Even though the FXX comedy The League is ostensibly about fantasy football, an awful lot of real-world football stories find their way into the series. During the show’s seventh and final season, which premieres on Sept. 9 at 10 p.m., longtime fans can expect to hear such buzzwords as “Deflategate,” “Geno Smith,” and “Jason Pierre-Paul fireworks.” It’s all part of series creators Jeff and Jackie Schaffer’s master plan to keep The League as up-to-the-minute as any news ticker. “The NFL is like our crazy rich uncle who we never see, but he keeps on giving us presents,” Jeff Schaffer says with a laugh. “Every year, something happens in the NFL and we try to throw it in the show. Like this year, we were in the middle of shooting a scene and we heard the news that Geno Smith had gotten his jaw punched open. So we literally had a character say, ‘She’s going to drop you like Geno Smith,’ two hours after we heard about it.”
Being that timely requires The League to start production later than your average single camera television comedy — a month and a half before the first episode airs instead of the standard three to four. And even during shooting, the cast and crew has to be ready to change things up on the fly. Good thing the ensemble consists of experienced improvisers like Paul Scheer, Nick Kroll, Jon LaJoie, Steve Rannazzisi, Katie Aselton, and Mark Duplass, who have spent seven years riffing with each other based on loose scripts assembled by the Schaffers. This season’s fourth episode, for example, is a “Deflategate” heavy half-hour, and there are multiple versions in the editing room anticipating the various twists and turns that are still playing out in the press. “That episode is really funny and has a lot of big guest stars,” Schaffer promises. “We’ve been changing it as the drama’s been unfolding. Like, we’d written it before any of the reports about Tom Brady’s cell phone broke, so we had to go back and include that. Our short production schedule is brutal, but we do it so we can stay as current as possible.”
Creators and showrunners Jeff and Jackie Schaffer
Despite — or maybe because of — these efforts to stay current, The League hasn’t exactly endeared itself to the NFL. Schaffer says that the organization mostly chooses to ignore them, except for one incident during the fourth season when they accused the crew of crashing the official NFL Draft to film certain scenes. “That’s a credit to our production design team, because we shot in a nightclub in Hollywood!”
But if NFL executives have been slow to embrace the show, players are lining up to secure coveted guest spots. Already, Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler has contributed a cameo, as well as Adrian Peterson from the Minnesota Vikings and 49ers tight end, Vernon Davis. This season, meanwhile, features the return of Seattle Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch, as well as a major figure from that organization’s front office: General Manager John Schneider. That casting represents a bit of wish fulfillment for the Schaffers, who call themselves longtime Seahawks fans and groaned along with the rest of Seattle when the team fell short of a Super Bowl victory against the Patriots earlier this year — a loss that’s addressed in the premiere. “Getting to live through that Super Bowl moment and shoot a scene with Marshawn about it was so incredible,” Schaffer says. “It was our Kessel Run.”
And it’s not just sports world celebrities who enjoy stopping by to play comedy scrimmage with the stars of The League. Over seven seasons, the series has confidently built one of the best guest star rotations around with everyone from Martin Starr, Ray Liotta, and Leslie Bibb to Sarah Silverman, Jeff Goldblum, and Seth Rogen running a play or two. Bibb’s character Meegan — the ex-wife of Duplass’s surly Pete — is back this year, causing numerous headaches for her ex to the delight of his leaguemates. And the Schaffers promise that Rogen will reprise his role as Dirty Randy, best friend to resident wild man Rafi (recurring player Jason Mantzoukas). “We have the whole League family tree on a whiteboard in our office,” reveals Jackie Schaffer. “It’s got all the people we’ve had on in the past, their relationships to our main characters and story ideas to bring them back.” This year, those story ideas will allow for the return of such fan favorites as Will Forte, Rob Riggle, Zach Woods, Ike Barinholtz, and June Diane Raphael.
But the Schaffers also guarantee that all these supporting players won’t steal focus from the core League gang during their last hurrah. “Most of these actors didn’t know each other before we started shooting, and we had to be like ‘OK, you guys are playing old friends.’ You watch the pilot and you watch this season and they seem as good friends then as they do now. And now they really are real friends! There’s seven years of real fantasy football history with these guys.”
As the show’s resident bickering married couple, Jenny and Kevin, Aselton (who is married to Duplass in real life) and Rannazzisi are finding it especially difficult to say goodbye. “I can’t imagine having another TV husband!” Aselton says, wistfully. “Kevin is a version of who I am in real life,” adds Rannazzisi. “When Katie and I come to set, I know what she’s going through because she’s got a husband and two kids and she knows what I’m going through because I have a wife and two kids. So our arguments look and feel real and that’s where our chemistry comes from.” (Rannazzisi also uses his family man status as fodder for comedy in his upcoming Comedy Central special, Breaking Dad, premiering Sept. 19. “My wife gives me a little grief about joking about our lives, but then I write more jokes about her giving me grief about it!”)
Onscreen husband and wife Steve Rannazzisi and Katie Aselton
The bond shared amongst the cast gives the Schaffers hope that they might find a way to reunite their fictional League for future adventures, be it a short-run series or one-off movie. “Every year we thought it was the last season, so I don’t think this is the end for these characters,” teases Jackie Schaffer. Rannazzisi may have inadvertently suggested the perfect storyline for a follow-up. Asked whether there are any sports stars he wished Kevin had gotten the chance to mingle with on the series, he cites world famous quarterback Peyton Manning. “People always said, ‘Is Peyton going to do the show?’ I know he’s funny, so I’d like to see how he handles a situation like this.” That’s your title and premise right there — The League: The Search for Peyton.
The League premieres on Sept. 9 at 10 p.m. on FXX.