THE LEAGUE Review Season 5 Premiere

THE LEAGUE The Bachelor Draft FXX

FX’s THE LEAGUE, now on FXX, returns for a fifth season this week with “The Bachelor Draft,” followed by the second part of an hour-long story next week, “The Von Nowzick Wedding.” These two episodes find the gang heading out to California for a destination draft / destination wedding. Which is most important depends on who you talk to, and there is one person who is not at all pleased the two are happening on the same weekend.

I don’t know how THE LEAGUE does it, but it seems to get funnier with each and every season. I think it’s because the chemistry between the ensemble has just gelled so well at this point that it feels like catching up with old friends when you sit down to watch an episode. Old friends who mercilessly pick on one another in the best way possible.

We are introduced to another long-time member of the league in “The Bachelor Draft.” Ted (Adam Brody, The O.C.) used to hang with the others, prior to the show’s beginning, but moved to the West Coast. We know he participates remotely, his name having been mentioned before, but this is the first time viewers see him.. Having won last year’s tournament, Ted bids the others come to him for the new draft.

I like Brody’s character. It’s easy to see how he fits, and the relationship he had with the others when he still lived near them. It’s a natural part of life that some friends may move away, but the manner in which Brody picks up with Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi), Pete (Mark Duplass), Taco (Jonathan Lajoie), and the others feels incredibly natural, as if no time has passed since he’s seen them. I hope he guest stars again soon.

Trixie (Jayma Mays, Glee) doesn’t understand this chemistry. She is marrying Andre (Paul Scheer), the scapegoat of the group, and doesn’t appreciate what fantasy football means to these guys. It’s not hard to imagine how Andre and Trixie might get along away from Andre’s friends; after all, it often seems like Andre doesn’t belong in the gang, having different interests than the others. But Trixie has got to figure out a way to enjoy these people if she wants to stick around, because they are important to Andre.

Will Trixie last as a character? I’m not sure. It’s certain she won’t be another Jenny (Katie Aselton), a valuable main character who appears in each and every episode. But she could be a Sofia (Nadine Velazquerz), one who tolerates her husband’s obsessions and just shows up occasionally. She certainly is given numerous reasons to hate the guys in these installments, including during some very odd wedding toasts, but there’s always the chance she may re-occur. Maybe.

Poor Andre is caught in the middle, between the woman he loves, but who is allergic to his sperm, and the friends he loves, but who seem to be allergic to his presence. The latter is hilarious as Andre tries to pick a best man, and each keep trying to shove off the duty on one another. This doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like Andre, and they would probably be at the ceremony even if the draft wasn’t taking place, but they don’t want to do the things they know Andre will make them do in that role, and it’s not in them to pretend for his sake.

As much as Andre sticks out like a sore thumb among the others, so does Ruxin (Nick Kroll), the heartless, cruel bastard of the group. But through Ruxin in these two new episodes, we see just how important each element is, even if it’s not obvious at first glance.

See, Ruxin is the holder of the Sacko, and being who he is, he does not want to accept the Sacko punishments doled out by his friends. In a pout, he actually quits the league in “The Bachelor Draft,” joining Rafi’s (Jason Mantzoukas) Ultimate League, whose members include some familiar faces I won’t spoil here, instead. But from the moment Ruxin makes this announcement, fans know the situation is temporary.

The other characters will never tell Ruxin that they care about him; it’s just not in their nature. However, we see how they still include him in their gags through the two half-hours. We also see how desperate Ruxin is not to be left out, despite what he says. This illustrates the emotional makeup of the gang far better than words would, anyway.

What this means, though, is that viewers are treated to a number of over-the-top jokes at Ruxin’s expense, eventually leading to, as we know it must, sweet revenge had by Ruxin. That’s just the way THE LEAGUE works, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

One thing both “The Bachelor Draft” and “The Von Nowzick Wedding” do effectively is use their celebrity athlete cameos with wonderful results. Normally, I am not a fan of football players showing up on the series. While I’m sure there are many football fans watching out there, including those that make THE LEAGUE themselves, I hate sports and these bits don’t do anything for me, especially because it usually feels like the appearances are gratuitous and the players can’t act. I have to believe I am not alone in that opinion. However, in this two-part season premiere, THE LEAGUE finally makes the spots work for them in a wonderful way, so this should satisfy both types of fans, those who like football and those who do not.

Basically, what I’m saying is that both of these installments are incredibly amusing, with several laugh-out-loud scenes and some interesting developments. Enjoy them as THE LEAGUE helps launch new network FXX, airing Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET.