adam Brody). Yet, The League is still unsure how to exist for so long (I love the show but am always a bit surprised when it gets renewed every year) while maintaining the simplistic, low-stakes that once drove the series.

A lot of The League reminds me of those stoned, late-night college sessions when every idea you throw at the wall is absolutely hilarious but when you repeat them the next morning to someone who wasn’t there, all you get in return is a blank stare. Sometimes these ideas do work—think of “The Hot Tub” and the writers’ basic “Wouldn’t it be funny if these dudes held hands while making an anti-handholding pact?” idea—and sometimes they fall frustratingly flat—last week’s “It’d be hilarious if Jenny fakes cancer!” or this week’s “Let’s have Jenny shit in a bag!”

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The thing is, there is nothing that’s awful about The League, but mostly only things that should work but are just poorly executed. “The Heavenly Fouler” wasn’t a terrible episode but I definitely didn’t enjoy it. There are some good concepts throughout such as Jenny and Kevin putting Ellie in Sunday School because they consider it a form of free day care, and Ellie’s newfound religious obsession that leads her to repeatedly call her parents “fornicators,” and the whole idea of them worshipping a false god—the Shiva—which yeah, they definitely do. There is also the bet everyone makes after Andre buys a cat: No one is allowed to crack a “pussy” joke or else they have to give up a running back on their team. That definitely provides some funnily restrained conversation but it’s not anything that helps to propel the show to any new places.

While The League usually kills it with plot convergence and the third act payoffs, everything in “The Heavenly Fouler” feels at best desperate and at worst boringly predictable. There is no viewer who watched Jenny put her stool sample in the freezer who didn’t know that it would eventually end up on someone (the only mystery was who and why; the answer was a priest using it as an ice pack). The second the priest (Jerry O’Connell) was introduced, it was apparent there would be a decidedly sinful scene in the third act—Taco revealing secrets about Kevin and Jenny, like how Jenny once slept with a woman in college. Pete’s plot this episode was also pretty “eh” though I suppose that’s what I’ve come to expect from anything related to Pete at this point. He has to choose between pranking Andre or helping out his new girlfriend. Naturally, he chooses Andre because, well, this is Pete and Pete is an asshole.

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There are still fans who will love this episode—even I can’t deny the numerous jokes about Andre’s cat or Ellie being referred to as a “tiny televangelist” but for the second week in a row, there was something missing. Maybe it’s because it wasn’t written by the usual duo of Jeff Schaffer and Jackie Marcus Schaffer (there always a few episodes each season that aren’t like, again, last week’s mess) or maybe there just isn’t much to do here anymore. But there are still a few episodes left in the season to turn it around and maybe, as they ramp up to the final weeks of their fantasy league, the show will ramp us as well.

Stray observations:

  • But as always, great line delivery from Jenny as she argues with Ellie: “Enjoy your eternity in hell!” “I’m already there!”
  • If The League were to suddenly switch gears and become solely about Ellie, I would definitely still watch.
  • There are few things that make more sense than Andre being an avid Yelp reviewer.
  • That poor tattooed cat, though!
  • Update on my own fantasy team: I forgot my password and am no longer invested enough to figure it out.

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