Hearts and Minds

Making the pitch for ‘Ted Lasso’ as a surprise feel-good comedy show

The Emmy-sweeping Schitt’s Creek’s final season is now streaming on Netflix. But once you rip through that bag of candy corn, you’ll have to get your feel-good comedy fix somewhere. I have a solution:

‘Ted Lasso’.

Yes, I know. Bear with me. The Apple TV+ series is based off of some years-old NBC Super Bowl ads about an American football coach who goes across the pond to coach the other type of football. Based on that description, ‘Ted Lasso’ probably isn’t on your watch list. It wasn’t on mine either. I watched the pilot one night just thinking I’d have something on in the background. But, like the title character, people have vastly underestimated the show, and that’s it’s greatest strength.

Jason Sudeikis and Co. have created a fish-out-of-water show that’s part Schitt’s Creek, part Major League, and part Scrubs, with a bleeding, fast-beating heart bigger than the Atlantic Ocean.

Ted Lasso
Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso.

The plot is simple. Ted Lasso gains some Internet fame when the locker room dance he does after taking his college football team to a championship goes viral.

Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) is looking for a scapegoat to run the football club her philandering ex, Rupert (Anthony Stewart Head, Giles from Buffy himself), owned into the ground.

She hires Ted Lasso to be her naive fall guy. She hopes that the Yankee won’t acclimate to a new sport and a new country. But Ted manages to charm everyone he meets, including Rebecca, the team’s old veteran (Brett Goldstein), the team’s hotshot rookie (Phil Dunster), his on-again, off-again girlfriend (Juno Temple), and even some of the townsfolk down at the local pub. He doesn’t know about Rebecca’s plan.

Sudeikis plays Ted as a hyper-positive goofball, but he’s not naive. It takes a few episodes to show the emotional depth of his character, but once it does, the show chooses the more complex route to explain that Ted has some real personal issues he’s dealing with, and his relentless positivity is a way to combat that.

Like Schitt’s Creek, Ted Lasso never goes for the mean joke. A typical sitcom would just make Ted the Urkel or the background colleague who’s always smiling. Here, Sudeikis balances earnest comedy and heartbreaking pathos with ease.

But that doesn’t mean the jokes don’t come fast and furious, often riffing on wordplay and the differences between America and England. This is the rare feel-good comedy that makes you both laugh and feel good.

A sample joke: Ted tells his assistant coach to tell the team to lace up their cleats for practice.

“Boots, they’re called boots,” the assistant corrects him.

“But I thought the trunk of the car was a boot.”

“It is.”

“So if I were to get fired while putting my cleats in the trunk of my car…”

“You’d be getting the boot while putting your boots in the boot, yeah.”

Elsewhere, Ted gets tripped up on the fact that a soccer match has two halves and not four quarters; the club’s fans nickname him “Wanker”, first angrily, then affectionately; he uses Kenny Rogers lyrics as coaching advice.

If wordplay isn’t your thing, the sheer positivity and goodness of most of these characters makes this show a balm right now. Ted charms a tabloid writer by genuinely taking an interest in him during a dinner interview. He bakes biscuits for Rebecca. He makes his team members go to charity functions with him. He’s a loving father.Who doesn’t want to watch a show about flawed people trying their best to be good right now?

Rebecca is the “villain” of the ‘Ted Lasso’, but the show gives her character much more depth than another, less talented writing staff would have. It allows her to grow and develop as much as every other character.

In fact, every character in ‘Ted Lasso’ receives the same treatment. Everyone’s hard exterior masks a goofy, heartfelt interior, and Ted’s arrival that brings out the good in them all.

If there is a downside to this show, there’s not a lot of soccer for a show about soccer. But most of the drama comes from watching Rebecca feel guilt about her scheme, and wondering if Ted will find out.

By the time the first season comes to a close, Ted is close to learning Rebecca’s secret, while making some serious progress on the pitch. Will the final episode end with Ted heading back to America with his boots in his hands? Or will he ride to the occasion and win over England’s hearts and minds? Either way, he’ll do it with a smile on his face and a bon mot on his lips, and it’ll make us feel good.

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Jake Harris

Jake Harris is a Texas-based journalist whose writing about pop culture and entertainment has appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the Nashville Scene and more. You can find more of his writings at jakeharrisbog.com or through his pop culture newsletter, Jacob's Letter.

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