September 10, 2020TV
In Ted Lasso, American coach Jason Sudeikis is hired to manage a football (soccer, to Americans) club in the U.K. He has been handpicked by Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), who has just taken over ownership of the team via her divorce settlement. Ted has never coached a football team before, nor does he know anything about the game. In this Apple TV+ original comedy, we see how Ted’s leadership works out. S1 will be ten episodes total, five are available so far.
When I start a new show, I’m on the lookout for some indication that there’s potential, that I’ll want to keep watching. It doesn’t happen every time. But in Ted Lasso, that moment comes at minute 3:25 of E1. Rebecca has just fired the entitled, homophobic, misogynistic coach of her team. As a parting shot, he tries to humiliate her by referencing her ex-husband and his extra-marital shenanigans with much younger women. Rebecca pauses a half beat, tilts her head and asks him: “Is there someone who could pop out and fetch me a salad?” Followed by: “Nothing with raisins in it, please!” (this delivered to his back as he flees). I’m delighted to share that the show doesn’t squander this promising beginning. Ted Lasso is my favorite new show of the year (so far). Let me make my case!
So many shows have celebrated compelling and charismatic protagonists - and it’s hard to stop watching them even though they’re usually garbage people (Don Draper from Mad Men, Walter White from Breaking Bad, Tony Soprano from The Sopranos, etc x infinity). But in Ted Lasso, Jason Sudeikis plays Ted with a gentle southern drawl, and a genuine, perpetual smile under his mustache. Ted is always kind and friendly. He is quick to learn and use people’s names (from the driver who picks him up at the airport to the fans who berate him in the street). He intentionally affirms and supports people who need a confidence boost, like Nate (Nick Mohammed) the team’s shy “kit man” or Higgins (Jeremy Swift) Rebecca’s overwhelmed lackey. But his real superpower is his ability to take almost nothing personally - he gets a LOT of antagonism from all corners (the players, the rabid local fan base, the press). He listens to the jabs and always has a humble, good-natured response. For example, Roy (the team captain) storms out of the locker room after rebuffing Ted’s first efforts to connect. Ted’s pleasant expression doesn’t change - he turns to his second in command, Coach Beard (the fantastic Brendan Hunt) and says “He thinks he’s mad now…. Wait ‘till we win him over.” (Coach Beard replies “He’ll. Be. Furious.”) I’ve been scanning my mental archives and so far I haven’t been able to come up with another example of a male-led series that has this take on leadership. The portrayal of Ted brings a fresh angle to the oft-told underdog sports story. He focuses on team building (birthday parties and suggestion boxes) and unlocking the potential of each person he coaches. It's a treat to watch everyone in his orbit try to figure out if he's for real (he is) and decide what kind of team they want to be now that he's on board.
I know that two doesn’t sound like a lot (and shoutout to my beloved Friday Night Lights which had many complex female characters, including the unparalleled Tami Taylor). But Ted Lasso is also unique in that the two major roles for women are multi-dimensional and fairly central to the plotlines of the show (rather than just sounding boards or support systems for the male characters, as is usually the case in sports-themed shows/movies).
I love Hannah Waddington’s performance as Rebecca. Though she’s introduced with somewhat trite motivations for her actions, her character is given more than one note to play and this comes through clearly as the episodes progress. She is a powerful woman who is always poised and unruffled in public. But she is also grieving in the aftermath of her failed marriage and rotten ex-husband, and her experience is treated with compassion rather than pity. She's a badass, and the show knows it.
Keeley (Juno Temple) plays the way-too-good-for-him girlfriend of the team’s star player, Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster). She has a quick but generous sense of humor. In her first exchange with Ted, she kindly advises him to avoid Twitter and the hashtags that are trending since he took over the team (#wanker). In another scene she easily comes up with several tabloid-style headlines, and afterwards says: "I'm cute as a button and I can rhyme my ass off. God no wonder they want to destroy me!" She has great chemistry with everyone on the show, but I especially like her scenes with Rebecca. Two complex female characters who have interesting scenes together? It's a unicorn, rarely seen in entertainment about sports.
Aside from Jason Sudeikis (Saturday Night Live), I recognized almost no one on this cast. But they are a team of all-stars, especially team captain Roy and Coach Beard. Where Ted is always smiling, Roy has an exquisite, near permanent scowl. He’s like a wall of grump. (Keeley does a great impression of him.) But underneath he has a wicked, if exasperated, sense of humor, and it’s fun to watch the mental chess match between him and Ted as his coach tries to wheedle him into a more active team leadership role.
Coach Beard is Ted’s ultra-deadpan sidekick, which means his rare moments of animation or physical comedy absolutely slay. He and Ted share a fluent, non-verbal communication style, allowing Brendan Hunt to do stellar work with micro expressions and crack comic timing. He’s the stealth MVP of the show, with a lot of contenders for the title.
Despite how much I love Ted Lasso (and I really really do) I do have a wish list for future episodes:
These are only nitpicks on a show that is both funny and a lot of fun. This is the exact comedy my 2020-weary soul needed, and has filled the Parks and Recreation shaped hole in my heart. I rolled the dice when I decided to check it out and (sorry to mix metaphors) I'm thrilled to have hit the jackpot.
A Note About Apple TV+, in case you’re not already a subscriber.
Apple TV+ has a fraction of the content you’ll find on Netflix or the other streaming services. They’re really just getting started with their original programming, of which Ted Lasso is the most recent release. Other series include The Morning Show with Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon, which I didn’t love but I did like and hope that it will get even better in S2. There’s Dickinson, which is a reimagining of Emily Dickinson’s life and has gotten some good buzz. Another new addition is Boys State, a documentary film that follows 1100 teenaged boys as they come from across Texas to build a (mock) representative government.
If you’re not sure about subscribing but think you might enjoy Ted Lasso, it’s possible to sign up for a free seven-day trial. There will be a total of ten episodes this season, which you can easily finish in a week, with even a little time leftover to check out some of the other stuff on offer. However, since Apple TV+ releases only one episode each Friday, you might want to wait about a month before signing up, so the entire season will be available. I probably should have delayed this post until then, but I’m so excited about this show that I couldn’t wait. If you can, I hope you’ll check it out!
An Apple TV+ Original Series
E6: Airs 9/4/20
E7: Airs 9/11/20
E8: Airs 9/18/20
E9: Airs 9/25/20
E10: Airs 10/2/20
TV MA (Language) - Coach Ted NEVER swears but just about everyone else on the show does, liberally.
Jason Sudeikis as Ted
Hannah Waddington as Rebecca
Brendan Hunt as Coach Beard
Juno Temple as Keeley
Brett Goldstein as Roy
Phil Dunster as Jamie
Nick Mohammed as Nate
Toheeb Jimoh as Sam
Jeremy Swift as Higgins