Ted Lasso

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Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso.
Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso.
Photo: AppleTV+

OUR RATING

5/5 Stars

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis), a small-time American football coach, is unexpectedly hired to train a struggling Premier League football team in England. Ted knows next to nothing about the game he calls soccer, has never coached anywhere near this high level of competitive sports and no one – from the British press to Ted himself – has an earthly idea why he was enlisted by Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), the new owner of Richmond Football Club and ex-wife of the club's previous owner, in the first place. Rebecca, as it turns out, has her own plans.

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

From the off, Ted Lasso had rather a lot going against it. Its premise is, frankly, really very silly and the idea of taking the one-note gag of Jason Sudeikis playing an American bumpkin in a series of promos for NBC's Premier League coverage and turning it into a full-blown television series, has disaster written all over it. Sure, the latter isn't entirely unheard of (Mr Bean, for example, was based on a single, loosely developed sketch from Rowan Atkinson's incredible live comedy act) but it's a hell of a trick to pull off even at the best of times. Add to that my total lack of interest in football/soccer and sports in general and you're left with a perfect storm of a television show that is, at the very best, really not for me and, at worst, really not for anyone else, either.

That star-rating doesn't lie though. I just adore Ted Lasso. It's easily one of my favourite TV shows of the year and one of the best TV comedies in recent years.

Major props, then, to the guys of the comic book podcast iFanboy, who made such a convincing case for the show that I signed up for a free trial of Apple TV+ just to watch it. However much I like Jason Sudeikis, there's just no way I would have come to this show on my own. And what a pity that would have been.

You may have noticed that for the past nine months or so, my reviews have been written with our current state of affairs very much in mind. And there's a good reason for this. For most of us, the entertainment we consume is one of the few things keeping us afloat in these weird and disturbing times and it's impossible not to approach the latest movie or television series through that prism.

Bleak dramas or cynical black comedies that may be most welcome in normal times might rub many the wrong way when so much around them is already so bleak and cynical. On the flip side, even the more hard-hearted of us may forego more violent, misanthropic and far-too-realistic fare for something kinder, more sentimental, more fantastical. This is no hard and fast rule as there are clearly many who find catharsis by specifically putting themselves through the toughest, most brutal, most uncompromising films and TV shows – but even that is clearly a reflection of a state of mind desperately in need of some catharsis.

For everyone but the latter, then, Ted Lasso is the perfect show for our times. It's a quality piece of entertainment that would have been greeted warmly regardless of when it dropped, but it takes on a whole new resonance in 2020.

Ted Lasso, you see, is not actually about football. Of course, it isn't. Great sports movies and TV shows are never really about the sport they're centred around. Even Rocky, which is the best of them for my money, scores extremely low at being a realistic representation of the sport of boxing. Most sports films and especially sports comedies tend to be about the perseverance and fighting spirit of underdogs. This is certainly true of Rocky, but it's also true of everything from the Mighty Ducks to Cool Runnings to Eddie the Eagle. It's not, however, quite true of Ted Lasso.

That old fighting spirit is hardly absent from the show and Ted is the very definition of an underdog, but it comes in at a distant second place to the true driving force of Ted Lasso: the power of goodness, kindness and human decency to transcend any amount of cynicism, scepticism and negativity thrown at it.

I know, I know, if ever there was a statement to trigger mass vomiting, I probably just wrote it, but bear with me for a second.

The sheer unapologetic niceness of Ted Lasso, both the character and the show, is clearly a blessed relief from the severe lack of niceness permeating the public consciousness right now. It's not for nothing that John Krasinski's relentlessly earnest Some Good News web series was rightly received with almost universal warmth in the early days of the pandemic – but even taken out of this context, it would take a stony heart indeed not to be won over by its charms.

There are a number of reasons why Ted Lasso is a joyous testament to goodness and not a maudlin, treacly bag of saccharine.

First, it is very, very funny. Co-created by Sudeikis with Bill Lawrence (Scrubs), Joe Kelly (How I Met Your Mother) and comic actor Brendan Hunt, Ted Lasso has some American comedy heavyweights behind it and, to bring some British authenticity to the table, they are joined by talented British comedy writers Phoebe Walsh and Brett Goldstein.

Taking their cues from The Office, Hunt and Goldstein also join Sudeikis in front of the camera as part of a large ensemble of superb comedic talent that also includes the likes of Juno Temple, British comic Nick Mohammed and Buffy's own Anthony Stewart Head in what is probably his least Giles-like role to date. Sudeikis, Goldstein, Mohammed and Temple might be my favourites here, but this is a cast of nothing but standouts.

It is, admittedly, not unheard of for this much comedic talent in one place to cancel each other out but fortunately they all sync up beautifully here to deliver something that could be a one-note gag but is instead a wellspring of serious laughs. There might be a question of just how many seasons they can keep this up for, but it's astonishing just how rich a comic vein they've tapped into by throwing broader, more good-natured American humour up against dry, caustic British wit. The obvious route would have been for them to pick one sort of humour for this fish-out-of-water premise but, like A Fish Called Wanda before it, it's precisely this mix of sensibilities that make Ted Lasso such a comic delight.

It's also precisely this oil and water mix that allows it to get away with being quite so unapologetically sincere in its good-naturedness. Put the character of Ted Lasso in a regular, feel good American sports movie and his winning Southern charm quickly turns into a cloying headache. But put him in the world of sweary football hooliganism, British tabloid culture and ruthless corporate sports culture and that aw-shucks, can-do charm is amplified a thousandfold, and you end up embracing Ted mere minutes into the first episode. It also certainly doesn't hurt that Jason Sudeikis is utterly perfect – and perfectly charming – in the role.

The other key ingredient to this perfectly balanced comedy concoction is that however light and frothy and funny it is, it has some moments of real pathos and surprising depth. The large ensemble cast of characters are tons of fun even at first glance, but the way they slowly reveal greater depth is one of the great pleasures of the show, especially in the way that these depths amplify rather than detract from those entertaining first impressions.

Also – and this is no surprise at all considering this was co-created by the man behind Scrubs – nothing punctuates a moment of drama better than it being surrounded by winningly likeable characters and large dollops of laugh-out-loud comedy, and Ted Lasso plays into this brilliantly. Not that these moments are overly tragic or melodramatic, but they are incredibly moving in their humble humanity and, in turn, add just that extra bit of weight to the comedy.   

Apple TV+ may, ironically, be the runt of the streaming wars with its lack of non-original movies and shows and its habit of releasing one original project for every 20 Netflix puts out, but as long as it puts out top-quality stuff like Ted Lasso (and there will be a second season, right, Apple?), it will continue to justify its place at the table. Hell, it's worth signing up just for Ted Lasso all by itself.

WATCH THE TRAILER HERE:

WATCH IT NOW ON APPLETV+

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