The legacy of characters in TV commercials that tried to become full-blown television shows is not a good one (remember when the GEICO cavemen had a show? Eesh. That lasted for about 3 episodes…). So if you were going to be about casting aspersions on the AppleTV+ series “Ted Lasso”, it’d be tough to blame you for that. The series is based on a Jason Sudeikis character created a few years back as part of a promo for NBC Sports picking up the rights to English Premier League soccer. Ted is an American football coach (as in, with touchdowns and pads, and helmets and stuff) who goes over to England to coach a team in the Premier League (in the commercials, it’s my beloved Spurs; in the series, it’s a fictional team–AFC Richmond.)
And honestly, the first batch of critical reviews for the show made it sound utterly forgettable. Even a mildly charitable review from the Times called it the Dad pants of TV sitcoms.
But then a weird thing started happening. People started watching the show. Average people. People of high culture. Smart people. I follow a lot of different folks on Twitter, and I started seeing tweets popping up proclaiming Ted Lasso the best thing (by far) about 2020. Tweets claiming it was the best show of the year. People praising the show with a kind of unreserved enthusiasm that was hard to shake.
And then I stumbled across this article in The Ringer, which often can be cynical about a lot of things:
And so I watched it. Binged the first four episodes in a weekend. And wanted more, and found I have to wait every Friday for a new one. And the damn thing is…I think there really is something pretty great going on here.
The show isn’t breaking any new ground, at least not on first (or second) glance. It’s a fish-out-of-water story, a culture clash thing. OK. I’ve seen that done to death. And some of the jokes and premises are a bit too obvious. And it borrows a lot, too – from movies like Major League, especially.
But the thing is, it works, at least for me. I think it’s the little things it does. Ted’s a goofy optimist…but he’s not stupid. He drops references. He knows when someone’s taking the piss out of him. He’s not oblivious, and Sudeikis somehow starts to add subtlety and three dimensions to a character created in commercials in ways that caught me off guard. And the show is careful about its characterizations. There have been a couple of times when I thought we were about to get the bitchy female character cliche…but no. It manages to give almost all its characters a lovely amount of humanity.
I dunno. Maybe it is a formula. Maybe it is lowbrow and stupid at its core. Thing is, though…this has been a real shit year, you know? And when I finish watching an episode of “Ted Lasso”, I find that the show has made me feel happy. And I think that might be a tougher task than it might readily seem.