‘The League’ Kicks Off Strong With Some Intriguing Changes in Its Final Season

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The League never seemed like a show that was destined to last. It wasn’t ever bad — at least not in the beginning; later seasons have had mediocre episodes — but it didn’t seem like it had the legs to go past a first or second season. Yet in the seventh and final season, beginning tonight on FXX, the series proves it still has some momentum left.

Based on the first two episodes, co-creators Jeff and Jackie Schaffer are sticking to what they know, but with some exciting tweaks to celebrate its last season: a slightly larger cast, more cameos, and higher stakes. Well, the stakes are high by The League‘s standards, at least — there’s never too much riding on the show’s storylines, which is part of its charm, but things certainly get a bit more interesting.

It’s fair to say that The League hasn’t exactly been on a hot streak in recent years. The series started off strong, got stronger, and then tapered off during the last few seasons. There was a general feeling of repetitiveness — I recapped a full season and often felt like I was writing in circles, or repeating what I had said just the week before — and some desperate but unfunny storylines (Jenny pretending to have cancer comes to mind). But the great jokes and solid episodes were still funny and frequent enough to keep the show entertainingly chugging along. The strange Randy/Rafi standalone episodes were a fantastic breath of fresh air, but there was still something comforting about the show’s subsequent return to (relative) normalcy. The League is a crude, absurd, and occasionally offensive sitcom that works, largely due to its writing (and Seinfeld connections) and its wonderful ensemble cast.

This hasn’t changed in Season 7. All the characters that fans love are still around (hopefully Nick Kroll’s scheduled freed him up to be around a little more than last season, when he was pulling double duty with other projects), and even Leslie Bibb is back after five years, reprising her role as Meegan, Pete’s ex-wife and Andre’s current girlfriend. This return threatens to disrupt the status quo of the league and their friendship, but because this is The League, there are no heavy emotions or heart-to-hearts involved in this plot — just Pete’s initial disgust and lots of barbs flying. What hurts more in this world, I suppose, is not that his ex-wife is dating his friend, but that his ex-wife is now super into fantasy football (and quite good at it, it seems!) after abhorring the hobby when she and Pete were together. Bringing back Meegan (and Bibb) is a nice way to bring The League full circle before it ends, and represents a great effort to inject some more feminine energy into the series.

As for the rest, it’s all pretty familiar — but in a good way. Andre is still the butt of everyone’s jokes, random NFL players pop up to show off their lack of acting skills, Taco is being dealt his Sacko punishment (but Pete is finding it harder and harder to inflict punishment on someone who gleefully accepts it), and Rafi is still showing up to deliver perfectly crafted one-liners (and, yes, still occasionally overstaying his welcome). But another intriguing difference is that the season premiere takes place during the actual NFL draft, when Jenny wins the opportunity to announce one of the picks, before the second episode skips ahead to the fantasy football draft: a Gilded Age-themed event thrown by Andre and Meegan (featuring costumes, a long-running slavery gag, and the normal draft mishaps) that finds the team doing an auction instead of a snake draft.

If you haven’t already fallen in love with The League, then this isn’t the season that’s going to do it. But if you’re already a fan — even a casual one, who pops in here and there — then you’ll likely love this final offering, which is setting up the series to go out on a high note.