Commentary

Fantasy football players, this is your life

Originally Published: November 18, 2009
By Matthew Iles | Special to Page 2

The FX Network's new show "The League" has been labeled as crass, lewd and shockingly offensive in early reviews.

But its biggest transgression, by far, is false advertising.

[+] EnlargeThe League
FX NetworkThe cast of "The League" -- the new show on FX that involves fantasy football.

Billing itself as a fantasy football sitcom, "The League" (airing Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET) has undoubtedly attracted a large number of viewers expecting just that. But the show is as much about fantasy football as "The Office" is about the common workplace, or its FX counterpart, "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," is about savvy bar ownership.

Instead, "The League" is more like "Friends" -- except with far less censorship and with far more similarities to you and your actual friends.

The show is about five men who do their best to shirk responsibilities. They still speak like they did when they were 16 years old, except now they actually have sex -- albeit not always with the quantity or quality they would prefer. They're all dealing with marriage and children and jobs (except for "Taco" -- more on him later). Fantasy football is merely the glue that holds these thirtysomethings together.

"Life can be [hard], but you can be a god on the virtual gridiron," said Jeff Schaffer, who co-created the show with his wife, Jackie. "It's the great equalizer. Stay in touch with friends, beat your friends, and then tell everyone you just beat them."

Fantasy football isn't so much the subject matter of the show, but the context. Or, as Schaffer put it, "the prism through which we view these friendships."

So if that's the case, what is "The League" really about then?

It's about the Eskimo Brothers, the Bounce Test, and the Oracle. If you don't know what those are, that's exactly the point. It's about inside jokes, pranks pulled years ago that are still funny, and nicknames so old their origins have been forgotten (like Taco -- more on him later).

The show sells authenticity delivered in fantasy-football wrapping paper. This means it gets better with every episode. But it also means there's a barrier to entry. The pilot is tough to swallow on its own because it's (1) alarmingly filthy and (2) deceivingly flat.

About the long leash FX affords, Jackie Schaffer said: "They were really clear with us -- four words we can't use, and no nudity. I think they were surprised we said every other word."

Katie Aselton
FX NetworkKatie Aselton plays Jenny, the sports-savvy female fan.

The characters, who we're supposed to believe are life-long buddies, take no time to explain their past or prove their bonds. Like counting the rings on a tree trunk, we can see there's a history -- but that doesn't mean we really know anything about the tree.

With time, though, we get to know them as well as they know each other.

Ruxin is the whipped husband. Pete's the disillusioned new bachelor. Andre's the punching bag. Kevin's the good-intentions, poor-results father. And Jenny is his wife, the most socially mature and fantasy-football adept one in the bunch.

[Katie Aselton, who plays Jenny, is a former Miss Maine winner who secretly likes Peyton Manning more than Tom Brady, which constitutes blasphemy in the Northeast. Read her Q&A here.]

And then there's Taco. (See?) Played by YouTube sensation Jon Lajoie, Taco's character embodies the wackiness of his name. He comes out of nowhere. He sings wildly inappropriate songs at children's birthday parties. He inexplicably vanishes, only to reappear moments later after somehow engaging in trysts. And he never has any idea about what's going on in the group's fantasy football league. (Or about anything else, for that matter.)

Nevertheless, he somehow wins anyway, despite failing to update his depth chart to account for bye weeks or take his team off auto-draft. Which, of course, irritates his friends to no end. If this sounds familiar, then this show is probably for you.

That is, of course, unless you take your fantasy football with a side of civility and a cup of modesty. Or if you regularly watch television with your grandparents.

At this point, I've written nearly 600 words -- and I could easily write 600 more just on the gratuitous language and no-holds-barred sexual content on the show alone. So "The League" is certainly not for everyone. FX Network president John Landgraf captured this sentiment succinctly by calling the show a "suburban-set 'Sex and the City' for men."

Real men, doing what they really do, talking like they really talk. Except, instead of drinking cosmos, gallivanting around New York City and gossiping about Mr. Big, these men call each other while on the toilet, drink cheap beer in nearly every scene and constantly invent new ways to humiliate each other.

"They're the same as when they first became friends when they were 12 years old," Jackie Schaffer said. "You grow up in a lot of other ways, but you don't necessarily stop thinking that penis humor is funny.

"For some reason, that does not cease to be entertaining."

As long as the characters stay true and the humor stays crude, neither should "The League."

Matthew Iles is an editor for ESPN.com.