This past Friday, Apple TV Plus launched TED LASSO, a half-hour dramedy about a perpetually cheery amateur football coach from the United States hired to head a pro-level football team in the UK. And as you probably know, football in the UK is not the same as football in the US; they’re two different sports. No, this is not a mistake, the decision to hire Ted was purposeful, and now we’ll see how this guy does in an extreme fish-out-of-water scenario.
I’ll be honest, I did not expect to like TED LASSO just from the logline. I’m not a big fan of sports (or a fan at all), and I hate dumb-guy comedies, especially where the jokes are played on the man’s ignorance. But because it was created by Bill Lawrence (Scrubs) and Jason Sudeikis (Saturday Night Live), the latter of whom also stars, and both of whom have delivered funny very well in the past, I tried to keep an open mind going in.
Boy, am I glad that I did. TED LASSO is wonderful. It’s not dumb-guy comedy, and while there are humorous jokes, it’s not a straight-out comedy at all. It’s a moving piece with layered characters and emotional situations that will tug your heart strings just as often as it tickles your funny bone. And in the first two episodes, it’s not about sports at all. (Though, if it later becomes so, Friday Night Lights has already proven that good television trumps a distaste for athletics.)
Much of the success of Lasso can be credited to the writing. But much can also be credited to Sudeikis’ performance as the titular character. It would be so easy to dismiss Ted on his face. Yet, Sudeikis plays him with genuine earnestness and depth that keeps him from being a cartoon. Small scenes, when Ted is alone in his apartment or on the phone, prove just how much his caring is genuine, not an act at all. His coaching style, one in which he focuses way more on team cohesion than logistics of play, is also inspiring and one can see how it would work – when the team already has plenty of talent to make up the other side.
Though, it’s quite possible that Ted’s assistant, Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt, Bless This Mess), is the one who actually knows how the game is played and helps on that front. I think there is more to Coach Beard’s words about “fast” in episode two than plays for the joke. So together, they make a decent manager.
TED LASSO avoids dropping into the typical out-of-one’s-element tropes by making Ted curious and accepting of his surroundings, as he is about the team. There are exceptions, of course; Ted hates tea. But by minimizing that element, it keeps the show from being too silly.
Perhaps the main draw is a message that optimism can win. In these dark times, it’s easy to give in to the hate and vitriolic and tension between sides in this country, and around the world. So often, we dismiss our fellow humans because of their beliefs, and while we may often feel justified (maybe actually be justified) in doing so, it’s heart-warming and hopeful to see someone approaching things differently and succeeding.
Of course, Ted will still have his fair share of obstacles to overcome. The main antagonist is revealed at the end of the pilot, and I was pretty surprised. Though I also see how Ted may defuse the situation without making any real enemies.
TED LASSO is buoyed by a wonderful supporting cast, including Juno Temple (Maleficent) as a player’s girlfriend, Hannah Waddingham (Krypton) as the club owner, Jeremy Swift (Downton Abbey) as the communications manager, and Nick Mohammed (Intelligence) a the equipment boy.
I’ve been lassoed by Ted, and I’m anxious to see what else is in store. The first three episodes are available now on Apple TV Plus, with new installments dropping every Friday