Why you should be watching Ted Lasso
James R | On 16, Aug 2020
“I can’t help but root for him,” remarks a character in the opening episodes of Ted Lasso, Apple TV+’s new comedy. It’s a sentiment you’ll soon find yourself sharing – even though you likely have no idea who on earth Ted Lasso is.
A clueless football coach, he was initially conceived by Jason Sudeikis for a couple of short skits for NBC Sports in 2013 to promote the network’s coverage of Premier League football. Now, seven years on, he’s been fleshed out into a full leading man, given a comedy series and set out to score a winner for Apple’s fledgling streaming service. Unknown to UK viewers and likely forgotten by US audiences, it’s an unusual pick for a star player – but those kind of underdog odds are exactly what Ted Lasso thrives on.
We join him as he’s flown in from Kansas to coach AFC Richmond, a club that excels at being consistently mediocre. But within a few minutes of his first press conference, we realise just how out of his depth he is – he doesn’t know the offside rule, can’t name any players on the team and is surprised to learn that football matches can end with a draw. How did he get the gig as Richmond’s new manager? Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), the club’s owner, has brought him in to fail miserably, thereby getting revenge on her messily divorced husband, who still thinks he owns the club.
That kind of bitter, calculating cruelty is par for the course in modern TV – we’re used to mockumentaries where awkward laughs and pained situations expose someone’s incompetencies, balanced with some hints of sympathy. But Ted Lasso doesn’t operate by that playbook: it’s all sympathy and 100 per cent heart. The result is the nicest TV show of 2020 (and an antidote to the past year) – and that alone makes it a must-watch.
Ted’s greeted by a grouchy array of footballers, from the Roy Keane-alike Roy Kent (the always-excellent Brett Goldstein, fully committed to being as gruff as possible) to rising ego Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), who clash over the team’s treatment of the put-upon kit boy, Nathan (an endearing Nick Mohammed, continuing his campaign to be on every comedy series this year). In between them all is Hannah Waddingham’s spiteful CEO, who provides an entertainingly spiky contrast to Jamie’s model girlfriend, Keeley (Juno Temple). And shining the spotlight on each of them in turn is Trent Crimm (James Lance), a cynical journalist for The Independent.
All of these supporting teammates are far from original but each cast member plays their part with a convincing chemistry. The show is as generous as its hero, giving them room to grow and mature in their own right. Anthony Head is the exception as Rebecca’s ex-husband, and he’s enjoying the heck out of being as slimy as possible, but the rest of the ensemble are fully-rounded players. Goldstein unearths heart beneath Kent’s hard-hitting exterior, Mohammed’s Nathan finds his voice, Cristo Fernandez as late signing Dani Rojas is charmingly exciteable, and Juno Temple gets one of the best roles of her career, blending a spot-on mix of smarts and unthinking privilege with sincere compassion.
That across-the-board sincerity is backed up by the use of actual football ground Selhurst Park for filming. Football fans may be disappointed by the lack of actual football in it, but you don’t question the existence of AFC Richmond for a second – and the climax, which hinges on a fate-deciding showdown, delivers some surprising ball-kicking action.
But the MVP, undoubtedly, is Jason Sudeikis, who knows Ted Lasso inside and out as a character and as a human; he’s unflappably optimistic, unfailingly thoughtful and just might know more about managing a group of people than it appears. He has a wonderful back-and-forth rhythm with Brendan Hunt as Coach Beard, the stoic second half of Ted’s managing hive brain, and their ability to support and question each other without snapping or sniping is quietly adorable.
The result isn’t always a laugh-out-loud affair, but it’s one that will leave you beaming throughout. Scrubs veteran Bill Lawrence – and writers Jane Becker (Rick and Morty), Jamie Lee (Crashing) and Phoebe Walsh (Four Weddings and a Funeral) – find just the right blend of low-stakes drama and character quirks, inserting absurd dialogue without descending into silliness. “Do you believe in ghosts?” Ted is asked by Rebecca. “Yes,” comes the reply, “but most importantly, I think they need to believe in themselves.” It isn’t referred to again. “High five, tree,” he declares at another point, as he pats a tree sculpture on the way out of a room. These aren’t surreal asides for the sake of them; they’re a strangely logical extension of Ted’s philosophy, and Sudeikis brings a warmth and sincerity to the role that subtly seeps through the whole programme. After a few episodes, you can’t help but root for this unlikely yet delightful TV show. Against all the odds, Apple TV+ has scored a real winner.
Ted Lasso: Season 1 and 2 is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, with a seven-day free trial. For more information on Apple TV+ and how to get it, click here.