Even the best outfits make the occasional blunder.
Cable's FX, which has reliably churned out good watching for most of this decade, drives off a cliff tonight with an offensive and shockingly unfunny sitcom, The League.
FX knows all about offensive: It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia features a clueless quintet of borderline sociopaths who have committed every imaginable crime against taste, from pretending to be handicapped so they could pick up chicks to posing as Muslim terrorists to scare off a Jewish man. It's funny primarily because the characters are such unmitigated losers, clearly living in the realm of the absurd.
The League, televised at 10:30 p.m. following Sunny, features yuppies - including two lawyers, a plastic surgeon and their wives - who usually know exactly what they are doing, and it's not pretty.
At the center of the relationship of these affluent losers is a fantasy football league, which, as it does with so many men, takes a too-prominent role in the lives of the guys, to the consternation of most of their wives. One wife, who, along with the stoner brother of one of the league lovers, actually generates some likability, is the secret brains behind her man's fantasy success.
Fantasy football leagues are wildly popular, and there has to be a great show about people who play in them. This isn't it.
So much of the supposed humor involves coarse jokes about genitalia and sexuality that can't even be described in a newspaper. Sunny has plenty of that stuff, too, but it's almost always in service of broader, funny situations. The situations in The League, including crude, dragged-out discussions, and sometimes depictions, of the amount and kind of sex the married men are having with their wives are just sad.
One of the main themes of the second episode, for instance, involves a lawyer whose wife has cut him off, for some forgettable reason. He says he feels "like New Orleans, and the levees are about to burst," though he says it in a more offensive way, and then the gang goes off into a discussion of masturbation.
Knowing that the creators are a married couple, Jeff and Jackie Marcus Schaffer, makes the viewing experience even more uneasy. Do they actually experience in their own marriage the sort of toxic sexual politics that permeate The League?
Jeff Schaffer has collaborated with Larry David (the driving force behind Seinfeld) on Curb Your Enthusiasm, another sitcom that relies on the audience's finding enough of a soft spot for unlikable, unbelievable characters to want to see what they'll do next. Apparently, Schaffer did not learn enough from the master.
Like the impoverished misfits in Sunny, the wealthy, spoiled characters in Curb can't help themselves. For the pathetic Lost Boys of The League, there is no excuse.
Same for the show.