Talk about bad timing. Just as my colleague recently noted the wide open field for fantasy football-themed programming to be explored, a couple of identically-named series have come along to narrow the window considerably. Perhaps for fantasy football addicts, the more content covering their passion the better, but for the rest of us, Rules of The League appears to be an early casualty.
A casualty by whom, you ask? Two words: The League. First, there’s the TV show The League, which recently debuted on FX. It seems that one of the main hurdles for web video to flourish and make it onto a wider [mainstream?] radar is that it keeps up with, if not transcends, some of the latest offerings from corporate entertainment, i.e. The Man. But with programming like The League – whose debut episode I caught a good chunk of over the weekend, and which looks to be kicking some serious ass – that’s going to be a tall order. Meanwhile, on the internet itself, another The League, now six episodes in, also appears to making rather respectable inroads, nicely balancing fandom rituals and vernacular with some of the daily challenges of life.
Thanks to these two entries alone, Rules of the League appears to be, dare I say it, late for the game. Well, for those still on board, here’s the story: Joel Ballard has recently become unemployed from the L.A. Times (ouch, I can relate) and is aiming to make a career of his fantasy football blog, which had gotten him the Times job, and the job, in turn, had kept him from the blog.
Joel’s sidekick and partner in crime is Wallace Greene, who is mostly munching on (or drinking) something, and is a bit of a thick-headed comic foil. There’s Joel’s sweet and how-did-he-land-her? wife, Kate, and their infant son, who manages to throw up on cue in episode 1. There’s Teri Bradshaw, the blog’s gossip queen, who’s sweet and sassy on the phone and via video conference but apparently is an evil foster parent for her day job. There’s also Joel’s college buddy, a hard-driving but child-like ‘Silicone’ Valley titan named Vincent Murdoch (get it?), who’s the league’s primary investor. Much more so than The League TV show or web series, Rules uses fantasy football as a front, mainly to play out simple plots, and also to address current topics such as unemployment, selling-off possessions, and living an oversaturated life of technology. One of writer/director Adam Kerpelman’s strengths is his use of cross-platform communication—texts to video, video chatting, onscreen email lists – to nicely illustrate our electro-centric lives.
But the somewhat endearing qualities of Joel’s everyman, who’s bearing down to withstand some tough hits, are mostly eclipsed by lifeless, if realistic, dialogue (of which a background track mix of elevator and clown music attempts to keep it bouncing along), and plots that seem to end just as they begin. Rules has its heart in the right place, which doesn’t amount to much more than a backhanded compliment, but with Joel narrating the goings-on, both onscreen and off, you’re reminded of the mantra, “show us, don’t tell us.” Your fantasy league brethren, meanwhile, should help push you to greater heights.