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Television Review

Having a field day with guy humor

Clockwise from left: Nick Kroll, Mark Duplass, Stephen Rannazzisi, Katie Aselton, Jon Lajoie, and Paul Scheer in FX’s “The League.’’ Clockwise from left: Nick Kroll, Mark Duplass, Stephen Rannazzisi, Katie Aselton, Jon Lajoie, and Paul Scheer in FX’s “The League.’’ (F. Scott Schafer/Fx
)
By Matthew Gilbert
Globe Staff / October 29, 2009

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With the popularity of Judd Apatow movies, men have been given permission to act like 15-year-old boys - and still be lovable. Apatow heroes can’t be dismissed as terminal stoners, sexists, or slobs; they ultimately have some redeeming sensitivity. What was once considered definitively caveman behavior, from the explicit sex talk to the relentless you’re-so-gay teasing, can now be understood as dear, especially since Apatow often pairs his heroes with strong women. These women give as good as they get, and they can talk football, too.

You can’t watch FX’s new sitcom “The League,’’ which premieres at 10:30 p.m., without thinking of Apatow’s movies. All the elements are in place - the guys talking smack, the loose banter that inevitably revolves around penises, the hidden insecurities, the good taste in women. But because “The League’’ is a weekly TV sitcom, the guys don’t head into revelation and growth so much as a repetitive cycle of bromantic immaturity. They just keep going nowhere on a treadmill of masturbation jokes.

“The League’’ is a more conventional cousin to “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,’’ the FX comedy that precedes it and similarly targets a young male audience. While “Philadelphia’’ has gonzo energy, diving headlong into politically incorrect farce, “The League’’ is a more predictable half-hour that also resembles CBS’s witless “Rules of Engagement’’ with David Spade. The raunchy comedy on “The League’’ had me laughing out loud a few times, but mostly I felt as though I’d seen it all done better before.

The five guys are linked by their participation in a fantasy football league, which they take more seriously than their day jobs and, possibly, their relationships. A lot of the comedy comes from their obsessiveness about the game, notably when two of the guys who are lawyers conduct a fantasy-football player trade while negotiating a criminal’s plea bargain. In another bit, a preteen boy in the neighborhood has mysteriously been deemed a fantasy-football “oracle,’’ which leads one of the guys to essentially kidnap the kid from his home. Much pedophile humor ensues.

The ensemble is strong, despite the hit-or-miss material. They keep the dialogue genuinely naturalistic. Pete (Mark Duplass), who has won the league competition a few times, is on the verge of leaving his marriage. Ruxin (Nick Kroll) is waiting for his wife, Sofia (Nadine Velazquez), to start having sex again after having a baby. Kevin (Stephen Rannazzisi) is getting secret game advice from his football-savvy wife, Jenny (Katie Aselton). Andre (Paul Scheer) is the nerdy single guy. And Taco (Jon Lajoie) is the pothead womanizer. Taco has a funny moment when he sings an inappropriate song at a kid’s party.

There’s a place in the world for good crude comedy. But guy humor about porn and girl-on-girl action has been deployed in every other similarly themed comedy. With a few more original situational jokes and male dirty secrets, “The League’’ wouldn’t feel played-out so quickly.

Matthew Gilbert can be reached at gilbert@globe.com. For more on TV, visit www.boston.com/ae/tv/blog.

THE LEAGUE Starring: Mark Duplass, Nick Kroll, Jon Lajoie, Stephen Rannazzisi, Paul Scheer, Nadine Velazquez

On: FX

Time: Tonight, 10:30-11

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