When I saw the premise for Apple TV’s original series Ted Lasso the rush of cynicism made me wince. I expected a ham-fisted, synergy-seeking, audience cross-pollinating attempt at making a football comedy with an American male lead. Let me hang my head in shame for it fits none of the above descriptions.
Ted Lasso revolves around the classic fish out of water comedy structure, this time with Jason Sudeikis playing the affable American college football coach hired by English football club AFC Richmond despite his total lack of experience in the sport. We soon find out the reason he has been given this unlikely chance is that the chairman of the club, played by the imposing but quietly charming Hannah Waddingham, wants to deliberately sabotage the club’s fortunes, thus sticking it to her cheating ex-husband, the previous owner of the club.
The rest of the cast revolves around the squad of players at AFC Richmond, including an allusion to Roy Keane in fictional character Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), the hapless and ever-bullied caretaker Nathan (Nick Mohammed), the chairman’s assistant (Jeremy Swift), one of the player’s girlfriends (Juno Temple) and Brendan Hunt as Lasso’s assistant manager Coach Beard.
Though the series isn’t a laugh a minute, it’s not bereft of jokes of various formats, including off-hand remarks, silly puns and wordplay, mean, down-punching comments and more. Off the bat there is a funny little exchange between Waddingham’s Rebecca Welton with her assistant Higgins. “Misogyny. I know it’s a big word. Ask one of your daughters what it means,” Welton says.
This is directly followed with the short-lived introduction to the previous manager, the man Welton sacks so that she can replace him with Lasso. While the shorts-wearing man in front of her squirms after being told that his choice of clothing exposes one of his testicles, she notes that his movement has further revealed his private area. “And there’s the other one. Liam and Noel. Though perhaps not an oasis.” Waddingham is exceptional at calmly delivering biting sarcasm.
Sudeikis remains the core of the show, however, and he excels as this sort of Ned Flanders of a character, doggedly pushing his amiability, despite the gargantuan amount of mockery and scorn he receives from most people in his immediate surroundings. There is genuine heart in his performance, a warmhearted sense of earnestness, at once wide-eyed and assured that things will somehow work themselves out.
Lasso is so partial to being open-minded and kindhearted with the people he interacts with that in a hypothetical question he chooses to be a panda bear over a lion. When the chairman listens to his choice, she can’t possibly countenance such an answer, showcasing the contrast between the two characters.
Although there is an underlying sense of wishfulness in Welton’s proclamations of the lion’s superiority. Lasso is already a panda, he doesn’t need to put in any effort in being one, whereas Welton would like to be a lion because she hates feeling vulnerable and susceptible to the whims of people like her ex-husband. The only time Lasso allows himself to be judgemental is when the two discuss the appeal of tea. “Tea is horrible. Absolute garbage water”, Lasso permits himself to say.