Two years ago, during the last hour of week 16 of the NFL season,Tom Brady inexplicably fell apart against the Dolphins defense, while in Baltimore, Derek Mason caught an 80-yard circus TD pass as time was running down to cap a miraculous 40-point comeback that made The Reavers the unexpected league champion by less than half a point in one of the greatest fantasy football matches in the history of the world. And as the clock hit double zero in the Arizona Cardinals’ game — the last of week 16 — meaning Anquan Boldin wouldn’t have another chance for the Reavers’ opponent to overcome the half-point deficit, I — owner of The Reavers — literally fell to my knees and let out a primal yawlp in the company of no one (a newborn, upstairs, could be heard stirring awake). I stared, transfixed, at my television screen (with the NFL package piped in) as Kurt Warner walked off the field frustrated, while a single tear of unadulterated fucking joy trickled down my cheek.
It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
And yes: I can feel your irritation through my computer monitor.
Only a hard-core fantasy football enthusiast could understand that joy — the kind of fantasy nerd that not only knows who Danny Amendola is, but who may have had him on his team at some point during the 2009 fantasy season (he’s mine now, motherfuckers). I’m not saying I’m particularly proud of being that kind of person, but I was proud of that championship, knowing that my name would forever be etched on the league trophy and that I’d have, at least, a year of bragging rights, something that Seth Freilich— who has been a member of the same league for three more years than I — has never ever felt. Ever. Not even close, really.
If you’re the sort of person that might understand that transcendent emotional exuberance — who would pay an exorbitant amount of money and travel over 3,000 miles at the end of each summer to conduct a day-long fantasy football draft while the beer bitch (the previous year’s Toilet Bowl winner) fetched you domestic alcoholic beverages — then you’d no doubt appreciate and, perhaps, even love F/X’s new comedy, “The League.”
The details aren’t exact, but after two episodes, there’s no doubt that “The League” captures the awesome spirit of a long-standing fantasy football league, whose members — even if they barely know one another in real life — become something approximating close friendships over a 16-week fantasy season. “The League,” however, concerns itself primarily with something that rarely affects my fantasy football league (thank fucking God): How the fantasy league bleeds into real life.
“The League” stars, among others, Stephen Rannazzisi, “Best Week Ever’s” Nick Kroll (redeeming himself after the horrid “Cavemen”) and mumblecore king, Mark Duplass, who finally decided, I suppose, to stop making obscure films and make some goddamn money. The show explores deftly, and hilariously in my mind, the way that the bullshit, macho-bravura that permeates fantasy football is often at odds with real life. Duplass plays Pete, who in the pilot episode is not only emasculated by his wife (Leslie Bibb) when she gives him the shocker, but who ends up leaving her after she tries to prevent him from playing in The League in favor of procreating. Kroll plays Ruxin, a defense attorney whose wife won’t sleep with him, and whose hand is forced by real-life situations to make lopsided fantasy trades. “The Human Giant’s” Paul Scheer plays a doofus plastic surgeon, who is kind of oblivious not only when it comes to fantasy football (“I’ll take Tim Brady”), but social situations, as well (he learns, for instance, that his first experience with marijuana was actually a pubic-hair doobie). And the wives, per typical sitcom rules, are all way hotter than their husbands, which is fortunate for the target audience, since F/X’s sitcom features a decent amount of sex.
But what makes “The League” so good, at least if you’re a fantasy football jackass, is just how big the slice of reality is. Clearly, the writers — Jeff and Jackie Schaffer — know their way around the fantasy football terrain, the sort of inside-joke nature of it. They understand, for instance, that what goes on in a fantasy football message board is not suitable for either the masses or the wives (unless they’re part of the league) — the worlds are meant to be separated. Fantasy football identities are clearly distinct from reality — fantasy football personalities are ugly, troglodytic half-human/half assholes, and you can get away with a lot of I fucked your mother/wife jokes in that world, but if you reveal secret trade negotiations, then you can expect real shame and humiliation. There’s a fantasy football code, damnit. You don’t break the code (that code also includes a stipulation that you never root against your own team in favor of a fantasy matchup, unless you’re in the playoffs, of course.).
But, as this season of “The League” progresses, it seems apparent — by necessity — that the narratives won’t revolve around fantasy football every week; it’s just a means for bringing these characters together. And though it sounds like a dumb idea for a sitcom, fantasy football is a multi-billion dollar industry, which means there are millions of people who play and can probably relate to “The League” on some level. There is a lot of untapped comedic potential here, which is something that can’t be said for 98 percent of new sitcoms, which crowd around the same jokes and conventions and never, ever concern themselves with a subplot about a “pussy with hubris.”
One last stipulation of the code that should go without saying, but that is too often ignored in real life: Don’t talk about fantasy football to people who don’t play fantasy football. They don’t give a shit. Really.