In an early episode of Ted Lasso, the new Apple TV+ comedy about a fictional Division II college football coach from Kansas (Jason Sudeikis) hired to lead a struggling English Premier League Team, an uptight journalist details Ted’s many flaws, but determines that he “can’t help but root for him.” It’s the perfect way to describe the new series developed by Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence (Scrubs), Joe Kelly, and Brendan Hunt (who co-stars as Lasso’s strong, silent assistant Coach Beard); Ted Lasso may not be the comedy that will make Apple TV+ a must-have, but it’s a charming, easy watch that you’ll want to cheer for whether you’re a sports fan or not.
Much of this is a credit to Sudeikis. The Ted Lasso character was originally created for a series of NBC Sports commercials that aired in 2013-14 promoting the network’s coverage of the Premier League. In them, Sudeikis played the American fish-out-of-water coach as more of an ignorant, macho blowhard. For the series, Lasso is retooled as the epitome of a nice guy, like if you combined Jimmy Stewart, Tom Hanks, and Mr. Rogers.
Ted Lasso is so pleasant and optimistic, he makes Leslie Knope look like a curmudgeon by comparison. Folksy, thoughtful, and almost aggressively friendly, Lasso’s coaching style is all about teambuilding; it almost doesn’t matter that he doesn’t know the first thing about football. The character is practically impossible not to like, and in a time of so much anxiety and frustration, it’s refreshing to spend time with someone like Ted. Since his time ended on SNL, Sudeikis has played the lovable screwup in his feature film successes (Horrible Bosses, We’re the Millers) but this feels like the perfect use of his comedic persona much in the same way that this year’s Palm Springs tapped into the best qualities of his former co-worker Andy Samberg.
To sustain the “nice guy in way over his head” story, Ted Lasso borrows from the plot of Major League, introducing the viewers to team owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham). Rebecca is cold, callous, and purposely trying to sabotage the team by hiring Lasso. However, she’s not just cartoonishly evil; Rebecca is motivated to tank the club in an effort to hurt her caddish ex-husband who loved the squad dearly. Humanizing the ostensible villain works to the series advantage and makes her relationship with Ted far more interesting. The more we learn about Rebecca, the more we come to appreciate the boss as much as Ted does.
Though the supporting characters take some time to get proper shading, by the season’s standout fourth episode, things start to click into place. There’s star player Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), a pretty boy with a “me” complex, aging captain Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), a no-nonsense ball of rage, Jamie’s deceptively witty starlet girlfriend Keeley (Juno Temple), and the team’s shy kit manager turned master strategist Nate (Nick Mohammed). Keeley and Nathan often score the biggest laughs, but a lot of the emotional heavy lifting comes from Roy, who spends the season grappling with mortality and identity while trying to buy-in to Ted Lasso’s coaching style.
Roy’s story, of the aging pro staring dwindling returns and retirement in the face, is a common sports movie trope, as are many of the character arcs found in Ted Lasso, but there are so many presented and lovingly executed that it’s clear that the writers are genuine fans of the genre that did their homework. Just like Ted’s demeanor, the slight familiarity is oddly comforting in a world that’s been recently deprived of sports stories. It’s somehow a knock and a boon at the same time.
Ted Lasso isn’t a laugh riot, nor is it something you’ve never seen before (the pilot features several jokes from the old Ted Lasso commercials) but the warmth radiating off of Sudeikis and the easy charms of a well-executed, feel-good sports story make it a breezy, low-effort watch that just about anyone can enjoy. It’s not likely to win any awards, but you wouldn’t wish cancelation (or in this case, relegation) on it either. It has the right mixture of sports clichés, fish out of water comedy, and workplace situational humor to get the job done, just like ol’Ted himself.