Okay, let’s tick off all the reasons Apple TV’s new comedy Ted Lasso should not have worked, just to get it out of the way:
- It is a television show based on a short-lived advertising campaign
- The advertising campaign, while legitimately funny in bursts, centered on a thinly-drawn character with a silly name
- It leaned into a series of riffs on a “football and soccer are different” subject that has been covered many times
- Turning this into a full-length television series without falling into the “dumb American from flyover country doesn’t understand simple concepts” trap seems borderline impossible
That’s a lot of booby traps for one television show to avoid. On paper, your skepticism is justified. And yet!
That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to report that Ted Lasso — the first three episodes of which are available now, with new ones dropping on Fridays — is good. Very good. Almost unreasonably good, given the condescending bullet points above. In hindsight, it should not have been this surprising. It comes from Bill Lawrence, creator of Scrubs and Cougar Town and producer of many good shows. It stars Jason Sudeikis, a very likable and charming man who should have been given a few cracks at a sitcom lead by now. None of my shock at the show’s quality has anything to do with them. It mostly stems from my own failure of imagination. This is on me. I can and will do better.
Let’s back up, though. Let’s hit the facts. The character of Ted Lasso originated in little ads to promote the NBC Sports acquisition of the rights to English Premier League soccer. Again, they were fun in concentrated small doses. Here, look.
The version of Ted Lasso who shows up in the series is a little different. He’s not quite as oblivious. He’s eager to learn. He’s an incredibly sweet man who tries to establish a connection with everyone he meets and effect change through sheer force of personality, kind of like if Leslie Knope had a mustache and 80 percent less frantic energy and 200 percent more opinions about the Cover 2 defense. There’s also some necessary world-building that takes place early on to provide an answer to the otherwise perplexing “Why did a football coach take a job coaching soccer in England?” and “Why would an English soccer team hire an American football coach?” questions. The latter has a fun dash of the Major League “let’s sabotage this thing” vibe to it, with a twist for the reason. The former involves a one-sided phone conversation with his wife that is kind of devastating and a solid piece for Sudeikis’s future Emmy submission. There is depth here.
There are also, as you might suspect, other characters. Phil Dunster and Brett Goldstein play members of the team named Jamie and Roy, respectively, polar opposites, one a spoiled phenom with a golden leg, the other a grouchy aging star with a glorious bath mat of chest hair. Hannah Waddingham plays the team’s intimidating, biscuit-loving owner. Juno Temple plays Jamie’s girlfriend, Keeley, a model and paparazzi darling who is part muse, part amateur psychologist. Nick Mohammed plays Nathan, a low-level team staffer and punching bag who Ted turns into the team’s tactical mastermind. All of them start out skeptical of Ted Lasso. All of them can’t help but be hopelessly charmed by him. Kind of like the audience watching the show at home.
A lot of this has to do with Sudeikis, who appears to be having a blast. It’s a tough needle to thread, playing an almost relentlessly upbeat character surrounded by cranky figures who start out expecting and/or hoping to see him fail. That can get exhausting if it’s too saccharine and far-fetched if it works too easily. Sudeikis pulls it off with a kind of laid back, calming pleasantness, with Ted gently scraping away at people’s tough exteriors to get to their mushy centers. (As the season progresses, we start to find out why each of the other characters is prickly, largely thanks to Ted’s personal touch.) And pulling it off is a double triumph here because he’s writing and producing as well as acting. There’s a lot of weight on his shoulders in all of this, and he carries it well. The biggest takeaway isn’t so much that Sudeikis is a burgeoning sitcom king as much as it is that he probably should have been one already.
The whole thing somehow ends up running parallel and perpendicular to another good sports-adjacent show, Brockmire. Like Brockmire, it started as a short, one-note comedy bit — the Brockmire character first appeared in a Funny or Die sketch — and grows and grows into something deeply funny and heartfelt. Unlike Brockmire, the main character is a well-adjusted sweetheart who cultivates positive relationships with the people around him instead of a narcotics-Hoovering trainwreck who has to constantly fight his natural impulse to blow up his entire life every morning. (Also unlike Brockmire, Ted Lasso can dance, as Sudeikis breaks out his old “What’s Up With That?” shuffle early on, a performance that leaps immediately to number two on my Dance-Related Moments In Bill Lawrence Shows Power Rankings, just behind the Turk dancing to “Poison” on Scrubs. This is extremely high praise.) Brockmire ran four seasons and became one of the best shows on television in that period. Ted Lasso was just picked up for a second season after a promising start. I would be very happy with at least two more.
Let’s close this out by being fair. I opened up this discussion with snotty bullet points about why the show shouldn’t have worked. Here are some bulletproof points about why it does:
- Makes you feel good
- Made by talented people who clearly thought a lot about making it work
- Main character is named “Ted Lasso”
- I know I used the silly name thing as a reason why it shouldn’t have worked but, I’m sorry, I love it
A formula for success if I ever saw one.