Again, a Ruxin-less episode of The League, but unlike many of the other Kroll free weeks we’ve been faced with, his absence didn’t feel quite so glaring. In fact, I would be hard-pressed to find how he would have fit into the mix this time around. Sorry, buddy.
What we did get was an episode that was strong in both concept and execution, with the concentration of the plot resting on Andre’s struggles to stay professional with a patient that he’s been in love with since college. She’s apparently been a consistent presence in his yank bank all these years so to have her pop in his office for a consultation about her breasts damn near pushes him over the edge. True, it was all a nice excuse to find the many ways to replace “bank” with “yank” in a variety of phrases (yankrupt being my personal favorite) but it played out with a truly funny scene at the end when, in a perfectly Andre move, he attempts to woo his longtime love right before he’s also about to knock her out for surgery.
In other relationship news, Pete spends the episode wrestling with whether to make a commitment to his current fling as her 30th birthday is right around the corner. The writing team on this episode (Jeff and Jackie Schaffer and Markham O’Keefe) have a lot of fun using football metaphors to explore whether he should try to “sign a longterm contract” with his lovely lady, right down to going to some video of her in action (aka getting drunk with her lady friends).
It does bring up something that I’ve never been able to sort out for these last few seasons of The League. The logline of the show was that it was about a bunch of frenemies who are in a fantasy football league together. The Schaffers did a fantastic job early on working the sports angle into the series while not losing sight of the show’s sitcom roots. The football elements started growing bigger as the show went on, with NFL stars popping in for cameos or as major plot elements, including a trip to Dallas Cowboys training camp. That has quickly faded away over the last two seasons as the show started homing in on the interrelations of the six main characters. Such is the evolution of any longtime TV show, but it never felt quite so natural with this show. Especially when you consider that the majority of their audience surely came along because they managed to combine comedy and sports into a total package.
At the same time, what The League’s writers and staff have done a great job of is recognizing the best parts of a mostly improvised show and emphasizing them in interesting ways. When they saw what a comedic monster Jason Mantzoukas was, they wisely worked him into the show as much as they could. Same goes for Andre’s general buffoonery and lack of fashion sense. More subtly, they’ve done well recognizing Steve Rannazzisi’s attributes as a physical comic and a fearless performer. That was nicely on display here as his boss’s strange sense of humor results in him making a potentially racist move, laughing when Mr. Lipscombe introduces Kevin to his African-American wife. He spends the next few minutes trying to fumble and laugh his way out of it, and failing miserably. It was great stuff, but tinged with the bittersweetness of knowing that Rannazzisi might have done some long term damage to his career through his 9/11-related chicanery.
All told, another fine episode in the midst of a very strong recent run by the show these past few weeks. I was lamenting my fate at having to slog through this final season a little while back, but things are picking up steam as they head to the series finale. It may not earn them any championship rings or entry into the Hall of Fame, but they should be proud that they’ve stuck it out this long in primetime.
Robert Ham is a Portland-based freelance writer and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow him on Twitter.