The line was already out the door when I arrived at USC 45 minutes early for the screening of the season four premiere of The League (followed by a Q & A with creators Jeff and Jackie Marcus Schaffer). It’s not the first time I had experienced such a crowd for a screening and Q&A, but it was the only time that I did not mind waiting in the congested theater. I spent the time jesting with fellow students about our fantasy teams, the Eagles’ turnover issues, the Bears’ inability/refusal to assemble an adequate offensive line, and a range of other NFL-related subjects. There was no small talk about the show itself that we had all come to see, nothing of a favorite episode or character, our excitement to meet the creators, or our expectations of the new season.
In a theater filled with roughly 300 of the most dedicated fans you will find for any show on television, the subject on everyone’s mind was neither the show they had come to see or television itself: it was football.
Subsequently, I cannot rightfully review the season four premiere of The League as I would that of any other TV show. My fanship for The League notwithstanding, I cannot review the season four premiere of The League as better or worse than what we have come to expect from FX’s fantasy-football driven semi-scripted comedy—for the record, however, the episode was so exceptional that it may in fact have solidified my stance that it is the best comedy on television.
I can do none of these things because the fact is that what rang truer to me than anything else while attending that screening is that The League is not a show at all: it is a show-ciety.
Much like a film franchise like Star Wars, Twilight, or Harry Potter, the serial nature of television intrinsically invites a higher degree of fanhood than would a singularly contained film. Humankind naturally gravitates to the progress of other humans (i.e. characters, in this particular situation)—it’s why we follow the stories of others on Twitter, Facebook, and similar social networks/societies. On a similar note, it is easy for us to invest ourselves in the characters we follow on our favorite TV shows: we’re happy when Ross ends up with Rachel, we want to know who the mother of Ted’s children is, we care about Vinny Chase’s rise and fall through stardom, etc.
The League, however, goes a step beyond this. Yes, we all love the characters and have our favorites (Ruxin, for most); but unlike most shows, there’s nothing vicarious about our investment in these characters. We share their vernacular. We have experienced their hardships. We share their aspirations.
The Show-ciety of The League does not follow these characters for escapism or comedic insight or fantastical drama. We follow these characters because they are ourselves, because we are all following the same things: football and friendship.
“If you do to a stranger on the street what you do your friends,” Jeff Schaffer said during the Q&A, “you’d be in jail.”
From personal experience, I can attest that this statement holds twice as true when involving friends within a fantasy football league. My mother has never been more appalled with my behavior than the day she saw on her iPad the email I sent to a friend/fantasy rival.
The League has truly captured lightning in a bottle in this capacity. Talented as the Schaffers are, the success of their show is largely driven by the shared devotion of their followers to the NFL and fantasy football as a whole. The season four premiere features cameos from more NFL players than I can count because not only are these players fans of The League, but the cast & crew are fans of their league (the National Football League). We all share a common interest beyond the story of the show, thus yielding a show-ciety unlike any you will find on television. It’s why the moderator of the Q&A asked Jeff and Jackie for advice on his fantasy line-up, why a fellow student asked the duo to improvise a variation of the Shiva call for his own fantasy league (the San Pablo), and why we spent half the Q&A joking about the winners and losers the fantasy league of The League (in chronological order since the league was formed: Katie Aselton, Jackie Marcus Schaffer, and Nick Kroll).
Since I presume that many of you reading this are aspiring writers, I can say only this to you: chances are you will not have the fortune of finding a subject matter like fantasy football (which already had a devout following that only augmented upon the creation of The League) about which to write a television show. However, if you are to take anything from The League from a creative standpoint, understand that it takes far more to create a show-ciety than your standard benchmarks of witty writing, sound story, and compelling characters. A show-ciety derives from experiential empathy—it is a show standing for something more than itself, something toward which its followers have similarly gravitated. A show-ciety constructs its own vernacular, assigning new terminology to things with which we were already familiar. A show-ciety does not demand that the audience sympathizes with the wants and needs of its characters: a show-ciety demands that the characters reflect the wants and needs of its audience.
I cannot tell you how to capture lightning in a bottle, or how to create a show-ciety as prolific as The League has proven thus far. I can only tell you that The League is all this and more, and the premiere of season four only further verifies that “they are who we thought they were.” And we are them.