By any measure, 2020 has been a shitty year. I don’t mind admitting that the stress of the year, combined with the lockdown induced by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of the usual ways of releasing stress and tension have taken their toll on my mental health.
In a year of relentless bad news, I never thought that one of the shining lights in some dark days would be a comedy about an American Football coach taking the reigns of a Premier League team.
I’ve not watched a lot of TV in the past year really, and what I have watched hasn’t really stuck. I’ve not really clicked with much in the way of comedy either, finding what is out there to be based on humour that is gross-out, cringing or just damned hyperactive to concentrate on, let alone enjoy. Maybe it is a sign of getting old, maybe not.
So the only thing that has really stuck has been Ted Lasso, the lead offering from the new Apple TV+ service. I must confess, I couldn’t be bothered with Apple TV+ even though I had a free twelve month subscription simply because I wasn’t going to watch it on my iPhone. But when the app was released for the XBox, I finally could play the damn thing through my TV.
The concept started with an advert on NBC Sports to advertise their coverage of the Premier League. In the ads, an American American Football coach, Ted Lasso, was appointed manager of “The Tottenham Hotspurs”. Cue plenty of fish out of water jokes.
Very popular, the Ted Lasso character stayed in the background of Jason Sudeikis’ mind until a couple of years ago where he and Brendan Hurt managed to develop a series. The Lasso in that ad would never work across an entire series, but the basic principle – fleshed out by Brett Goldstein and Scrubs writer Bill Lawrence was made into ten episodes by the newly launched Apple TV+.
The basic setup is that Premier League club AFC Richmond have new ownership in the form of Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham). She is in charge because she got the club as part of a bitter divorce from her husband. And she has a reason for appointing a new manager who has no clue about the game.
My ex-husband truly loved only one thing his entire life: this club. And Ted Lasso is gonna help me burn it to the ground.
Unknowingly into the hot seat steps our title character, assisted by his sidekick, the laconic Coach Beard (Hurt). Joining the club, they meet kitman Nate (Nick Mohammed), aging captain Roy Kent (Goldstein), star talent Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) and his WAG Keeley Jones (Juno Temple). Can our hero actually become a success in a sport that he barely understands?
With that being the setup, saying that Ted Lasso is about football is like saying Star Trek is about a spaceship. There is little football action and the struggle against relegation is a subplot. The standard “gee, ain’t things different here in England” stuff is largely dispensed with by the end of episode two. Instead Ted Lasso is about characters you invest in and begin to care deeply about.
While being a very funny comedy, Ted Lasso is also an uplifting and positive story. I’m not going to go into details as I don’t want to spoil things but from cliched beginnings, each character is given depth and motivation which rounds them out and explains their situation. It also is smart enough to play the fish out of water stuff both ways.
Lasso: I mean, he must be from England, yeah?
Coach Beard: Wales.
Lasso: Is that another country?
Beard: Yes and no.
Lasso: How many countries are in this country?
Central to this – and perhaps uniquely for a show set in the world of football – are the two female characters, Rebecca and Keeley. It would have been very easy for them to have been peripheral or stereotypical but I found them to be crucial to the drama as well as getting some of the funniest lines. Hannah Waddingham and Juno Temple are brilliant in rounding out their roles – Waddingham in particularly can convey Rebecca’s emotions with a single face twitch.
I’ve rewatched the series a couple of times now and for me, one of the pleasures is seeing the foreshadowing of future events. It’s clear that this show is written and crafted to within an inch of its life. Considering where it came from, Ted Lasso simply should not be this good.
Anyone who knows me knows of my deep and abiding love for Firefly, the short-lived Joss Whedon sci-fi Western. I’ve never really got the fandom for Star Wars or Doctor Who (though I appreciate their qualities) but the adventures of the crew of the Serenity were something that I completely fell in love with and will watch over and over, reciting the lines from memory and cheering and crying at what happens in those 13 precious episodes and one movie. I even did that fan thing of evangelising the show to all and sundry, demanding that they watch it and hoping that they fell in love with as I did.
I didn’t expect to feel that way about a second show but I really do have that engagement with Ted Lasso. It is a show with heart and care and love. It has a positive message and moments where you quietly cheer when a character gets something nice happening to them. There is one scene – again spoilers – which I’ve watched over and over, sometimes when I’m down, sometimes when I just want to smile. It takes you to heights, sometimes through comedy, sometimes through drama.
The show is streaming on Apple TV+. If you have bought an iThing in the last nine months or so, you have a year subscription included. The app is also available on PC, Xbox and Playstation. You can get a 30 day trial and binge the series quickly – it is 10 half hour episodes. I really, completely and throughly recommend that you do.