Ted Lasso review: Heartwarming and hilarious, Jason Sudeikis’ Apple TV comedy is one of the best shows of the year
Creators - Jason Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence
Cast - Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham, Brett Goldstein, Juno Temple, Nick Mohammed, Phil Dunster
Much like the character himself, Ted Lasso, the show, transcends its humble beginnings to become a symbol, more meaningful than either could have ever imagined.
Lasso, the character, a bumbling American football coach who lands a plum gig in the UK, was created several years ago for a series of English Premiere League commercials in the US. But the show, out on Apple TV+, isn’t merely a goofy sitcom about a clueless man who finds himself out of his depth, in a foreign country, overwhelmed by a sporting culture that he has no knowledge about. Ted Lasso is an ambassador, on a mission to present America and Americans — at a time when public opinion of both is waning — as a misunderstood nation and people, deserving of a second chance.
Watch the Ted Lasso trailer here
Ted, played by Jason Sudeikis, doesn’t demand respect. He understands that in England, where he has been hired to manage a fictional EPL side named AFC Richmond, he is the outsider. And he has the humility to accept this. And it is this humility that also seeps into the show, which is, without a shadow of doubt, my favourite of 2020 — heartwarming, hilarious, and hugely inspiring. It is, to use a phrase that you’ll often hear football commentators use, just what the doctor ordered.
In its initial few episodes — three will be available on launch day, followed by a new one every week — Ted Lasso, the character, comes across almost as needy as Michael Scott from The Office. He even likes Fettuccini Alfredo, a reference that devoted fans of The Office will surely understand. You can sense in him, just moments after his arrival in the UK, a desire to be liked.
These early episodes lean heavily on fish-out-of-water humour — Ted takes a sip of tea and, with a look of disgust on his face, dismisses it as ‘hot brown water’. During his debut match, he hears the word ‘wanker’ for the first time, and moments later learns that it isn’t a term of endearment. In England, he giddily informs his son, “Fries are called chips, chips are called crisps, and bangers aren’t great songs, but they do make you feel like dancing.”
But Ted isn’t one to bask in blissful ignorance. He is as curious as he is nice. And Ted Lasso, as we learn in later episodes, is a very nice man. At the beginning, his endless enthusiasm is met with suspicion; indeed, weathered audiences might look at the show with similar cynicism as well.
Ted’s players are stunned when he suggests that AFC Richmond, who are, crucially, neither very good nor very bad — they’re the quintessential middle-table team — could beat the champions, Manchester City. At the local pub, Ted is given an important lesson in cultural differences: In America they ask, “Do you believe in miracles?” But in the UK, they say, “It’s the hope that kills you.”
But hope is all that Ted’s selling. He isn’t bothered about the business of running a top-flight football club, but more concerned about forging friendships, and imparting in his team valuable lessons about life.
Ted Lasso is a workplace comedy in the same way that the recent Netflix series Space Force was a workplace comedy. Just like that Steve Carrell show, which spent more time inside the mission control room than on Mars, Ted Lasso barely has any football action to speak of. It focuses more on the relationships that are built in the locker room.
A big reason for its success is how effortlessly it fleshes out not just Ted, who has a wonderfully emotional arc, but also the supporting players. There’s Rebecca, the icy owner of the club who inherited it as a part of her divorce settlement; there’s Roy Kent, the team captain, who’s well past his glory days; there’s Nate, the unassuming kit man, who, almost like some sort of Will Hunting, has a hidden talent for coming up with tactical plays; and then there’s Keeley, a WAG with greater ambitions.
Each of these characters is written with patience and empathy — some of them aren’t as likeable as others, but all of them, even a gaggle of hooligan fans, are redeemable. What a wonderful notion.
As grateful as I am for this show, a part of me is concerned about whether or not it will reach its potential on Apple TV+, a streaming service that, ironically, hasn’t reached its own. Along with the recent animated musical Central Park, Ted Lasso is worth purchasing a subscription. Many of you with new Apple devices can literally tune in for free. You won’t regret it.