Jason Mantzoukas and Seth Rogen

Last season’s “Rafi and Dirty Randy” was easily the most divisive episode of the season and maybe even of the entire series thus far. It wasn’t so much an episode of The League as it was a crazy detour taken in the middle of what can be an occasionally redundant sitcom. It was a twisted road trip into the hilariously bizarre minds of The League’s grossest characters. I really liked “Rafi and Dirty Randy” but understood why some people didn’t—more people than I originally thought, as I’ve been learning from the comment section this season. Still, it’s not something that can be easily duplicated but The League has decided to try again with tonight’s “When Rafi Met Randy.”

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“When Rafi Met Randy” is, once again, written by the duo of Jason Mantzoukas and Seth Rogen. It’s the origin story of the best friends and takes place 11 years before the last time we saw them. We previously learned that the two met in a mental hospital and now we get the more detailed version. The absurdity of the cold open sets up the absurdity of the episode. Rafi and Randy are both clean-cut, normal members of society but a freak accident—Randy accidentally killing a coworker (hey, Nathan Fielder!) who falls off a construction site and lands on Rafi’s wife and kids, disgustingly splattering him with blood while he’s just trying to buy ice cream—causes the two to go into a downward suicidal spiral that lands them in the same mental hospital where they bond over their desire to die and their affinity for shock therapy.

Much of the mental hospital is a weak One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest reference with their version of Nurse Ratched being Nurse Pam (June Diane Raphael) who has a trigger-happy finger for giving patients shock therapy. Also around are Spazz (as an employee) and Joel (as a fellow patient)—it’s very much an origin story for this entire fucked up group and definitely sheds some light on their current interactions. There are some great laughs around (the two guys trying to hang themselves with cords at the front desk) but it often feels as if the episode is trying too hard to create a huge disparity between origin Rafael and Randall vs. present Rafi and Randy. Sure, it’s a bit funny that Dirty Randy was once Clean Randall, a germaphobe who couldn’t even high-five his friend but it repeatedly hammers this transformation home with Randy explicitly declaring he used to be clean but now he’s a big ol’ filth monster. However, Randy suddenly no longer needing glasses and the attic scene when Rafi finds that jacket were both pretty great, as well as getting to see Randy’s first introduction into the world of directing porn.

Once the guys are back to the gross, pervy personas that we know (and usually love!) and are in the middle of their full-fledged shock therapy addiction, the episode picks up a little when they decide that it’s time to break out of the hospital. The addition of Greg (Jerry Minor), a hilarious figment of Rafi’s imagination (that makes him think it’s OK to say the N-word) is a nice touch. The nonexistence of Greg is also what thwarts their escape plans and makes for a great reveal when, after learning they’re getting lobotomies, Randy admits that he’s only in there voluntarily and basically shrugs his way out of the hospital.

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Shortly after that, however, the episode loses me again as it jumps back to the current time, picking up immediately after the events of “Rafi and Dirty Randy” when Randy shoots and murders his best friend. Suddenly, Rebecca (Lizzy Caplan!!) returns and forces his dead body to grope her, effectively bringing Rafi back to life (there’s something they haven’t covered in Masters of Sex). It’s all very weird which I know is an odd complaint to have in a episode/show like this but it sort of deflates the first two acts, especially when it pulls the whole “dream sequence” cop-out. In “actual present day” Rafi is, once again, brought back to life—this time by a true love’s kiss from Randy (oh cool, another show that uses men kissing as a punchline).

Yeah, it’s great that Rafi is alive because Jason Mantzoukas is always good when used properly (and sparingly). It also means Rafi can continue to infiltrate the league and disrupt their lives again—and if we’re going to be devoid of Ruxin because of Nick Kroll’s schedule, as I suspect we are, then we’ll need Rafi to reappear and shake things up a little—but it was such a lackluster non-ending and reinforces the occasionally frustrating notion that The League can never commit to any real changes.

There were plenty of good moments in this episode and I can definitely appreciate a drastic distraction from the general narrative but not everything clicked. For most of the half-hour, it was clear “When Rafi Met Randy” was clumsily struggling to meet the out-of-control highs of “Rafi and Dirty Randy.” It was a solid effort, I suppose, but it lacked the manic energy, the breakneck pacing, and the surprising ridiculousness. Maybe that’s why I liked “Rafi and Dirty Randy” so much: it was magically different. Unfortunately, thisrepeat performance dulls that magic.

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Stray observations:

  • I had totally forgotten that Lizzy Caplan appeared last season and was excited to see her again but wish the episode used her better.
  • At least they didn’t go full Cuckoo’s Nest by parodying that much-parodied ending.
  • I kind of want to start introducing myself to new people with the line “I’m a black [girl] who has great ideas and I want to be part of a gang.”
  • In keeping with the spirit of this episode’s totally strange and baffling existence: not only did I somehow win (again!) last week in my league but I totally killed it with 210 to 98, breaking the record for top score. It’s only a matter of time before someone claims collusion.

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