‘The League’ takes a pass at depicting the world of fantasy football

Speaking of football, a new comedy on FX depicts a group of friends who may be as sports-obsessed as the most loyal Dillon boosters on "Friday Night Lights."

I’d been looking forward to “The League” (9:30 p.m. Central Thursday, FX; one star) which is set in Chicago and depicts the antics of a group of men in a fantasy football league.  My husband has been playing fantasy football for a decade and I could only imagine the humor to be mined from the obsession with stats and the delicious torture of picking the right roster of players each week.

But instead of heated conversations about minor rule changes or the amusing depiction of draft rituals, “The League” offers jokes about pornography and humorless wives (ha ha!). I wasn’t really prepared for a show this aggressively raunchy. And if I wanted jokes about shrill wives who deny their husbands sex or act inappropriately in unrealistic ways, I could have watched a lame traditional sitcom.

Unfortunately the male characters  on the show are almost as one-dimensional. All in all, it would be easier to give the macho, frat-house vibe a pass if the jokes were funny, but much of the humor in the first two episodes falls flat.

As for the cast, the most effective performer is Paul Scheer, who plays a wealthy doctor who clearly hasn't studied his fantasy football magazines well enough. And Nick Kroll has a funny scene in which his character grills the neighborhood fantasy-football savant — a young boy with encyclopedic knowledge of gridiron stats.

Still, not much about this show rang true to me, except the moment when the league commissioner begged players to get their fees in on time.

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Let’s talk ‘Mad Men’: ‘The Gypsy and the Hobo’

The following post discusses "The Gypsy and the Hobo," Sunday's episode of "Mad Men."

IMG_1268"I'm not saying a new name is easy to find." Don to Annabelle.

"I'm not going anywhere."
Don/Dick to Betty.

"And who are you supposed to be?"
Carlton to Don.

I find myself without a huge array of things to say about "The Gypsy and the Hobo." Not because it was uneventful — far from it — but because what happened in this terrific episode was so straightforward and unambiguous.

It centered on the truth. We saw Don finally telling Betty the truth (and what an enormous WOW those scenes were), Roger trying to get an old flame to see some hard truths, Joan soldiering on (literally) as she realizes the truth about what it means to be married to her nitwit of a husband.

As much as I love Joan and Roger, and as I was glad to see those characters get a good amount of screen time, not a lot can compete with Jon Hamm's performance as Don Draper in this episode. Someone give this man an Emmy. Now.

I got to this point with Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos on "Battlestar Galactica," with Edie Falco and James Gandolfini on "The Sopranos" and with Michael Chiklis and C.C.H. Pounder on "The Shield." At some point you just run out of adjectives to describe their superlative acting.

Donhobo.jpgAs was the case on those shows, the entire ensemble is so great every week that over time, I stopped commenting on their phenomenal skills. We just come to expect that they will be impressive every time. We get spoiled.  

Though we've come to expect great things from Hamm, the range of emotional states he nailed in this episode was extraordinary and worthy of the highest praise. Let's just go through the list of emotions that washed over Don as he entered his house and discovered his family unexpectedly there: Shock at their presence, a scrambling (and unsuccessful) attempt to go back to the car and get rid of Suzanne, wariness as he followed Betty into the den, anger as realized she was determined to confront him and fear as he realized what Betty knew.

Then, as he's often done in these heated situations, he tried to physically loom over her in order to intimidate her, and he tried defiance as one last attempt to preserve the Don facade (even though he knew by then his attempts to browbeat Betty would be futile).

And then you see something new breaking over his features: He becomes Dick Whitman — a frightened boy who is petrified of being rejected once again. "You didn't have to look at my things," he breathed. He sounded like the frightened, abused kid some part of him still is.

That sequence of scenes between Don and Betty is one of the best pieces of writing in the history of "Mad Men." And it almost functioned as a meta-commentary on the show, given that Betty asked every question that viewers have asked since she found the box (Why did he even keep this stuff in the house? Who's Anna? Who are those people in the pictures? And so on.)

This wasn't the kind of elliptical writing that the show sometimes employs, but it was no less effective. Seeing these two people finally drop all their pretenses was as fascinating as it was unexpected. Last week's episode contained the bombshell of Betty finding the box. And rather than hanging on to that knowledge for weeks, she confronted him with it almost immediately. I honestly didn't see that coming, not this week anyway. I enjoy "Mad Men" most when it zigs when I expect it to zag.

Full praise to January Jones for holding her own in those scenes, which is no small feat. But let's face it, those scenes belonged to Hamm. As is the case with the actors mentioned above, Hamm can communicate his character's internal state eloquently even when there is no dialogue.

After the initial confrontation, we saw Don move into the kitchen. He was a gutted man. At this point, Don doesn't know if the safe, suburban life he worked so hard to create is over forever. (And it's an interesting side note the Don begins revealing his real truths to Betty in that kitchen — just a few feet from where the first scene of the first episode of Season 3 began. Remember how, in that season premiere, we saw Don heating up milk for Betty and then, in a reverie, recalling his own birth?)

Betty was not cutting him any slack; she was waiting for him to pull his usual trick and leave. But now that Don/Dick has been discovered, he doesn't need to. Perhaps part of the reason Don staggered into the kitchen was because a weight had been lifted off him. He no longer has to keep all those secrets.

Betty desk Much of "Mad Men" has depicted Don as trapped and hemmed in, but at that moment, when he finally begins telling Betty the truth, in some ways he seems freer than he's ever been. And thanks to Hamm's subtle work, there's an intriguing emotional core to Don in those scenes. There's a quality of sincerity in him we've rarely seen when those two characters are together.

He tells Betty his name is Donald Draper, but, in that moment, he seems more like Dick Whitman than he ever has — around her, anyway. He's stopped playing a role. When he tells her he's surprised she ever loved him, that is Dick speaking. It's utterly poignant when he recalls Abigail's boyfriend, Uncle Mac. "He was nice to me," Don/Dick said. For some reason, I found that line so sad. He probably liked Uncle Mac because he didn't beat him or call him "whore child."

When Don/Dick recalled Adam's death, it was heartbreaking. Three years later, the guilt he feels about Adam's death finally comes pouring out, and it's devastating. Don's done some terrible things, but we see that he's also been carrying around an incredible amount of pain.

It's worth noting that, in his profession, Don Draper is the master of eliciting sympathy and using nostalgia to rather cynical ends, but in that bedroom, Dick wasn't playing on Betty's emotions. He was just telling her the truth about what he'd done and why he'd done it. He wasn't asking her to feel bad about his brother's suicide — Don/Dick felt that was his fault — but he couldn't let Adam disrupt what he had built for himself.

Despite all that Don had done to Betty over the years, how could she not feel compassion regarding what he'd gone through and what he'd given up?

The actors and the director used some kind of alchemy on those morning-after scenes; you could tell something was different between Don and Betty. They looked at each other with new eyes. They were solicitous of each other in a way they never had been. Perhaps it was just odd to see them look each other in the eye so frequently. You got the sense that they finally saw each other — the other person was no longer just some prop in a facade. 

Gypsy 2 don Don and Betty had been married 10 years earlier, but their marriage truly began on Halloween, 1963. They finally began to know each other as people, warts and all. Don may not know about Betty's extramarital forays and she may not know about the teacher — but I hope neither party does find out. Does it really matter, at this point? I'd honestly like to see these two try to make a go of it.

Given that the Sixties are about to begin in earnest, perhaps I was expecting to see them explore new paths for themselves — alone. But wouldn't it be interesting to see these two damaged people begin anew and forge a real relationship, even as society begins going through a series of upheavals and revolutions?

Question time: Given the Don and Roger we met in Season 1, who expected both men to be in functional marriages at the end of Season 3? Not me.

But both men had accepted what their lives were. And the theme, if there was one in the episode, was acceptance of the truth.

Roger's old flame, Annabelle, doesn't want to accept that her opportunity with him is gone. She doesn't want to accept that the name of her dog food is never going to be viable again (interestingly, she was told to give up that name, just as Don finally reclaimed Dick Whitman, a name he's spent years trying to escape).

Some truths can't be escaped, some names can't be redeemed, some mistakes can't be unmade. Joan's CreepRapistHusband can't simply undo all of his bad life choices by sticking "Captain" in front of his name. Annabelle can't simply pick things up with Roger more than two decades after breaking his heart. And she can't get consumers to buy her dog food by simply ignoring the fact that people react in revulsion to that brand.

"The Gypsy and the Hobo" explored who will accept the truth and why. Betty accepted Don's explanations, because he had no option at that point but to level with her. He had run out of other options (and he seemed glad to finally be able to unburden himself).

Annabelle finally had to accept that Roger loved his new wife and that she had missed her chance with him, but only after he repeatedly turned her down.

Joan. Oh Joanie. We still don't know where she stands regarding Captain Idiot. It was absolutely delightful to see her finally hit him in the head, but too bad it was only with a vase and not with tire iron. When will she finally tire of his towering narcissism and realize that she still has a chance at happiness, as long as she ditches him and his crazy schemes?

We still don't know quite where Joan is on the acceptance scale. She may still be making a go of it with Captain Idiot in future seasons. Or she may realize that he is dead weight who will only drag her down. She's still in the role-playing stage that Roger and Don were for so many years — as they were, she is married to someone to whom she doesn't reveal her true self. Why would she bother? CreepRapistHusband will never know what a gem he has in Joan. Sigh.

We actually saw that role-playing begin with Don and Suzanne, as she looked at his face and told him how unhappy she thought he was. He closed up and gave her a line: "I'm happy now." And as she moved off, irritated at his inability to be honest with her, the magic started to dissipate. This was no longer as scorching affair but a relationship in which Don had begun guarding his real self and the other person had begun to find that tiresome.

Who knew that we'd end up feeling sorry for Miss Farrell? She'd been written so many ways all season that it was hard to get a handle on her. But her vulnerability in that final scene in which Don broke things off with her was beautifully played and heartbreaking. For some reason I felt awful for her that she feared for her job — I suppose she didn't know if Betty would try to make trouble for her.

Poor girl. She really got crushed. In the end, she wasn't Miss Kookoo Stalkerpants, she was just a sweet, somewhat naive, somewhat unconventional girl who got emotionally crushed by an affair that was more intensely emotional than she expected it to be.

And she accepted the truth with dignity. There's nobility in that.

A few stray thoughts:

  • Part of the reason to have a Roger story line, I think, was to make us recall why we liked the guy. He's been shoved to the sidelines for much of the season (which has been something of a mistake, in my view). In any case, if he and Don are to become allies in the coming Sterling Cooper storm, I think it was wise for of the show to give us some quality Roger time before then, so we can recall that he's much more than an occasionally crabby narcissist who has an exceptional way with one-liners.
  • I have no inside knowledge of this [and please, DO NOT DISCUSS THE PREVIEWS FOR NEXT WEEK IN COMMENTS], but I'm guessing the next two weeks will center on big doings at Sterling Coo.
  • A lovely callback to "The Hobo Code" this week, as we saw little Bobby dressed as a hobo for Halloween. The irony being, of course, that Don's idea of hobo-ing is cruising out of town for the weekend with a hot brunette. And that sort of thing is over now. Probably.
  • A note on comments: I'm on vacation this week. There may be a longer-than-usual delay between when you post your comment and when you see it appear. Sorry about that.
  • Please be kind about it but feel free to point out typos if you see any. Thanks.

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‘In Treatment’ to return to HBO

HBO announced Friday that it has ordered a third season of the drama “In Treatment,” which stars Gabriel Byrne as therapist Paul Weston.

A third season had been in some doubt, as Byrne has said in interviews that he finds the role (which he plays very well) quite challenging. That’s understandable; his character is in almost every scene and much of his work involves reacting to and working through thorny issues with the sometimes challenging patients in his care.

The show is changing head writers again, as it has done every season so far. Anya Epstein of HBO’s “Tell Me You Love Me” and Danny Futterman (“Capote”) will take over from Season 2 showrunner Warren Leight.

The show goes into production early next year in New York.

HBO’s press release on the renewal is below.



    LOS ANGELES, Oct. 23, 2009 – HBO has renewed the Emmy®-winning half-hour drama series IN TREATMENT, which will begin production on its third season in New York in early 2010, with debut scheduled for later in the year, it was announced today by Michael Lombardo, president, Programming Group and West Coast Operations, HBO.

    “IN TREATMENT is synonymous with inspired writing and brilliant acting,” noted Lombardo.  “This is the kind of show that could only flourish on HBO, and we’re proud to bring it back.”

    Gabriel Byrne (Emmy® nominee and Golden Globe winner for Best Performance by an Actor in a Television Series – Drama) stars in the series as Dr. Paul Weston, with additional cast members to be announced as they are confirmed.

    The second season of IN TREATMENT inspired resounding critical praise, with the New York Times hailing the show for “powerful acting and well-wrought dialogue,” while the Los Angeles Times said the “well-drawn and compelling performances are uniformly terrific.”  The Chicago Sun-Times called the series “fascinating” and Newsday termed it a “fine and absorbing show.”

    Joining the show as executive producers are Anya Epstein (HBO’s “Tell Me You Love Me”) and Danny Futterman (“Capote”).  Returning executive producers on the show include Stephen Levinson, Mark Wahlberg and Hagai Levi.  It is expected that Paris Barclay will return as an executive producer/director.

  IN TREATMENT is produced by HBO Entertainment; executive producers, Stephen Levinson, Mark Wahlberg, Hagai Levi, Anya Epstein and Danny Futterman; co-executive producers, Noa Tishby and Gabriel Byrne; producer, Sarah Lum.  IN TREATMENT is produced by HBO Entertainment in association with Leverage, Closest to the Hole Productions and Sheleg.

Sponsored Link: Amazon’s In Treatment Store

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Taylor Swift Talks about SNL and "Team Jake"

Taylor Swift, Taylor Lautner | Photo Credits: John Shearer/WireImage.com; Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage.com

Even though she performs in front of thousands of people night after night, Taylor Swift isn’t taking her upcoming Saturday Night Live hosting duties lightly.

“I’m so excited, not sure if I’m ready,” she tells CMT Radio Live with Cody Alan. “I try to…

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ABC Family Sets Date for Greek’s Midseason Premiere

Greek | Photo Credits: Jaimie Trueblood/ABC Family

You won’t have to wait long to see what’s in store for the students at Cyprus Rhodes. ABC Family has scheduled the midseason premiere of Greek — which will end the first half of Season 3 come Monday — for Monday…

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‘Diet Tribe”s Jessie Pavelka & ‘The Bachelor”s Jake Pavelka Are Cousins!

They’ve never met, but "Diet Tribe"’s hunky trainer Jessie Pavelka and Jake Pavelka, the hot new "Bachelor," are distant cousins.

"My dad explained it to me," Jessie tells ET, but also admits he doesn’t quite remember how the family tree grows. "My dad met his dad, but I never knew him growing up. I went to college in the same town where he grew up, but I have never spoken to him."

Even so, Jessie says he thinks it is great that Jake is going to be "The Bachelor."

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