For a show which originated from a couple of throwaway ads for the Super Bowl years back, Ted Lasso has unexpectedly emerged as a runaway success in TV: it made a thorough sweep at the Emmys, has become a critical darling and even introduced Americans to Chris Kamara. Yet what exactly is the key to its success?
The Apple TV original follows its titular character, a cheery-eyed American football coach with a big heart, who moves to the UK to coach AFC Richmond, an English soccer team. Although he has absolutely no experience with the game, Ted remains dedicated to his unique style of coaching as he sets out to win over everyone he comes across with his winning attitude and sentiment that sport isn’t all about winning.
From the premise alone, it sounds like a textbook fish out of water story. Sure, these jokes about this hopeless Yankie being unaccustomed to British culture may be funny for an episode or two, but a whole series? And I’m not even a massive football fan!
Yet what makes Ted Lasso such a classic in my eyes is how it rises above its gimmick to tell a genuinely uplifting story with real, believable characters that doesn’t feel manipulative at all. It effortlessly mixes heartfelt drama with wholesome comedy without ever feeling cheesy. Now I’m all for cynical comedy of the darkest humour, Peep Show and It’s Always Sunny rank among my favourite shows. However, as cynical as we Brits can be, there’s no denying the undeniably satisfying feeling of watching good, reasonably flawed people doing the best they can to help each other.
I think it also helps that the show premiered right in the middle of the pandemic last summer. In these times of uncertainty and upset, I think we all needed some optimistic distraction in our lives and what better way than a feel-good show to remind us that it’s not just all doom and gloom in the world? Heck, it’s probably the only show I can forgive for airing a Christmas episode in the middle of August!
Ted himself makes for an exceptionally compelling protagonist. Although the show initially sets him up as a dopey too-cheerful-for-his-own-good archetype, he proves to be far smarter than he looks and through his compassionate approach and kindness to others, Ted improves the lives of the people around him. The heart Jason Sudeikis brings to his performance makes him such an infectiously likeable character when that could easily not be the case.
The rest of the cast is a tour de force too: Hannah Waddingham (who you’ll probably recognise as the shame lady from Game of Thrones) provides great pathos as Rebecca, the owner of Richmond who initially hires Ted in the hopes of ruining the team in order to spite her ex-husband but gradually gets her icy demeanour thawed away by Ted’s budding friendship as well as his incredibly delectable shortbread biscuits.
Brett Goldstein initially started out as just a writer for the show yet it’s inconceivable now to think of anyone else playing the gruff Roy Kent with such sardonic wit; the entire sequence where he attempts to convince his niece her breath doesn’t smell is probably some of the best facial acting I’ve ever seen. Special praise should also be given to Durham’s own Nick Mohammed whose turn as weak-willed kit manager Nate makes for some of the most unexpectedly dramatic moments of the series. Without giving too much away, it’s a clever retelling of the traditional underdog tale and it’s a testament to the skill of the writers that you can pick out some of the clues related to his arc as far back as the first episode.
It’s also refreshing to watch a show where characters actually act like grown-ups and, instead of sidestepping issues, features them actively making the effort to talk through their problems and air out their differences. The show plays around with various classic storytelling techniques such as the love triangle and aforementioned fish out of water, yet when they’re utilised in Ted Lasso it’s done in such a refreshing manner devoid of the usual annoying cliches. The direction and cinematography are also surprisingly cinematic for a sports comedy, from the adrenaline-fuelled action on the pitch to the disconcerted, blurred aesthetic for Ted’s panic attacks.
Okay, okay, I know I’m probably skirting around the guidelines a bit here, given that this is an ongoing show with a third season on the way. But considering the swift writing and structure of the show, as well as comments by the showrunners that the third season may potentially be the last, it would appear as though Ted Lasso is set in stone for a home run (wrong sport…). The show is such an optimistic ray of sunshine that I can’t recommend it enough, especially to anyone going through a rough time that needs a comforting pick-me-up. It’s helped me a when settling in at university so why not just sit back and get stuck in a kickabout with Ted Lasso?
Is there a film or series you think deserves to be labelled as a ‘classic’? If so, email firstname.lastname@example.org to be featured in the next instalment of The Indigo Canon.
Illustration: Verity Laycock