Game time: ‘The League’ kicks off its final season

The-League-season-7-premiere-castBy JIM SABATASO

[A version of this review appears in the Sept. 17, 2015, edition of the Rutland Reader.]

All good things must come to an end. And as much as we’d all love for our favorite shows to go on forever, it’s better to exit with grace (Seinfeld30 Rock”) than overstay your welcome (The SimpsonsFriends).

Such is the case with The League, which kicked off its seventh and final season on FX last week. About a group of friends in a fantasy football league, the show falls squarely into the Friends Behaving Badly category of sitcom.

At its peak, the series — created, written and directed by husband and wife duo Jeff and Jackie Schaffer — blended coarse humor and deplorable behavior for big laughs. To be sure, The League was never a particularly highbrow show. For every clever riff about the codes sportscasters use when discussing an athlete’s race, there were a dozen dick jokes. But what it lacked in smarts it more than made up for with a stellar cast, including Nick Kroll, Mark Duplass and Paul Scheer, whose easy banter could carry even the weakest of episodes.

After seven seasons, however, the jokes have worn thin and the beats have become predictable. It’s fun to hang out with this crew, but by now the show has taken its characters as far as it can. Ruxin (Kroll) is a paranoid schemer, Taco (Jon Lajoie) is a stoner who fails upward, Jenny (Katie Aselton) might be the worst of the bunch. There’s no new ground to break here.

Perhaps recognizing this staleness, the Schaffers have allowed for some fun single-episode detours in recent seasons, turning the show over to second-tier characters and first-class garbage people Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas) and Dirty Randy (Seth Rogen) with great results. These absurd episodes, which have been some of the series’ best, seemingly exist in an entirely different universe, telling the warped backstories of these two would be porn stars/drug kingpins/mental patients.

Season seven starts off in a familiar place as the gang prepares for another draft after a summer of disappointing fantasy soccer. We’re also treated to the now-obligatory NFL player cameo. This time it’s Marshawn Lynch, who’s gets to join in a bit about whether it’s better to toss or carry a bottle of beer. It’s a reference that even a non-football-watcher like me can get. (To the show’s credit, it’s always succeeded at not alienating non-fans by keeping the football references relatively shallow.)

Elsewhere in the episode, Andre (Scheer) is secretly dating Pete’s (Duplass) ex-wife; Jenny wins a chance to announce a draft pick for the Chicago Bears at the actual NFL draft, proving coaches and owners are just as bad at acting as athletes; and Taco installs a port-o-potty in Kevin and Jenny’s house because poop jokes.

Overall, it’s a solid premier. The jokes are strong, and it’s clear the cast is still having fun. Final seasons have a way of reenergizing shows. Both 30 Rock and Parks and Recreation stand as recent examples of sitcoms that overcame mid-series malaise to finish strong. Despite the lukewarm output of the last couple seasons, it seems like The League has is poised to do the same.

CHECK IT OUT: The League airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on FX. Catch up on previous season on Hulu and Netflix.