It’s not often that you hear about series based off of a viral commercial. Yet, here I am talking about Ted Lasso, the new Apple TV series based off of some NBC promos to encourage Americans to watch the Premier League. No, seriously. In 2013, Jason Sudeikis travelled across the pond over to White Hart Lane (and the Spurs training grounds) to portray Ted Lasso, an American Football coach. Needless to say, the promos went viral, and the first video stands at almost 15 million views – not bad for what was essentially just a gimmicky commercial. So, it bewilders me that Apple TV picked up this character for his own series, and it turns out to be not only brilliant but (probably) the best new show of the year.
When Ted first arrives to coach the fictitious football club AFC Richmond (not surprising that Spurs didn’t want to be used for the series), he’s brimming with exciting Yankee giddiness, much to the dismay of the players at Richmond. They want to know, as do the press, who thought this was a good idea? No one in their right mind would employ a coach from a different sport, it’s like getting Pep Guardiola to manage the New York Knicks: a recipe for disaster. Even Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), Richmond’s new owner, doesn’t think it’s a good idea. However, that’s precisely why she’s hired Ted – to get back at her cheating ex-husband – and destroy the only football club he loves.
The show strikes this perfect balance of charmingly funny and upliftingly wholesome, and it weirdly works as a divorce drama alongside comedy. Corny? At times, yeah – but it makes a welcome break from the usual ‘ladness’ that enters into football media. Usually, football is associated with blokes who, like many of these characters, don’t let their guard down. Ever. They are frequently passionate about the beautiful game, yet they never let their true colours out when they’re with their loved ones. Roy Kent (portrayed by Brett Goldstein) is a fantastic example. He’s likely modelled on the true bastion, ageing, hard-as-nails team captains with some real anger issues that you find in the Prem. He’s tough as shit, but as the series goes on, also a massive softie. Suspend your groans, as this isn’t handled in a stereotypically ‘muscular guy turns into cotton candy’ type character arc. Roy still retains his tone and prowess through to the end, but what changes him are real conversations about the end of his career as a footballer. This is, of course, aided by Brett giving a world-class performance.
All of the cast are just insanely great at what they do. Even the less likeable characters, like Jamie Tartt (a peppy, egotistical rich-boy striker portrayed by Phil Dunster), have compassionate qualities to them. Moreover, Juno Temple gives one of the best comedic performances of the year as Keeley Jones, Tartt’s model girlfriend. This isn’t an idiomatically thick, sexist caricature of a WAG – Keeley is a witty, wonderful and wise personality who seems to get along with just about anyone. She doesn’t let anyone push her around, and she just about steals every scene she’s in. The same friendly, likeable energy is also given to Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) and Danny Rojas (Cristo Fernández).
Divorce changes people, and we find out that both Ted and his boss Rebecca are going through very similar things, albeit with different side-effects. Breakups can vary in their levels of toxicity. Still, sometimes that toxicity is hidden under the impression of doing good work. Whilst Ted is passionate about the sports he coaches, this career opportunity was mainly a means of escaping from life at home. This is where comedy and sadness blend relatively well, in many ways, Ted is a damaged man who simply tries his absolute best. This means we don’t get a silly pisstake out of an American, we get a show that delivers a sympathetic character with genuine feelings. Ted Lasso likewise depicts one of the more realistic takes on what an anxiety attack feels like during one of its episodes, and I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted that.
I think the overwhelmingly, and shockingly positive reception that critics have given to Ted Lasso is a surprise that can be summarised with a quote from the show itself. When Ted spends a day with Trent Crimm (James Lance), a writer for ‘The Independent’, he doesn’t manage to entirely dispel his belief that Ted’s time at AFC Richmond will be a failure. Yet, he “can’t help but root for him”.