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"The League" The Complete Season One DVD Review

The League: The Complete Season One DVD cover art - click to buy DVD from Amazon.com The League: Season One (2009)
Show & DVD Details

Creators/Executive Producers: Jeff Schaffer, Jackie Marcus Schaffer

Writers: Jeff Schaffer, Jackie Marcus Schaffer, Craig DiGregorio / Director: Jeff Schaffer

Regular Cast: Mark Duplass (Pete Eckhart), Nick Kroll (Rodney Ruxin), Stephen Rannazzisi (Kevin McArthur), Paul Scheer (Andre Nosik), Jon LaJoie (Taco McArthur), Katie Aselton (Jenny McArthur)

Recurring Cast Members: Nadine Velazquez (Sofia Ruxin), Alina Foley (Ellie McArthur), Janina Gavankar (Shivakamini Somakandarkram)

Notable Guest Stars: Leslie Bibb (Meegan Eckhart), Matt Walsh (Mr. Friedman), Rob Huebel (Dr. Deramo), Paulie Litt (Matt "The Oracle" Friedman), Meghan Markle (Meghan), Terry Bradshaw (Himself), Claire Coffee (Claire), Antonio Gates (Himself), Bobby Lee (Chu), Thomas Lennon (Bryce), Steve Zissis (Craig), Larry Chang (Waiter)

Running Time: 136 Minutes (Broadcast Versions), 147 Minutes (Extended Cuts) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-MA on air)

1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen / Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
Closed Captioned; Extras Not Captioned or Subtitled
Season 1 Airdates: October 29, 2009 - December 10, 2009
DVD Release Date: September 14, 2010 / Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Two single-sided, dual-layered discs (DVD-9s) / Clear Keepcase
Also available on Blu-ray Disc ($34.98 SRP)

Buy DVD from Amazon.com • Buy Blu-ray from Amazon.com

I decided years ago that while they can definitely be diverting to watch, sports aren't something I need to invest in. That decision has freed up plenty of time for me,
but I get the feeling that the characters of "The League" wouldn't like me. That's okay, though, because I wasn't too crazy about them, even if I understand and appreciate their passion. It is fantasy football, an activity I'm sure you know of. A group of friends (or online acquaintances) populate their virtual teams with real NFL players and their success is determined by how well the chosen individuals play each week.

These guys are old pros. This FX comedy series focuses on five Chicago men in their thirties, longtime friends who are running a fantasy football league for a fifth consecutive season. They're super competitive and take extreme measures to better their chances at earning the Shiva, the trophy that is passed from winner to winner each year. Wives, work, kids... nothing is above being affected by the league and all the trash talking that goes with it.

The title logo for "The League" appears against wood paneling, for its rec room implications, although neither really features on the show. Defending league champion Pete Eckhart (Mark Duplass) proudly cuddles up with The Shiva, the winner's trophy bearing a photo of the gang's high school valedictorian.

"The League" is the creation of Jeff Schaffer and his wife Jackie Marcus Schaffer. He is a 16-year industry veteran, who has had much more success in television (writing and producing "Seinfeld", producing and directing "Curb Your Enthusiasm") than in feature films (his three screenplay credits are Brüno, The Cat in the Hat, and Euro Trip, which he also directed). There is zero doubt that the Schaffers have fantasy football experience; though fleshed out with liberal and noticeable improvisation, the scripts attributed almost exclusively to them are too full of believable details not to have been shaped by real life.

At the same time, you might suspect the show was created by novice TV writers, because it has a rough, edgy feel often associated with those too young to have been working in television when multi-camera sitcoms were king. "The League" seems to aspire to the stylings of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia", its FX lead-in, with handheld digital video, macho wackiness, and episode structures that take form in the fluid shooting process. "The League" also kind of plays more like a racier "My Boys", another product of a creative rookie.

The core cast of "The League" is populated by an accessible group of men's men. Defending champ Pete Eckhart (mumblecore filmmaking founder Mark Duplass) splits up with his wife in the first episode. District attorney and league organizer Kevin McArthur (Stephen Rannazzisi) is the Jon Favreau type, desperately craving victory with copious input from his wife Jenny (Katie Aselton, Duplass' wife in reality), who's one of the guys. Also in the mix is defense attorney Rodney Ruxin (Nick Kroll, "Cavemen"), a new father who is quite henpecked by his spicy wife Sofia (Nadine Velazquez). The rich guy of the group, plastic surgeon Andre "Dr. Dre" Nosik (Paul Scheer, "Human Giant"), is also the laughingstock, a position secured by his history of unknowledgeable fantasy football play. Rounding out the regulars is Kevin's younger brother Taco (YouTube sensation Jon LaJoie), an aloof, promiscuous songwriting stoner.

Jenny (Katie Aselton) takes an active interest in the management of her husband Kevin's (Stephen Rannazzisi) fantasy football team. Even with all the money his work brings him, plastic surgeon Andre (Paul Scheer) has trouble earning respect from his friends, who here sip their drinks instead of letting him make a toast.

As with all television series context, you don't need to be a sports fan to enjoy this show, but it helps. These men spit out player names all the time, cursing those who bring down their team and celebrating those who might earn them some extra points.
It doesn't take much to get most of the references and it never matters anyway, because not a second of real game footage is licensed. Were the statistics and discussions determined by real play and not invention, you'd have either a much sloppier or quickly dated show. As is, the series underscores the passive nature of fantasy sports and sports fandom in general; it's all talk and no action (as opposed to professional athletes, whose action, not talk, is of interest, ESPN ratings be darned).

The first few episodes of "The League" are kind of weak. There is a lot of predictable anatomical and scatological humor. It's like the creators went over with FX what they could get away with and tried to write jokes accordingly: genitalia descriptions here, anal stimulation gag there. I'm not outright dismissing sex, poop, and private part humor, but it's got to be funny and the early stuff doesn't really deliver anything but uninspired envelope-pushing.

The show improves and reaches its high point in "Mr. McGibblets." This fourth episode mostly lays aside the verbal sparring and specific sports talk for a guys' spa getaway adventure that provides some needed definition to the characters and their dynamic. The show doesn't top that outing, but that's no major defeat; the first season ended after just six episodes. A show like this needs time to grow and to warm to. Slower-acting and less ratings-driven than broadcast networks, FX fortunately sees the potential in the show and is currently airing a 13-episode second season, which should clarify if it has what it takes for an enduring run like 6-year veteran "It's Always Sunny."

The Complete Season One, now available on DVD and Blu-ray, offers each of the first six episodes of "The League" in extended cuts as well as their original broadcast versions. It's nice that both are presented, giving viewers the choice, but the differences are not major. Most extended versions run just a minute longer than their broadcast equivalents; the longest ones add three minutes. The extended cuts don't simply drop in deleted scenes, instead making subtler edits, an extra line here and there. Nothing stands out as ill-fitting and even watching back-to-back, it's sometimes tough to spot exactly what's different (not exactly a ringing endorsement for their value). One thing you'll notice is that the F-word, bleeped in its rare broadcast version usage, goes uncensored in the extended cuts, where it's still rarely used. Some other tamer profanity and an instance of male rear nudity are a part of even the broadcast versions, which run by default with a "Play All" selection.

Ruxin (Nick Kroll) consults with legendary young "oracle" Matt Friedman (Paulie Litt) on Draft Night. Sofia (Nadine Velazquez) brings out the paella, one of several courses in the Ruxin-hosted lunch tearing the group from their ritual Sunday afternoon television.

Disc 1

1. The Draft (Broadcast: 26:55; Extended: 27:54) (Originally aired October 29, 2009)
Competitive spirits run high at Kevin and Jenny's daughter Ellie's fifth birthday party, in anticipation of the imminent season's draft.

2. The Bounce Test (Broadcast: 21:24; Extended: 22:52) (Originally aired November 5, 2009)
A sexually deprived Ruxin resorts to a bra site's support video demonstrations as an outlet. Taco teaches the guys about Eskimo brothers.

3. Sunday at Ruxin's (Broadcast: 21:26; Extended: 24:21) (Originally aired November 12, 2009)
The gang gathers at Ruxin's house to watch Week 3 coverage. There, it's discovered that Andre is playing in a second league.

Pete (Mark Duplass) and Andre (Paul Scheer) hear about the activities planned for their anniversary spa getaway weekend ordered pre-separation. In Chinatown, Ruxin (Nick Kroll) and Taco (Jon LaJoie) experience a language barrier.

Disc 2

4. Mr. McGibblets (Broadcast: 22:55; Extended: 23:25) (Originally aired November 19, 2009)
Pete lets Andre join him on the spa weekend getaway he and his wife scheduled for their anniversary. Kevin has Taco dress up like his daughter's favorite toy character to scare away her appreciation for it.

5. The Usual Bet (Broadcast: 21:24; Extended: 24:02) (Originally aired December 3, 2009)
While Ruxin and Taco fight communication troubles in Chinatown, Pete, Kevin and Jenny are stuck playing charades at a Christmas party.

6. The Shiva Bowl (Broadcast: 21:37; Extended: 24:35) (Originally aired December 10, 2009)
The namesake of the guys' trophy, the high school valedictorian Andre is now dating, re-enters the gang's life while Ruxin helps Andre compete with Pete in the league championship, a.k.a. the Shiva Bowl.

Kevin, Taco, and Pete react to an intrusion of their much-anticipated season draft. Webcam chats are all the rage among these guys, allowing Ruxin (Nick Kroll) to talk smack kind of face-to-face.

VIDEO and AUDIO

"The League" looks good the DVD's 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. It's not shot with top-of-the-line cameras, but the medium suits the material just fine and the video holds up well without any noticeable shortcomings. The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack doesn't provide much more than basic stereo would, since the series is largely unscored aside from the opening/closing theme music. Dialogue is just about always intelligible and English, French, and Spanish subtitles are there for the rare times it's not.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

"The League" seems like the kind of show where the cast would be all too happy to gather round for some audio commentaries. Surprisingly, none are found here, but there are a number of video extras.

Guest-starring as The Oracle's dad, Matt Walsh takes a break from being irate to insult a draft pick in this Disc 1 deleted scene. Andre (Paul Scheer) explains his fashion passion in "Dress with Style, Win with Style." Sterling Archer tries to entice a fat co-worker with donuts in the included pilot episode of FX's animated comedy "Archer."

Deleted Scenes are offered on five of the six episodes, running 9 minutes and 46 seconds across the two discs. Not simply the material reinserted to the extended episodes, these are worth seeing and include more fully-cut bits than variations or extensions. NFL player Tony Gonzalez makes an appearance.

"Andre: Dress with Style, Win with Style" (5:45) has Paul Scheer's character telling us
about his passion for clothing in between plentiful clips (some aired, some deleted) of his friends insulting his tastes.

"Legalize Kevin's Pubic Smoke" (1:30) is a short music video of Taco and the gang advocating the smoking of joints made from Kevin's pubic hair, recalling a joke from the premiere episode.

Due to its listing on a Post-It note, you might miss Disc 1's least pertinent bonus feature: the full pilot episode of fellow FX comedy "Archer." Also included on the concurrent latest release of "It's Always Sunny", this installment -- elsewhere titled "Mole Hunt" (21:32; originally aired September 17, 2009) -- introduces us to smartass spy Sterling Archer and his workplace colleagues including his mother and ex-girlfriend. Archer breaks into his agency to clear his wayward operations account. Including this creates a nice and easy way to discover this racy show that'd be more at home on Adult Swim.

Playing Pete and Meegan's mediator Bryce, guest star Thomas Lennon ("Reno 911!") questions other objects -- like these spools of thread -- in the alternate line reel "Alt Nation." Again donning this costume for "Mr. McGibblets' Fun House & Dojo", Taco teaches kids inappropriate lessons in this Disc 2 bonus feature.

You can probably guess that the Blooper Reel (8:45) contains fumbled lines, ad-libbed goofs, and contagious, uncontrollable cast laughter.

"Alt Nation" (6:35), you might also guess, is a reel of alternate lines played in swift succession after the ones used.

The character of Taco gets more than his fair share of love in the remaining Disc 2 extras. "Mr. McGibblet's Fun House & Dojo" (7:36) is a children's show featuring Taco back in the furry lavender costume. Like most of Taco's other gags on the show, it's predictably inappropriate, covering the topics of sex ed, math, and self defense without generating much amusement. Kevin and Ruxin join him near the end.

Recalling Jon LaJoie's viral YouTube origins, Taco addresses the camera directly to endorse Three Penis Wine. Ruxin celebrates with Kevin while Andre and Taco make still photo appearances on the DVD's main menu.

"Birthday Song" supplies an extended, uninterrupted, 2-minute edit of Taco's first episode ditty to Ellie. "Three Penis Wine" (3:00) is an amateur commercial by Taco for his favorite virility-boosting Chinese drink. It runs too long for how unfunny it is. Finally, "Vaginal Hubris Extended" (1:45) offers an alternate, full-sized version of Taco's rap music video inspired by Jenny's couples dinner comment in "The Bounce Test."

Shop for
Disc 1 opens with promos for FX programming, Fox dramas on DVD, and "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia": The Complete Season 5. Previews that launch Disc 2 advertise "Archer": Season 1 and A Very Sunny Christmas.

The DVD's main menus run montages among character stills and show imagery.

Season One is packaged in a clear keepcase whose interior lists episodes and extras for each disc. An insert promotes the new seasons of "The League" and "It's Always Sunny."

At their favorite bar, the guys of "The League" (left to right: Stephen Rannazzisi, Mark Duplass, Nick Kroll, Jon LaJoie, and Paul Scheer) discuss the distinctions of their friendship.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

After a somewhat shaky start, "The League" ends its short first season as a decent effort showing promise. It's not uproarious but it is adequately entertaining and could definitely get better as we come to spend more time with these characters and appreciate their relationships. Fox's Season One DVD is inevitably a light set, but with a fine presentation and an hour of bonus features in addition to the mildly extended episodes, it won't likely disappoint fans of the show.

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Written and Produced by Creator/Executive Producer Jeff Schaffer: Brüno

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Reviewed September 25, 2010.



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