Monday, August 10, 2020

Ted Lasso Finally Coaches True Football

Pigskin football evolved out of rugby and association football (a.k.a. soccer) way back when, so a gridiron coach like Lasso out to have soccer deep down in his genes—way, way down there. Regardless, he is a good coach who has a knack for reading his players. At least that is what the former NCAA Division II champion figured when he accepted an offer to coach a professional English football team. However, people are counting on him to fail in co-creators Bill Lawrence & Jason Sudeikis’ Ted Lasso, which premieres this Friday on Apple TV.

Lasso went viral with his goofy white-guy dance moves after his team won the Division II championship, but he is completely inexperienced when it comes to association football. His aw-shucks Kansan persona is completely out-of-place in the English Premiere league, but that is why new AFC Richmond owner Rebecca Welton hired him. She just acquired control of the team as part of a messy tabloid-fodder divorce from her notoriously philandering husband. To get back at him, she wants to sabotage his beloved team. Enter Lasso.

Of course, the first weeks will be rocky. Yet, Lasso has a few not-so-secret weapons. The first is the loyal Assistant Coach Beard, who is a quick study when it comes to any sport. The other is his genuineness. He truly cares about his players, which even skeptics like cynical sports reporter Trent Crimm will begrudgingly admit. The trick will be winning over bitter past-his-prime team captain Roy Kent and Richmond’s prima donna striker, while Welton secretly schemes to undermine him.

Based on the first three episodes out of embargo,
Ted Lasso is a pleasant enough sitcom-style comedy, but real football fans hoping for a lot smart, inside Premiere League satire might be disappointed. Lasso, who was originally created for a series of NBC sports promos before getting the Apple TV call-up, is more of a vehicle for gentle fish-out-of-water comedy than a thinly veiled expose like Armando Bo’s wickedly droll El Presidente.

Still, there are usually one two big laughs in each of the first three episodes, with regular chuckles peppered in between. By sitcom standards, that’s not bad, but it isn’t the stuff of big event, subscription selling streaming TV.

As Lasso, Sudeikis is ridiculously likable, to an extent that is almost exhausting. We get it—he’s not a phony. However, that means most of the comedy pay-offs come from the supporting cast. Brendan Hunt is archly dry as Coach Hunt and James Lance is even drier and more sardonic as the recurring Crimm, “from
The Independent.” However, the real discovery is Hannah Waddington (probably still best known for Game of Thrones), who scores all of the funniest lines and best deliveries as the witheringly caustic Welton. The character is definitely cut from the same cloth as the former showgirl owner in Major League, but Waddington gives her greater human dimension. Viewers may end up partly rooting for her to tank the team.

The series is amusing, but it is definitely small ball. It is hard to imagine a lot of online chatter for it, unless it centers on Waddington.
Lasso pales in comparison to El Presidente but that is a hard standard of comparison. Instead, it is pleasant but light-weight—yet probably in a way that will be reassuring to a lot of viewers. Mildly recommended so far, Ted Lasso launches this Friday (8/14), on Apple TV.