The League, FX’s sitcom about a group of friends who play competitive if inept fantasy football together, returned for its fourth season this fall, bringing with it the best married couple on television. Jenny (Katie Aselton) and Kevin MacArthur (Stephen Rannazzisi) are the rare television parents lucky enough to get storylines that aren’t only about boilerplate marital challenges or troubles with their children—they actually have a shared interest that makes it clear why they got together in the first place.
When The League began, Kevin was the commissioner, ruling over his group of friends despite the fact that he was the worst of them at fantasy football. In fact, a significant source of tension in his marriage, and ribbing from his friends, was Kevin’s heavy reliance on Jenny for football insight, despite the fact that she wasn’t a member of the league. It was a situation that became worse in the second season when the members of the league chose the deeply insane, creepy Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas), brother-in-law to one of the other members, rather than let Jenny join. Given their shared passion, Jenny was wounded that Kevin didn’t advocate for her, choosing to keep the league an all-male sanctuary.
Eventually, Rafi quit the league and Jenny took over his team. It was a development that opened up fascinating new territory for the show as Kevin adjusted toward seeing Jenny as both his wife and as a fully-integrated member of his group of friends. It’s not always a comfortable transition. Kevin’s bothered more than Jenny when the league starts to discuss whether her confidence about her vagina, which leads her to reject the idea of rejuvenation surgery, means she has “vaginal hubris.” This season, during a league bull session, it comes out that Jenny holds the league record for most times having sex in a single day—only she put those notches in her bedpost before she met Kevin. Accepting his wife as one of his friends means Kevin has to accept Jenny as a full person with her own complicated history and her own appeal to his friends, rather than airbrushing her into either a nag or an ideal, the preferred strategy of his friend Ruxin (Nick Kroll), whose wife has relatively little to do with league members. (This is the kind of sexism my colleague L.V. Anderson called the show out for, in a piece that I think misses the point of The League: The show is well aware of the arrested development of its characters, and both laughs at and punishes their worst transgressions.)
Fantasy football also becomes a proxy for big decisions in their household. Last season, Jenny told Kevin that if he won the league championship, they could try for a boy, a promise that leads him to plunge into Lake Michigan in winter in pursuit of the league’s trophy, the Shiva. This year, they wager the decision whether or not to circumcise their newborn son on the outcome of their first fantasy matchup against each other. Football gives them something they love to do together, and it gives them a language to negotiate their relationship.
All of this could come across as hollow if Jenny’s passion for football seemed like a shallow put-on, the result of a desire to turn her into a Cool Girl who adopted the sport as a way to impress Kevin rather than out of a deep and genuine interest. But if anything, Jenny’s the most dedicated member of the league. When she went into labor, Kevin was by her side, calming her by asking her to talk him through football. “Breathe and tell me your thoughts on Adrian Peterson,” may not be the delivery room sweet talk most wives dream of, but it helped Jenny.
Even midchildbirth, The League is reminding us why Jenny and Kevin are such a good couple in the first place. They may be nuts who harass fantasy football radio talk show hosts, strip down in alleys to fulfill game-day bets, and refer to themselves as the First Family of Fantasy. But unlike most television marrieds, whose initial attractions are far in the past, and whose shared interests mostly involve their kids, Jenny and Kevin are a warm, (mostly) realistic illustration of why the couple that plays together stays together.