To Ted Lasso. I was recommended this comedy series, which is available to stream via Apple TV, by more than one person in the comments section and I sought it out.
I arrived at it to find that it is hugely successful and has just won a hatful of awards and got some sort of unprecedented recommission. Coming late to a very popular series often feels like arriving at a party at 11pm and finding that it’s boiling hot, everyone is absolutely off their faces, roaring with drink and Keith Allen is at the piano playing Jerry Lee Lewis with one eye closed, a fag sticking out of the corner of his mouth.
The premise of this show is that an American college football manager/coach Ted Lasso, played by Jason Sudeikis, arrives in the UK to coach fictional football team bottom-of-the-premiere-league Richmond FC. Hannah Waddingham, who is a very accomplished musical actress, plays Rebecca, the owner of the club. We learn quickly that Rebecca has acquired Richmond FC in a very nasty divorce from her philandering husband, Rupert, played by Anthony Head (yes! From the Gold Blend adverts). Further, we find out that she has hired Ted Lasso, who knows nothing about English football, in order to destroy Richmond FC so that she might exact revenge on her ex-husband.
The first season is good, I enjoyed it and worked hard to suspend my disbelief despite the many flaws in the conception and realisation of this show: the culture-clash comedy aspect (“Chips are called crisps, fries are called chips” etc) is a slight one-trick pony; despite this being a premiere league club, only one player appears to have a girlfriend.
A conscious – I think – USP of this show is that there is no conflict and no dilemma beyond very low-stakes piffle. Ted Lasso is a hugely – some might say monstrously – upbeat guy, dispensing shucks, y’all Midwestern wisdom, love and forgiveness everywhere. This is pretty cute and appealing, I don’t need my TV shows to be gritty, (you won’t catch me dead watching Squid Game, I hated The Wire), but the makers and writers of this show have decided to make this such a nice, nice, nice conflict-free zone that is becomes slippery and silly.
Okay, so you don’t want to base your show around a traditional character – conflict – obstacle – resolution setup? Fine, but you have to replace it with something. The jokes aren’t good enough to cope with what amounts to zero plot. I have read How To Be A Footballer and I know for a fact that the day to day lives of footballers are a rich seam of humour. And the characters in Ted Lasso aren’t really characters. In any really good show you can pretty much judge what any once character will do or say in any situation. Take Friends. I know it has its flaws but there you have characters – Joey is dumb, Chandler is funny, Rachel is spoilt, Monica is fussy, Ross is a dork, Phoebe is wacky. And from that there are endless plot and joke combinations. In Ted Lasso, Ted is just nice, Coach Beard is wise and nice, assistant coach Nate is timid and nice. The very briefly Machiavellian Rebecca turns out to also be… nice, Keely – she’s the one girlfriend – is so ridiculously nice. Even the based-on Roy Keane character Roy Kent (see what they did there?) is also deep down just a really nice guy.
Like I said, not every show has to be or can be Succession or I May Destroy You, but the popularity of this is utterly baffling. I pushed on with season 2 because I wished the whole show well – and Hannah Waddingham is very, very watchable – but I could not press on after the episode Rainbow, which relied so heavily on clunky TV and movie references, (there were two in a single scene), that it felt really desperate and untethered, like they had simply completely run out of ideas. I mean, I don’t blame them, I could not write a TV show, but good will alone doesn’t make good telly.
The origin story of Ted Lasso is that Sudeikis was commissioned to make some funny mini-films to promote NBC’s purchase of the rights to English football games. He created this character, Ted Lasso, and made some wonderful comedy out of this dimwit American dropping into the English soccer scene. But the Ted Lasso character of those mini movies is far more abrasive and thick than who he became in the series, with far more potential for a sustainable dramedy in a kind of Brittas Empire-style way. It feels like they had this brilliant, faintly monstrous character and a great fish out of water concept, but completely lost their nerve.
Anyway, this has all been said all over the internet, far and wide, many times and long ago, and I’m not sure why I felt the need to write this.
How about you? Are you enjoying Ted Lasso? And what other TV do you have on the go right now?