‘Lasso’ way relies on exuberance to reel in audiences

Apple TV+'s fish-out-of-water comedy stars football coach as a charming, cheerful ambassador of the American way

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Grace Nugent

SNL alum, Jason Sudeikis, stars in new Apple TV+ oringial series as Ted Lasso an American football coach turned Premier League Soccer manager. With new episodes Fridays, all are welcome to indulge in this heartwarming witty comedy.

Grace Nugent, co-online editor in chief

My stance on sports-related films, TV shows, miniseries, or anything of the sort is this: if they are done well and with heart, they are engaging, amazing, and sometimes make you cry (or, in the case of Talladega Knights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, pee your pants) as the hero earns their long-awaited physical and moral victory (see Remember the Titans for the archetypal example). 

On the other end of the spectrum, however, there are the insufferable (or pitiful) sports movies where the acting is below sub-par, the plot is as predictable as a Hallmark Christmas movie, and none of the cinematic elements help move the story along. A significant number of the prime offenders in this latter category are atrocious sports sequels such as Slap Shot 2, The Next Karate Kid, Caddyshack II, and, perhaps worst of all, The Sandlot 2. I mean come on guys. Haven’t we already figured out not to mess with the classics? (Thank the Lord they did not make a second The Blind Side).

While on the surface ‘Ted Lasso’ may just seem like a fish-out-of-water comedy, the show delivers not just laughs but also a very human and inspiring sentiment as you see characters struggling with marriage, self-worth, deceit and betrayal.”

The list of great sports-related cinema includes few films about soccer, perhaps because we live in America and the only football we know is played with helmets, pads, and Tom Brady.  Or maybe it’s because most soccer films or TV shows are documentaries. Don’t get me wrong, I love a true story, but fiction tends to be a lot more entertaining.  

And if you can’t find outstanding fictional soccer entertainment on the big screen, you might have to look somewhere else, and that somewhere else is Apple TV+.

Despite pulling a historic 18 Emmy nominations after launching less than nine months ago for their television series such as The Morning Show, Defending Jacob, The Beastie Boys Story, Central Park, the streaming service Apple TV+ is a bit under the radar compared to Netflix, Hulu or even Amazon Prime. 

Even with its previous critical success, when the streaming service announced plans to create a sports TV show inspired by an NBC promo to get more Americans watching soccer, expectations were lower than Aston Villa’s chances for bringing home a Premier League championship. 

Let’s just say this: TV shows have been made and inspired by much weirder premises than this one. Some like I Want to Marry Harry, Who’s Your Daddy?, Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and In the Night Garden baffle me as to who in the heck came up with these absurd ideas (and, even more absurd, who would watch them). TV shows inspired by advertisements are not that much different and do not exactly have the greatest track record. 

The first travesty that comes to mind is ABC’s flop Caveman —  a sitcom that aired in October of 2007 (and ended in November of 2007) inspired by a Geico insurance commercial. If you want to look it up and watch it, that’s your fault. Next in the Turning-an-Ad-Into-a-TV-Show Hall of Shame is CBS’s Baby Bob, inspired by advertisements for FreeInternet.com about a talking infant. 

Ted Lasso started, like these other shows did, as a marketing scheme to get people watching TV and ultimately watch, do, or buy something. In this case, NBC wanted to attract more Americans to join die-hard soccer fans and the growing audience (nearly half a million viewers tuned into each NBC Premier League broadcast in the past two years) watching NBC coverage of Premier League soccer (or football, as they call it in every other part of the world).

In order to build upon that momentum, the character of Ted Lasso was born: a hard-headed Kansan American football coach with absolutely no knowledge of soccer or its significance to the rest of the globe is hired as a manager for a soccer club in England. At one point in the short films, Ted walks over to the ref in the middle of a game and asks him what the offsides rule is — showing just how clueless he is about international football.

This wide-eyed, optimistic American is played by SNL alum Jason Sudeikis, who you may know for his Joe Biden impression. The two shorts premiered in 2013 and 2014 gaining massive popularity and a combined 20 million views on YouTube.

Six years later, Sudeikis brings about the return of Ted Lasso as he stars as the titular character in the Apple TV+ comedy series. While the idiot, dummy American act was dropped as it transitioned to a show, the essence of the character remains the same. As a comedy lover (I will watch hours of SNL sketches) and both an avid American football and rest-of-world football fan, I was eager to see what this TV show was about. For me, all signs pointed to a train wreck that’s just so bad, you can’t look away.

But after watching the first five minutes, I was hooked. And not just because of all the American-southwestern colloquialisms, aphorisms, and down-home-isms that accompany Ted and his boyish, gleeful charm. His character interactions and dialogue were immediately captivating.

Ted’s character is the No. 1 reason to watch this show, as he combines the eagerness, dorkiness, and blind optimism of Park and Recreation’s Leslie Knope with One Tree Hill’s Coach Whitey and Friday Night Lights’ Coach Taylor’s mentality of “football isn’t just about football but let me teach you about life lessons and how to make you better people.” 

Hired for reasons that I will not spoil here (but involve a teacup of revenge), Ted is set with the job of not only learning about soccer but also trying to coach a very mediocre team to victory. Along with his partner in crime, Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt), Ted tries to manage young, arrogant, and budding superstar Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) and aging captain Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) while also dealing with heavy criticism from local fans. While all the footballers and coaches are men, two strong female personalities round out the cast in new club owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) whose motives are seen as somewhat villainous until justification is revealed and Keeley Jones (Juno Temple) as the bubbly, superficial girlfriend to the team’s jerkiest player (points to you if you already guessed Jamie). 

‘Ted Lasso’ shows that the world can actually do something right in 2020, and with all the anxiety and fear we are surrounded in, this sitcom is a sweet escape.”

While on the surface it may just seem like a fish-out-of-water comedy, the show delivers not just laughs but also a very human and inspiring sentiment as you see characters struggling with marriage, self-worth, deceit and betrayal. Ted acts as a master chess player, bouncing people off one another to try to improve other’s relationships even while his own are falling apart. 

Writer Bill Lawrence uses dialogue as the main vehicle to drive series development, juxtaposing Ted’s chipper southern disposition with the more colorful language and arrogant personalities of the other main characters in the series. The best moments come in a sentiment package wrapped in laughs, like when Ted drinks tea and claims that he always thought tea was going to taste like hot brown water and, you know what, he was right. Or saying “that fella looked like a kitty cat when he gets spooked by a cucumber” or a player is more open “then the jar of peanut butter on my kitchen counter”.

While it may not be the most realistic show about soccer and Americans to ever grace the screen, it deserves many accolades for its wit and wholehearted intentions which are realized often enough to leave viewers blissfully happy.  

This sitcom shows that the world can actually do something right in 2020, and with all the anxiety and fear we are surrounded in, this is a sweet escape. While Ted Lasso is quickly rising to one of my favorite comedy shows, I do not desire a TV show based on the tragic backstory of the Pillsbury doughboy, a survivalist series about Smokey the bear, or a drama based solely around Flo from Progressive’s dating life. More of Ted Lasso, though, is most certainly welcome. To borrow a phrase from Ted, it’s like Woody Allen playing the Clarinet.