Appreciating Ted Lasso

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?
Beard: Four.

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.

Barbecue sauce!

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.

Twenty years ago today…

This happened.

I was working at Microcheck, a small company in Trawden dealing with motor insurance for clients.  My boss, Mark, was a Claret and we had travelled to many games in that memorable season.  The Clarets travelled for the game in York and the tailback must have started in Colne.  It was crazy, as 7,500 people headed to Bootham Crescent for the match, hoping to see the Clarets get the one point needed for promotion, or the three points to become only the second club to win all four divisions of the League

Burnley fans took over three sides of the ground.  You could see the party atmosphere forming, an evening of jubiliation and relief even though not a single ball had been kicked.  In the traffic jam, I remember a Mexican Wave passing down the lines of traffic.  One van full of fans got out for a roadside pee on against the rear wheel of a Transit, some bloke running sideways trying to hit the wheel with piss as it moved forward in the jam. More Mexican Waves in the queues to enter the ground and then once inside, it was utterly packed.  And when John Francis scored the injury time winner, mayhem was unleashed.

A pitch invasion started early.  There was no fence in front of where we were – only a short policewoman assigned crowd control. I know she was short because I was barely five and a half foot at the time and I was taller than her.  She held us back when the goal went in.  A minute later, the final whistle and we once again streamed onto the pitch.  I ran by her, as she squeaked “Stay back, stay back! Ah, fuck it, just watch yerselves.”

It was a night that gave fresh impetus to the club, having survived the Orient Game four years earlier, this was the moment when the club finally managed to get itself into gear and begin the climb up through the Divisions.  I hate the idea that a club is “too big for its Division”, having long believed that until you accept the reality of your situation, you will continue to fall.  Ask Leeds, Manchester City, either Sheffield club.  Burnley had done the same thing until the day when it could have gone out of existence.  Since that moment, it accepted that history, a big stadium and big crowds didn’t give you any additional points in the League table.

Things could have stalled – nearly did in fact – but that season the club and fans got fresh impetus.  Two years later we were in Division 1 (or the old Two) having beaten Stockport in a playoff final.  But that was too far, too fast and the club dropped down after only one season.  Only in 2000, under the helm of Stan Ternent and chairman Barry Kilby did the Clarets make it into the second tier of English football.  And there they have stayed, aside from one season in the money pit that is the Premier League.  Clarets have punched above their weight, watching teams like Leeds, Nottingham Forest, Leicester, Sheffields United and Wednesday and all manner of so-called bigger clubs swing up and down past them.

Kilby today stepped down as Chairman to concentrate on his own personal fight against cancer.  I wish him all the best.  He brought a quiet dignity to the role of Chairman, never getting too down, never getting too carried away.  Burnley were hanging by a thread when he took over, and he leaves the club debt free and safe for a few years at least.  Every other club in the League would want a Chairman like him, a fan who funded his team but didn’t jeopardise its future.

But I’ve just looked at the clock.  As I type, at this exact moment, precisely two decades ago, I was dancing and smiling and jumping and crying in the middle of a football pitch in York.  I remember it like it was yesterday, and I always will.