In television comedy, premises aren’t very important. Some of the greatest sitcoms of all time are about nothing, people hanging out and people hanging out (“Seinfeld,” “Friends” and “Cheers,” respectively). FX’s “The League,” now entering its third season, is nominally about fantasy football. But just like any sitcom, whether or not the show works depends on if you enjoy spending time with the characters, not its plot or setup.

The League

Season Three Premiere
Thursdays at 10:30 p.m.
ABC


The first rule of fantasy sports is don’t talk about fantasy sports. No one really wants to hear a story about how it looked like you were going to lose then won, or it looked like you were going to win then lost. Despite the fact that fantasy stories are always terrible, “The League” works because it uses fantasy football as a means to get its characters into situations, letting them do their zany work.

The season three premiere, “The Lockout,” isn’t really about the then-looming NFL lockout. The lockout is treated primarily as an obstacle to Andre (Paul Scheer) shaving off his hideous mustache, which was a punishment for finishing in last place in season two. That scene is “The League” at its best. There are great lines and over-the-top situations (Taco the Algerian soap opera star). The actors really excel when they’re given space to bounce off each other, and this episode provides them plenty of chances to do so. Guest star Seth Rogen (“The Green Hornet”) hits the right (and very raunchy) notes as porn producer Dirty Randy, and fans of the show will be happy to see the return of Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas), a breakout character from last season.

The eponymous league isn’t interesting unless it’s providing new and funny bits, and it certainly does in the premiere. There’s the aforementioned mustache, which makes Andre look like an “anorexic David Crosby.” He also has to play the flute in public (“It’s flautist, thank you”). Ruxin gets a ring with “suck it” inscribed on the side. NFL players Sidney Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew and Brent Grimes make a musical appearance. The show gets plenty of laughs from the absurd things done in the name of the league.

“The League” is great when it takes an ordinary situation and takes it completely over the top. Missing a fantasy draft and having your team autodrafted is a relatively common occurrence. Missing the draft because the site has been repurposed as a porn set, not so much. But the show is also good at more low-key jabs: Dirty Randy argues, convincingly, that “puns are as vital to the porn industry as to the pet shop and child’s hair salon.” When the show blends the big set pieces with sharp lines like it did in “The Lockout,” it really clicks.

There are a lot of B+ comedies on TV, and “The League” is by no means indispensable. But it can be a very enjoyable half hour of television. Just like in the NFL, concept takes a backseat to execution. While none of the characters are making the playoffs (seriously, the autodraft left one of them with two kickers and two defenses), the show is well set up for the season.

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