The old adage “kill ‘em with kindness” holds no place in “Ted Lasso,” the Apple TV+ comedy featuring Jason Sudeikis in the title role as an American football coach transplanted to England to manage a struggling soccer team.
The idea, instead, is to lift ‘em up with kindness. Lift who, exactly? Everyone.
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Born out of a series of commercials for NBC Sports, the comedy, which is up for a pair of Golden Globe Awards, including best TV series (comedy or musical) and best actor in a TV series (comedy or musical) for Sudeikis, is a breath of fresh air during a pandemic when people are quite afraid to inhale. It’s a pop culture vaccine for the divisiveness that has permeated our lives for the last few years.
Ted Lasso is a coach more interested in helping people better themselves. Winning games? That’s not at the top of his list.
“For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It is about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field," he tells skeptical reporter Trent Crimm in the show’s second episode when the journalist writes a profile of him. "And it ain’t always easy, Trent, but neither is growing up without someone believing in you.”
That Ted is the patsy in the show makes it all the more entertaining. He’s unaware that he has been hired not to lead his club, AFC Richmond, to glory on the pitch, but to drill it into the ground, the team’s owner, Rebecca, bringing him onboard in the hopes of the squad losing so she can exact a measure of revenge against her ex-husband after she’s awarded control of the team in their divorce.
But something happens during the course of the show’s first season: People can’t help but like Ted, whose drawl is as out of place on that side of the pond as Kansas City barbecue. His penalty box-to-penalty box smile wears down just about everyone. He’s Pollyanna with a bushy mustache. He sees the good where no one else would even think to look, even as his team teeters on the brink of being relegated to an inferior division.
The show has definitely hit a nerve. It’s been renewed for a second and third season, according to Deadline. (Requests from TODAY to speak to the cast for this story were turned down, since they are in production on the second season.)
“Ted Lasso” works, in large part, because it is the antithesis of what we are living through right now when it feels like everyone is angry about everything from politics to the coronavirus to kids not returning to school. Unity feels about as prevalent as a patient fan willing to give Ted the benefit of the doubt.
Ted, though, cannot be derailed by the crusty fans who mock him or the likes of arrogant star player Jamie Tartt, who he refuses to let get the best of him. He still sees greatness in surly Roy Kent, a player who’s past his prime. He makes lovably timid kit man Nate feel welcome. He is all too eager to put a smile on Rebecca’s face by baking her biscuits every day.
In a time when it can feel as if we've been conditioned to accept name-calling, memes that mock others and social media posts that frame our world as an “us versus them” paradigm, Ted is a good guy who does none of that — and it is refreshing.
The supporting cast plays along, too. Juno Temple is enchantingly incandescent as Keeley, a spitfire who winds up working with the team while dating the infuriating Jamie (Phil Dunster) before dumping him to pursue a relationship with Roy, who is wonderfully portrayed by Brett Goldstein. Nick Mohammed is great as Nate and Hannah Waddingham deftly straddles the line between icy and insecure as Rebecca. Her ex-husband, Rupert, who you may remember from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” is a thorn in her side that you’ll love to hate.
We haven't done much laughing or smiling recently. Politics have built a chasm between us and a pandemic has pushed us to the brink of anxiety and rage, but Ted Lasso is here to welcome everyone with open arms. As implausible a concept as the show’s premise is, it succeeds, almost as implausibly as the way Ted makes people see the world the way he does.
It’s for the best that Ted isn’t interested in winning because there’s one person with whom he can’t claim victory. In the fifth episode, his wife and son come to visit. His marriage is in trouble and his wife tells him she no longer feels the spark that she once did, no matter how hard she tries.
The show veers in a different direction handling the subject matter — there are no fights and the plot line doesn’t drone on and on. Rather, Ted tells her it’s OK that they split up, a mensch in a moving moment when he makes a hard decision and you can’t help but feel for him. He remains gracious in defeat and even more likable in the face of personal loss. The line between comedy and drama, already razor thin, is not blurred, but treated with the diminishing art of respect.
“And though I believe that Ted Lasso will fail here and Richmond will suffer the embarrassment of relegation, I won’t gloat when it happens. Because I can’t help but root for him,” Crimm winds up writing in his profile of him.
Viewers will most definitely feel the same.