Features and Columns

‘Ted Lasso’ is an Earnest Delight

The Apple TV+ series from Jason Sudeikis and ‘Scrubs’ creator Bill Lawrence offers a pocket of small-screen joy.
Ted Lasso
By  · Published on August 15th, 2020

Welcome to Up Next, a column that gives you the rundown on the latest TV. This week, Valerie Ettenhofer takes a look at the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso.

It’s a premise that could’ve resulted in broad farce: a folksy American football coach takes a job managing a mediocre British football (a.k.a. soccer) team. But the Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso is endlessly endearing in the hands of co-creators Bill Lawrence (Scrubs) and Jason Sudeikis, who also stars as the titular lead. It’s warm, enjoyable, and almost certain to make you smile — the television equivalent of cuddling into a blanket that’s fresh out of the dryer.

A gentle international sports comedy isn’t exactly what anybody asked for. In fact, Ted Lasso is based on a series of commercials, a rare type of adaptation that’s historically been mostly a creative dead zone (see Cavemen and Uncle Drew). But the series is serendipitous, the kind of surprisingly sweet, abruptly funny show that could easily be added to one’s happy place rewatch rotation alongside shows like GLOW and Parks and Recreation.

Much of Ted Lasso’s charm comes from Sudeikis as Ted. The series description leads us to imagine him as a kindred spirit of Friday Night Lights’ Coach Taylor, but he’s a lot goofier and more pathologically earnest. Imagine if Mister Rogers took on some of the silly, unorthodox properties of Zach Woods’ hilarious Silicon Valley character (minus the traumatic backstory), and that’s Ted. Except that he also dashes off Southern colloquialisms alongside off-the-wall references to everything from Roots to Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian Devil.

Although religion isn’t his character’s major motivation, Ted’s got what I like to call Big Youth Pastor Energy, and he somehow transcends ironic distance to get his congregation — well, his team, and us viewers — where he needs them to be. When stern Richmond FC team owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) asks him in the first episode if he believes in ghosts, he shoots back, “I do. But more importantly, I think they need to believe in themselves.”

To be clear, this is a series that — like Lawrence’s sweet and uproarious show Cougar Town — most viewers will have an urge to resist. The story initially seems burdened by cliches, from the brittle divorcee businesswoman character to the comedic reliance on international culture shock to the teammate ego drama. Yet Ted Lasso is elevated almost instantly by its strong storytelling and a dollop of pathos, not to mention Sudeikis’ sincere delivery of very funny lines.

Ted piles on small kindnesses to everyone around him until he wears them down. And this applies to the audience, as well. Unlike Showtime’s Jim Carrey-led series Kidding, which has a similarly sincere protagonist, Ted Lasso doesn’t critically undermine Ted’s affable optimism. Other characters question him and bring him down to Earth, sure, but they’re almost always won over by his thoughtful simplicity, and you likely will be, too.

While Sudeikis’ performance is the glue that holds the series together, his teammates on-screen are notable, as well. In addition to Waddingham’s steely Rebecca, the ensemble also includes man-of-few-words Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt), underappreciated “kit man” Nathan (Nick Mohammed), aging, gruff soccer star Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), cocky up-and-comer Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), and Tartt’s model-actress girlfriend, Keeley (Juno Temple). Ted also has an off-screen wife and son, and their absence gives the series a surprisingly heartfelt undercurrent.

Ted exists as a testament to the good things that can happen when you open yourself up and just go with the bit until it starts to feel natural. Let someone make cookies for you every day. Read the children’s book someone gave you as a gift. Roll with wordplay games and little dances and silly moments that catch you off guard. Ted Lasso proposes a version of our world where vulnerability, consideration, and genuine emotion — especially among those who are socially conditioned to be closed off — are rewarded in kind. It’s a nice world to imagine if you’ll just go with the bit.

Apple TV+ dropped the first three episodes of Ted Lasso at once on August 14th.

Related Topics: , , ,

Valerie Ettenhofer is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer, TV-lover, and mac and cheese enthusiast. As a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects, she covers television through regular reviews and her recurring column, Episodes. She is also a voting member of the Critics Choice Association's television and documentary branches. Twitter: @aandeandval (She/her)