Recap: The League, “Sitting Shiva” (6×01)

The King is dead; long live the Queen!

Literally, in the case of The League.

R.I.P. Ted (returning guest star Adam Brody, The O.C.), former league victor, who died not of his AIDS but after being hit by a car in on the way to an AIDS benefit. (This is why we don’t Skype when crossing the street, kids.) Ted’s death derailed new league victor Jenny’s plans for a fancy dinner party draft in favor of one done Weekend at Bernie’s-style besides Ted’s coffin while the gang takes their turn at shemira, the Jewish act of watching over the dead. Because, hey, it’s what Ted would have wanted.

I am a passionate football fan (Patriots and OSU – go ahead, hate me now), a long-time fantasy football player, and have watched The League religiously since its first episode. Still, I thought the past two seasons suffered from a staleness in the premise and widely variable swings in quality. “Sitting Shiva” managed to be a typical season opener, filled with raunch and ridiculousness while wisely shaking up some of the show’s stale status quo without changing the fundamental character. I’m left cautiously optimistic for this season. (More than I am about my own fantasy team, anyway.)

We’re treated to plenty of familiar shenanigans: Taco plays street golf with the entire city of Chicago as his course, and Pete and Ruxin are happy to play along. Jenny humiliates Kevin by constantly reminding him that she’s got the Shiva and he’s got the Sacko, even in bed. Ruxin is a douche who can’t tell pro-bowlers Jordan Cameron (tight end, Cleveland Browns) and Cameron Jordan (defensive end, New Orleans Saints) apart. Nobody’s kids are anywhere to be seen.

The best of these new directions – provided the show commits – is TeflAndre. Somehow, in the past seven months, Andre has become wiser and, dare I say, cooler, brushing off the gang’s barbed mockery with a shrug of his scarf-covered shoulders. He’s now Teflon, and none of the increasingly desperate insults lobbed at him stick. Even after he’s coerced into performing a solo flash mob at Ted’s funeral, which raises the particular ire of Housten Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, TeflAndre quickly slides back into everyone’s good graces by saving the Rabbi’s life after Taco’s errant golf ball knocks the guy unconscious.

Of course, if one must rise, another must fall, and if Andre is no longer the group’s Omega, then that role must fall to Kevin. Poor, emasculated, “seen Rudy one too many times” Kevin. He even embarrasses himself at the NFL combine of his dreams, in a hilarious scene I needed to watch three times to catch all the verbal, physical, and ticker tape gags. (A sample: “Recent interview with an Ellie MacArthur suggests Kevin unlikely to succeed as professional placekicker, general athlete, or father.”) He pees himself to chants of “Sacko! Sacko!” both in the dream and in the bed he shares with Jenny.

Kevin’s lack of football knowledge, fearfulness, and subservience to Jenny have always made him an easy target for mockery. But, the fact that he’s actually a decent lawyer and that he can hold his awesome wife’s affection has kept him clinging a notch above Andre, the reluctant bachelor with no game and absurd fashion sense. But now that TeflAndre is exhibiting signs of confidence, he inches closer to Taco-like quirkiness, leaving Kevin as the sad-Sacko weirdo.

The other promising through-line introduced is the carrot of Ted’s Laguna Beach house, which according to his will goes to this year’s league champion. Upping the stakes beyond the everlasting glory of the Shiva should kick everyone’s competitive sides up a notch – except Taco, who doesn’t need to own the house to use it now that he knows where it is. (Taco, never change.)

The season’s almost derailed before it starts when Taco stashes the draft board in Ted’s coffin, forcing Ruxin, Pete, and Taco to steal it from fellow pallbearers Watt, Cameron, and Jordan. Our group of morons manages to get the board back when Taco takes Ted’s place in the coffin, popping out at the graveside ceremony like a stripper from a cake, and the game is officially on.

Odds & Ends

– Seeing a yarmulke perched atop Cameron Jordan’s hair was one of the episode’s examples of subtle yet effective visual humor.

– I find the gang’s habit of referring to all NFL players awkwardly by both their first and last names all the time to be funnier than it probably is.

– “The League” is made up of eight-players: the departed Ted, Kevin, Pete, Taco, Ruxin, Andre, Jenny, and… Chuck. Do they let you draft from rehab? (Will Forte, please appear again.)

– The inappropriate glee when the group realizes that sitting shiva is spelled the same way as their beloved Shiva tells you basically all you need to know about these knuckleheads. Honestly, I’m surprised it took the joke this long to get made.

– Jenny’s victory calendar – shot by a professional photographer, natch – is still no match for the hilarity of this unfortunate last place finisher’s calendar of shame.

– Not one, but two OSU alums (Atlanta Falcons running back Carlos Hyde and Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier) were at the combine in Kevin’s dreams. Go Buckeyes!