A bunch of borderline-nihilist suburban man-children who spend all their time obsessing over their fantasy football teams while they try to win a trophy called “The Shiva.” That’s just about the most accurate summary of The League, which airs its Season 5 premiere tonight on FX. The premise, on paper, doesn’t sound all that great. Yet the show created by Jeff Schaffer and Jackie Marcus Schaffer is not just the funniest thing on television — it’s also the closest thing we have to a new Seinfeld.
It isn’t coincidental that The League sometimes echoes the popular sitcom about nothing: Jeff Schaffer wrote several episodes of Seinfeld, where he served as executive producer with Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, and directed the Seinfeld reunion episode of David’s Curb Your Enthusiasm. That history goes a long way towards explaining why there are subtle parallels between Jerry, Elaine, Kramer, and George hanging out at their coffee shop and Pete, Kevin, Jenny, Ruxin, Taco, and Andre drinking beers at Gibsons. Jobless Taco (played by YouTube superstar Jon Lajoie) is, in a way, a stoned Kramer armed with a guitar. He exhibits flashes of weirdo brilliance, buying Dallascowboys.com for his singing cowboy service and keeping a “guest bong” everywhere he visits. And The League thrives on downright Seinfeldian tropes, from the group’s own weird language (Seinfeld’s friends had “Master of my domain” and “Shiksappeal,” while the members of the fantasy football league talk about “vinegar strokes” and point out their “murder boners” and “fear boners,” and Taco has Eskimo Brothers all over the globe).
Most of all, The League, much like Seinfeld, makes it enjoyable to follow the exploits of bad people. Its characters make a lot of really terrible jokes at each other’s expense; they’re totally oblivious to most normal sensitivities; they devise pointless schemes, like when Ruxin calls in roadside assistance to tow his car to his house because he’s too drunk to drive, but he has 200 miles of free towing; Kevin hates his kid’s dancing Mr. McGibblets doll so much, he gets Taco to dress up like the toy in attempt to scare her out of an utter infatuation.
The characters on The League are bad people who just keep on being terrible without caring about the repercussions, and that’s what makes them the perfect heirs to George and Jerry. Whereas Seinfeld focused on a group of self-absorbed and quirky New Yorkers whose last — not-so-great — episode saw the quartet standing trial for all their past misdeeds, The League’s premise and gross jokes give many of us an opportunity to do something we’ve always wanted to do: laugh at, and in spite of, the kind of people we hate (as well as, somewhat more uncomfortably, recognize shortcomings of our own that we can’t help but recognize in them). The characters on The League are the douchebags you remember from high school and would rather never see again. Watching Ruxin’s psychopath brother-in-law Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas) yell, “I’m gonna put seven dollars worth of Hoobastank in [the jukebox], and I’m coming back to hang with you bros,” in the middle of a crowded bar would make about 98% of earth’s inhabitants dry heave in real life, but it’s undeniably hilarious on the show. The League makes unlikeable people funnier than any other series on post-Seinfeld TV.
The League is the bro-iest show on television that isn’t actually for bros. It focuses on a bunch of jerks who watch football — not because they like a specific team, but because they’re playing along, hoping their players get enough points to help them win the Shiva trophy. They drink too much, they lie, they don’t want an American guy making their sushi (a quirk that’s about as Constanza-like as it gets), they scheme, and they cheat. But like the Seinfeld gang, Larry David, Louis C.K. on Louie, Mindy Lahiri on The Mindy Project, Kenny Powers on Eastbound and Down, and even Hannah Horvath on Girls, we can’t get enough of the characters on The League because — not in spite — of everything that’s awful and selfish about them.