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Sunday, October 14, 2012

"Training Camp" for The League

FX's comedy The League is one of the funniest shows around. With an extremely talented cast, who each knows how to deliver humor expertly, it is with great anticipation that I await each fall's new batch of episodes. "Training Camp," which aired this past Thursday, kicks off the latest round.

The plot is basic. It's time for the fantasy league draft. Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi) manages to keep his winning title from last year, despite the cheating that occurred, by letting Ruxin (Nick Kroll) become the commissioner. This is to everyone's extreme displeasure. To cope, they each give themselves new titles and make business cards.

Then Taco (Jonathan Lajoie) gets a call from the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, upset that Taco snagged when the team accidentally let their ownership of the website lapse. In order to convince Taco to give it back, the owner flies the whole gang (minus a very pregnant Jenny, who can't fly so close to her due date) out to the training camp. This works, with Taco earning a sizable payoff.

Then the guys return home to find Jenny (Katie Aselton) masturbating to thoughts of Shiva (Janina Gavankar), the woman and the trophy. She is forced to take matters into her own, um, hand, because, despite how undeniably cute Aselton is, Kevin's character is freaked out by putting his penis anywhere near the fetus, leaving her sexually frustrated. Before the men can give her too much crap for the self pleasure, though, she goes into labor. In the delivery room, the birthing and the draft happens simultaneously, culminating in Taco getting naming rights to the child, and choosing Chulpa Batman.

"Training Camp" is packed with hilarious moments. From Jenny's fantasy sequences, to the delivery room scene, to everything that Taco does, to the whole naming rights switcharoo. So many things work. Dropping punchlines in, and letting gags pay off later in the episode, are things that The League excels at, and all of this is present in the season premiere. Even when it ventures into completely unbelievable territory, like the stuff at the hospital, the energy and enthusiasm from the cast is so infectious that one buys into the whole story.

What doesn't work is the cameos by professional athletes. For a basic cable sitcom like The League, getting the famous sports players that the characters talk about is a serious coup. "Training Camp" has tons of them, in the beginning dream sequence, as well as while the guys are in Dallas. The problem is, most athletes can't act, and if one isn't a football fan, it does nothing for you to see a football player show up in a sitcom. Thus, these moments slow the episode down and hurt it for many, though not all, viewers.

A balance needs to be restored. It's OK to stage an occasional drop-in, as the show has done before, but not to pack an episode with double digit numbers of appearances. Somehow, "Training Camp" still manages to be a very good episode, but it's in spite of the cameos, not because of them. I understand it may be hard for the people who make The League, who seem to be fans, to turn down opportunities, simply for the opportunity to meet these guys alone. But if they could be a little more discerning, it would work better.

That being said, the sex jokes and the ripping on each other is fantastic as always, maybe even more so, and if "Training Camp" is any indication, this is going to be a great year. Assuming there will be less athletes in future episodes, this could very well be the best season yet. They have returned rested, refreshed, and as clever as ever.

Watch The League Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on FX.

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