#102) Eu-“league”-ogy

I find myself in an unfamiliar position: mourning, or at least contemplating, the end of a favorite TV show. Most programs I’ve enjoyed over the years are either classics that were already in reruns by the time I started watching (“Honeymooners”), too short-lived for me to have developed much of a relationship with them (“Sarah Silverman Show”, “Drawn Together”) or are still on the air but past their prime (“Family Guy”, “South Park” and…sorry, but we all know it…”The Simpsons.”) I know many people who felt a sense of loss when “Mad Men”, “The Sopranos”, “Breaking Bad” and “How I Met Your Mother” ended or when Stewart left “The Daily Show” and I’m not saying their feelings weren’t legitimate; I just didn’t share them.

Now, after the series finale of “The League” I can better empathize.

“The League” didn’t change the world; it didn’t bring us noble or tragic characters; it didn’t employ visionary costume or set design, being nominally set in Chicago but clearly substantially filmed in Los Angeles. Many people believe it declined after the first few seasons and those opinions aren’t without reason. Sad as I am to see it go, it feels more like an inevitable goodbye to an over-the-hill superstar than the loss of one just beginning to achieve their potential. Still, you never want to see it end.

“The League” was a semi-scripted comedy about a group of friends and their addiction to fantasy football. They lied, cheated and colluded to win. Things would go wrong in every possible way for every character, not just for one evildoer whose dastardly deeds backfire. To be sure some of the plot twists required massive suspension of disbelief, but the laughs were pretty consistent.

It’s been said that “The Far Side” was successful because everyone felt as if cartoonist Gary Larson had made one just for them. I discovered “The League” in its second season (2010), around the same time I started my hiking website and submitting photos I’d taken on the hikes to various stock photography websites. I quickly learned that easily accessible stats about post views, affiliate sales and photo downloads were addictive and my cell phone etiquette would have made teenage girls blush. Similarly, the characters of “The League” are constantly looking at their phones for the latest updates on their players. The beautifully inappropriate scene that clinched “The League” for me shows a character pleasuring himself not to Playboy or a porno but to his own fantasy lineup. Don’t believe me? Check it out here. For the next five years, I eagerly awaited the start of each season, watching reruns whenever I could during the off season (thanks to the improvisational chemistry of the cast, the reruns hold up surprisingly well) and even going so far as to create Mii characters on my Wii based on the show.

Behind all of the locker room and bro humor, “The League” actually provided some interesting commentary about friendships in modern times. No, not everyone bonds/clashes over fantasy football–but many social groups have subtle and not so subtle undercurrents of competition. Not everyone impulsively checks their fantasy stats on their phones, but let’s face it – the Phone Stack exists for a reason.

The plight of the series itself also might be seen, at least among folks like me who like to overthink such things, as commentary on our evolving relationship with technology. As New York Times critic Neil Genzlinger notes in this article, “That this is the show’s final season feels right somehow, in that fantasy sports are being taken over by…Internet sites that cater to a more intense, daily type of game played for serious money, often by strangers. The notion of a group of friends getting together with a poster board and player names handwritten on Post-it Notes seems…quaint…” Cynically, one could interpret the decline of group-oriented, season-long fantasy football leagues and the rise of day leagues as egotism and instant gratification giving way to bigger egotism and instant-er gratification. A more melancholy view might say that as we get older, the dynamics of many friendships and rat packs become more muted. The backstabbing and trash talking may fade, but so can the camaraderie.

Thus I bid a bittersweet farewell to Kevin, Jenny, Taco, Ruxin, Pete, Andre, Shiva, Rafi, Dirty Randy, Russell the Sex Addict and all the rest. Thanks for the laughs, thanks for making me feel like I was right there with you throwing back rounds at Gibson’s. Best of luck to all of you in your future endeavors. Now SUCK IT!

 

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