If there was ever a reason to subscribe to Apple+ (aside from The Morning Show), it’s Ted Lasso. After scoring big with critics and audiences in its freshman season, 2021 saw the viral sensation-turned-series score a prestigious Peabody Award for “excellence in storytelling” in June, before receiving an unprecedented 20 Emmy Award nominations the following month. The series would go on to win seven Emmys, including Best Comedy, Lead Actor, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress.
Read on for eight reasons that the show with the world’s sunniest outlook became a hit in the middle of a pandemic!
The story of an American coaching a professional football (soccer, to the uninitiated) team in the UK, and featuring Saturday Night Live veteran Jason Sudeikis (We’re the Millers) in the lead, Ted Lasso was never intended to be a series.
Created by Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt (who plays Coach Beard), and prolific TV writer Joe Kelly (SNL, How I Met Your Mother), Lasso made his bow in NBC promos to highlight the network’s US airings of British Premiere League Football matches back in 2013. The promos highlighted Lasso’s obliviousness, and the clips quickly went viral on YouTube, prompting NBC to create a second round of sketches the following year. With traction already in place, Sudeikis, Hunt, and Kelly wrote a pilot for a series, but it wasn’t until Sudeikis spoke with producer Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town) that the wheels got rolling on production.
How it began
The show opens with Lasso and Beard arriving in London to coach AFC Richmond. While the duo have had some success in American football, they’ve no experience with the Beautiful Game, and have generally no idea what they’re walking into. Unbeknownst to them, team owner Rebecca Welton (the West End legend who famously paraded a nude Cersei through King’s Landing on Game of Thrones) has hired Lasso to destroy the legacy of the team’s former owner (and Rebecca’s ex-husband) Rupert (Anthony Stewart Head, TV’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer).
Through a combination of Lasso’s ceaseless optimism and Beard’s wisdom, along with the support of the team’s talented equipment manager, Nate (Nick Mohammed), and a lad mag model-turned-marketing-officer, Keeley (Juno Temple, Black Mass), this unlikely group of newfound colleagues sets out to make heroes of their underdog team.
THE TAO OF TED
What Ted lacks in football know-how, he makes up for with sheer positivity and enthusiasm, traits that, in lesser hands, could have been excruciating to watch. Thankfully, Sudeikis as Lasso never goes full Pollyana (ie. annoyingly chipper), nor is he as outright moronic as presented in the NBC Sports ads. Instead, Sudeikis plays his character like the smartest kind of golden retriever — loyal and genuine (nearly to a fault), yet adaptable enough to know when and how to temper his enthusiasm once he’s familiarized.
In between endless homegrown aphorisms (Lasso hails from Kansas, after all), Lasso is just as likely to throw out obscure film and musical allusions to get his point across, referencing everything from Prince and Queen lyrics, to co-opting Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan rom coms. In any case, thank goodness for the near-constant presence of Coach Beard to serve as Ted’s translator and/or voice of reason.
A large part of Ted Lasso’s success comes from showrunner Bill Lawrence, whose experience creating and handling Scrubs (2001-2010) and Cougar Town (2009-2015) meant he was no stranger to managing large ensembles where nobody was left out, ongoing storylines that pay off in weird, wonderful, and/or offbeat ways, and dialogue that is endlessly quotable. Indeed, stories have run the gamut from sublime to slapstick to heartbreaking — sometimes in the same scene! But whether we’re learning about Roy’s yoga/reality show routine or following Coach Beard on an all-night bender, everything happens at the service of the narrative and its characters.
Now, granted, Ted Lasso is a show that (refreshingly) unabashedly wears its heart on its sleeve, but the writers never allow the proceedings to devolve into outright schmaltz or (unearned) sentiment. Here, nearly every emotional beat is set up, developed, and earned before it’s unleashed on the audience, and this writer is all for it.
The sensational supporting cast
While Sudeikis’ Ted is undoubtedly the star, the writers are masterful in their handling of the supporting characters, giving each their own unique personalities, without resorting (for the most part) to caricature. It’s one thing to develop a secondary cast, but the fact that the writers and actors were able to do it in a manner that doesn’t rely on racial stereotypes and misconceptions (unlike, say, Emily in Paris) is a feat in and of itself.
That the actors are almost uniformly brilliant in their roles is the icing on the cake — it’s as if everybody involved knew they were working on something special and decided to give it their all. As a result, when they slowly come around to Ted’s homespun demeanor and earnest attitude, with cynicism and disdain slowly giving way to genuine respect and — in some cases — friendship, we’re won over right there alongside them.
How it’s going
The show’s second year kicks off with AFC Richmond battling their way back to the ranks of the Premier League following their humiliating relegation last season. With far less time spent on Lasso’s culture shock, the show further develops its superb supporting cast of characters, including the perpetually gruff Roy (Brett Goldstein, originally hired to be a member of the writing staff); Nigerian up-and-comer Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh); Mexican Dani Roxas (Cristo Fernández); and Jamie (Phil Dunster, Murder on the Orient Express), who is looking to make up for his former primadonna ways.
Season 2 builds on its predecessor by spending time on the characters’ backstories, with special attention being paid to Rebecca, Jamie, and Ted’s respective parental issues. Much of the introspection comes about care of a sports psychologist, Sharon (Sarah Niles), who delivers a welcome perspective on the importance of mental health in a workplace traditionally characterized by toxic masculinity.
The plots thicken!
Aside from the team’s quest to reclaim their Premier League status, the main narrative this time around deals with the very real consequences of Lasso’s methods. Sure, espousing self-actualization and good, clean teamwork are all good and well, but when the team in question has eight consecutive games end in a draw, one has to question the value of such methods in a professional sports outfit. The fallout is imbibed by dear, sweet Nate, whose fall from grace due to his insecurities is as understandable as it is heartbreaking. We see flashes of this throughout the season and, as Nate’s hair grows progressively grayer (while his attire grows darker), we dread the blow-up that we know is coming. When the inevitable does happen, and Nate severs ties with Team Lasso, it still manages to hit as a shock.
Less successful are some of the secondary and tertiary storylines, as in the case of Roy and Keeley’s incredibly contrived relationship troubles (introduced in the last three episodes for, reasons, one supposes), Isaac’s (Kola Bokinni) settling into his role as team captain, and Sam’s brief flirtation with leaving AFC Richmond (which ends almost as soon as it begins). While the episodes are nowhere near as standalone as those of shows from years past, it would have been nice to see some time spent on the repercussions of things other than Ted’s unceasing benevolence. Take, for example, the (non-) fallout from the team’s protest against their former sponsor, which theoretically would have affected Rebecca on a business and personal level, as the owner of said sponsor was a friend of her ex-husband. As presented, Keeley manages to get them a new sponsor in the form of a dating app that exists solely to push Rebecca’s romantic subplot (which also goes — mostly — nowhere).
Thankfully, despite these missteps, the heart, wit, and soul of the show are largely intact, thanks to the incredible foundations laid down in the first year; to wit, no matter how ridiculous or contrived some of the situations may be, the performances and energy of the actors are undeniable in their ability to make us root for these characters, and it remains near-impossible to get through an episode without smiling (and/or crying happy tears) at least once.
The bottom line
Smartly-written, well-acted, and boasting an overall message of kindness and optimism, Ted Lasso delivers exactly the right kind of TV comfort to distract us from the realities of the last year and a half. It may not be enough to convince one that people like Ted and his cohorts could exist in the real world, but by God, it’ll have you wishing that they did.
Catch Ted Lasso on Apple TV+.