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“Ted Lasso” is the Tonic That 2020 Needs

Well, what a surprise. On paper, “Ted Lasso” shouldn’t work. The silly premise, taken from two 2013 NBC commercials (promoting NBC’s coverage of the English Premier League), seemed better left as sketches rather than as a full-fledged series on Apple TV+.

An Unlikely Beginning

Those sketches showed an American coach, Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis), being hired to lead an English football club, despite understanding nothing about the game in the UK. Cue a lot of jokes that play up the cultural differences between Americans and Brits. (“If you tried to end a game in a tie in the United States, heck that might be listed in Revelations as the cause for the apocalypse.”) The series follows the same premise, with college coach Ted Lasso being recruited from Kansas to coach AFC Richmond alongside his friend Coach Beard (Brendan Hurt). Yet Lasso is blissfully unaware that his hiring is only an act of sabotage from the club’s new owner, Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), who gains the club through her messy divorce and wishes to run it into the ground as an act of revenge on her cheating ex-husband.

Despite starting out rehashing the same jokes from the sketches, “Ted Lasso” soon begins to carve a new path. Showrunner Bill Lawrence (creator of “Scrubs”) creates a funny and endearing series. As a result, the first season is Apple TV+’s best programme and one of the strongest comedies of the year. (And no, you don’t need to know anything about football to enjoy it.)

The Real MVP

Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso | Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

What makes the series works so well is Sudeikis’s compelling performance. As Ted, he’s relentlessly upbeat, kind to everyone and undeterred by the ridicule he receives from his players, the press and public. Yet Sudeikis (who also serves as executive producer) still makes Ted’s character authentic and grounded, whether it’s depicting his marriage struggles or attempted bonding with his players. The character could have easily swung too far into cringe territory, so the performance is a welcome relief. Yet thankfully Sudeikis develops a protagonist whose openness and vulnerability slowly becomes infectious to those around him. It’s a charming, winning performance that will hopefully net Sudeikis some awards in the upcoming year.

A Team Effort

Hannah Waddingham and Juno Temple as Rebecca and Keeley | Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

While Sudeikis is undoubtedly the star of the show, “Ted Lasso” also creates a lovable and heartwarming ensemble. Whether it’s kit-man Nathan (Nick Mohammed), players Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) or assistant Higgins (Jeremy Swift), all characters get a chance to grow under Lasso’s influence. One thing the show improves on throughout the first season is its treatment of its female characters. Rebecca and Keeley (Juno Temple) soon break away from the stereotypes of the vengeful ex-wife and the footballer’s girlfriend. Their subsequent friendship is a genuine and lovely addition that other shows wouldn’t have bothered including.

Changing The Game

Brett Goldstein, Juno Temple and Phil Dunster as Roy, Keeley and Jamie | Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

That’s something that “Ted Lasso” proves again and again in its first season. It doesn’t use its masculine environment as an excuse to ignore female characters or reinforce lazy stereotypes of masculinity. Toxic masculinity? “Ted Lasso”’s never heard of it. For example, when a love triangle pops up, (a television staple) it steers clear of the miscommunication and jealously tropes that usually accompany such a storyline. Instead, the characters (shock horror!) openly communicate their feelings to each other. This healthy and refreshing handling of conflict is an example that other shows should look to.

 A scene where men openly sit and discuss their insecurities shouldn’t feel revelatory, yet when it handles a character’s jealousy by telling them to “Grow up and get over it,” it is. “Ted Lasso” makes the point of showing that vulnerability isn’t a weakness, but rather a chance to connect with others.

The Lasso Way

Ted Lasso' Review: Jason Sudeikis as America's Nicest Export - The New York  Times
Brendan Hurt and Jason Sudeikis as Coach Beard and Ted Lasso | Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

I’m slightly late to the game in watching the series, (the first season concluded on October 2nd), and I’ll admit it’s a show I never would have watched had I not seen the reviews. Yet the show was continually impressive, earnest and delightful throughout. Thankfully, AppleTV+ recognizes what a gem they’ve got on their hands, having renewed it for a second and third (!) season.

In a year where two reigning ‘nice’ comedies (“The Good Place” and “Schitt’s Creek”) have now concluded their runs, “Ted Lasso” joins their ranks through its belief that external support is what helps characters become the best versions of themselves. In a hellish year, this delightful series leads the way as the next ultimate TV tonic.  

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