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Giving Thanks for The League’s Thanksgiving Episode

The Thanksgiving episode of The League (the show about friends in a fantasy sports league) that aired last night was one of the strongest episodes of any sitcom I’ve seen recently. Like the best outings of its FX sister shows Louie and It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, it was a perfect pitch delivered with intensity and precision, culminating in a series of escalating gags that made me laugh as hard as anything this year. It was another reminder that cable allows for possibilities even the new raunchier networks won’t.

The “three jokes a page” that you hear so clearly on a laugh-tracked show are invisible on a good show (even a good laugh-tracked show) and on cable shows sometimes there are ten jokes a page, or none. Nothing is been a better example of this than Eastbound & Down, whose giddy ballsiness was as refreshing as icy cold Cheerwine. Rebellion for its own sake is dumb, but real rebellion is sublime.

Like an opening act or a song on a mix, an exceptional isolated episode of a show can immediately convert a new viewer into a fan. Pilots are often the least effective tool to convince an on the fence show shopper to get into something, as they run heavy on exposition and world-building, but many people prefer to start from the absolute beginning (I have been known to jump into shows in the middle and catch up with the earlier seasons later. It turns every show into Pulp Fiction.)

Sarah Silverman has been on a lightning streak lately with guest shots on Bored To Death, Children’s Hospital, and The Good Wife. A New York Times piece taking stock of the recent “women tell dick jokes” trend (which is really more like “…in public”) recounted a recent Silverman set where she told the following: “Who’s going to complain about rape jokes? Rape victims? They barely even report rape.” It is the ultimate “edgy” rape joke, mocking hacky comedians’ overreliance on “edgy” material to disguise the fact that their jokes have no substance or wit. The joke is all substance, turning over rocks to expose the ugliest bugs underneath.

Not all comedy is this serious of course, nor need it be. The joke didn’t get laughs or even groans when Silverman told it, because rape isn’t funny, it’s just evil. That’s the joke. A lot of corrupt and malevolent bugs have been exposed to light lately from underneath some extremely large and hard to move rocks. It has been essential if not easy to move them, to confront all the horrible things that happen unnoticed every day.

Silverman is a master at satirizing human sicknesses: racism, sexism, vanity, pride. I wished there was a way to see more of her character from The League, the sister of Paul Scheer’s regular. Silverman owned every scene she was in (except for the ones with Jeff Goldblum, which they co-owned) as a gutter-brained low-cut leopard-print-wearing creature named Heather who made me think, “What if Adam Sandler had hired Silverman to play his awful sister Jack and Jill?” The dinner scene at the end of The League Thanksgiving was a fresh argument for comedic set pieces. The whole episode was much like Thanksgiving itself, comfortable worn-in conventions mingling with unadulterated chaos, climaxing in dessert.

Molly Lambert is a Grantland staff writer

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