We’ve been holding out for a hero for some time now, but in the midst on unprecedented political corruption and staring down the barrel of a deadly virus outbreak that’s been going on for eighteen months, Ted Lasso arrives with perfect timing to capture the hearts and minds of an utterly exhausted public. Inspired by a parody character invented by comic Jason Sudeikis for NBC Sports, the idea is completely resistible; who cares what would happen to a US coach who manages a UK soccer team? The execution, however, is utterly irresistible.
The original gag was the way Lasso would mangle the footballing terms many take for granted; you can enjoy such malapropism in raw form by watching any ESPN soccer show. The mileage and appeal of such humour seemed limited, and a series on Apple TV seemed like way too much confidence in a simple gag. That joke IS developed as part of Ted Lasso the series, but snowballed into much bigger and more accessible ideas about life, love and, if not being the best, not being the worst. Lasso and his taciturn sidekick Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) arrive in the UK on the back of a minor success with Wichita State Shockers, unheeding what nefarious business is to come. Reeling from a jagged divorce, the owner of fictional club Richmond FC is Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), who has set up Ted to be the fall guy in her destruction of her ex-husband’s beloved investment. The fly in the ointment is that Ted, for all his home-spun charm, turns out to have a steely grasp on motivational techniques, and wins hearts and minds left, right and centre in unexpected ways.
‘Last time I saw cold, dead eyes like that, Roy Scheider was looking into them,’ Ted says of his new boss. ‘Like in Jaws?’ comes the response. ‘I was thinking All That Jazz’ muses Ted. This dialogue conveys the rich vein of humour in a nutshell; biscuit-baking, showtune-loving Ted Lasso side-steps our expectations constantly. And Bob Fosse fans will know that the cold, dead eyes that Roy Scheider looks into in All That Jazz are his own in the mirror; Ted Lasso understands that the person who stands in the way of his dreams is himself. The revelation of Ted’s unhappy home life is deftly and heartbreakingly handled here; the laughs are there, but it’s the sudden, unexpected bursts of depth that makes this Apple TV series a sure-fire cultural phenomenon.
Despite top billing for co-creator Sudeikis, Ted Lasso really is an ensemble piece, with mazy runs all over the pitch. Waddingham is a terrific foil as the vicious but vulnerable Rebecca, and her developing relationship with WAG Keeley Jones (Juno Temple) is surprisingly supple. Nick Mohammed comes up with some gems as Ted’s eccentric kit-man Nathan, while Brett Goldstein plays Roy Keane hard-man Roy Kent in a dynamic way that switches from cartoonish anger to touching introspection. Everyone’s a winner in Ted Lasso, and it’s almost enough to make you grow a Ned Flanders moustache and take an interest in the world around us. ‘Be curious,’ Ted suggests as he emerges triumphant from a pub-darts match; Ted Lasso should be available on prescription worldwide to share a little of this rare, infectiously feel-good vibe with the inquisitive, disconnected masses.
Season 2 of Ted Lasso is now screening weekly on Apple TV.