When you have been one of television’s raunchiest shows for six seasons and have announced that the seventh will be your last, what can you do to start things off that will be truly shocking? That is the problem facing “The League,” an FXX comedy about six friends in a fantasy football league, which returns on Wednesday night.
This is, after all, a show that began last season by having a character with AIDS, whose disease had already been the subject of numerous jokes, struck and killed by a car while in mid-video conference.
“At least he died doing what he loved,” Ruxin (Nick Kroll) said moments after the fatal impact. “Making fun of you, Kevin.” Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi) had finished last in the fantasy league the year before.
So, yeah, the shock bar is set pretty high, but Season 7 proves up to the task, if subtly. For the new football season, the league switches from a snake draft to an auction draft.
That earthshaking news will mean nothing to viewers who don’t play fantasy sports, though how many of those are left at this point in the life of “The League” is unclear. For those who do, though, it’s startling, especially since determining snake-draft order — that is, who gets to choose a player first — has been a source of much absurdity in previous seasons. (One year, the gang set its draft order based on who could get through airport security screening first.)
Yet the auction draft, in which the fantasy players buy players for their teams through competitive bidding, has its own rewards. Andre (Paul Scheer), exercising his prerogative as reigning champion, decrees that the draft will have a theme, the 1890s, and everyone dresses accordingly. Which leads Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas), a fringe character who is observing the proceedings, to say in mid-draft: “This looks like a bunch of white people bidding on minorities, dressed in old-timey clothes. This is a slave auction.”
But Andre assures him: “Not everyone is going to be black. We’re going to get some kickers in here eventually.”
The show, from the husband-and-wife team of Jeff Schaffer and Jackie Marcus Schaffer, has been that caustic right from the start, and its insider feel has given it cachet in the real-life football world. The list of National Football League players, former players and coaches who have made cameos grows longer with each episode. “The League” is the “Coach” or “Arliss” of this decade.
It also has one of today’s best ensemble casts, every character well defined. That cast, which includes Jonathan Lajoie and husband-and-wife Mark Duplass and Katie Aselton, makes you believe that these characters are lifelong friends but also that they would cut one another’s throats for a chance at the Shiva, the league’s championship trophy.
That this is the show’s final season feels right somehow, in that fantasy sports are being taken over by outfits like DraftKings and FanDuel, 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 — despite all that abrasive humor — as quaint as those 1890 outfits.