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Fed Up With Ted Lasso? Watch Angel City Instead

HBO's three-part docuseries reminds viewers who the underdogs of the sports world really are.
  • Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso; Angel City FC's Vanessa Gilles surrounded by her teammates. (Photos: Apple/Will Navarro/Courtesy Angel City Football Club/HBO)
    Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso; Angel City FC's Vanessa Gilles surrounded by her teammates. (Photos: Apple/Will Navarro/Courtesy Angel City Football Club/HBO)

    Ted Lasso's fingerprints are all over Angel City, HBO's new docuseries about Angel City FC's inaugural season in the National Women's Soccer league, and it's not just because president Julie Uhrman has a "Believe" sign hanging in her office.

    Beyond following a similar narrative about an inexperienced management group looking to turn an underdog soccer team into a success story (something they share with FX's Welcome to Wrexham), both shows feature leaders who prioritize culture-building, often at the expense of on-field progress. The premiere even ends with a message that could easily have come from the mouth of Jason Sudeikis' mustachioed manager: "It's brick by brick," says head of goalkeeping Daniel Ball after a disappointing preseason showing. "Every day we must come in and lay another brick. If the weather is bad, we lay another brick, and if the result goes bad, we lay another brick. And hopefully, drive the culture that our women, every day, want to lay bricks, too."

    ACFC's owners — a majority-female group led by Uhrman, actress Natalie Portman, and venture capitalists Kara Nortman and Alexis Ohanian — are excellent at this aspect of the game. Across Angel City's three episodes, they rally supporters, draw multi-million dollar sponsorship deals, and craft a matchday experience so electric that they end up leading the league in average attendance by thousands.

    But as Ted has discovered over the course of Season 3, focusing on everything but soccer has its downsides, too. Uhrman failed to secure a permanent training facility before the season, leaving the team at the mercy of the L.A. Rams, with whom they share practice space. To make matters worse, their ad hoc workout area lacks soccer-specific equipment, hindering players' recovery efforts and limiting the effectiveness of the training staff. The players bear the brunt of their leaders' inexperience: Inadequate facilities lead to frustration, which affects team chemistry, which in turn impacts results on the field.

    This is where the similarities between Angel City and Ted Lasso end. Even on the off-chance that the men of AFC Richmond found themselves without proper resources, the consequences of a losing record stop at mild public embarrassment, or, at worst, relegation. Regardless of what happens on the pitch, they will continue to be paid staggering sums, with the potential to earn even more from sponsorship deals. This is hardly the case for the women of the NWSL, one-third of whom made just $22,000 for the entire 2022 season. For these players, poor team performance leads to fewer endorsement opportunities, often the only way to earn a living wage as a professional female athlete in the United States.

    Angel City never loses sight of the fact that these world-class athletes are the real underdogs in the sports world, and in reminding viewers of this reality, it transcends its scripted counterpart. While Ted is content to ride along on a wave of good vibes, ignoring the losses accumulating on the whiteboard in his office, Uhrman and Portman recognize that their soccer ignorance has the potential to be catastrophic for their players, and they take steps to address it. Uhrman begins the docuseries unfamiliar with tactics and player positions, but by the finale, she's concisely explaining how new players Sydney Leroux, an Olympic gold medalist, and Scottish footballer Claire Emslie fit into the team's offensive scheme. "I sound like I know what I'm talking about now, don't I?" she says, her voice filled with pride. "It's fascinating!"

    Portman, a co-founder, is equally hands-on. Due to her busy schedule, she's not always able to attend games in-person, but she's constantly watching on Paramount+ (CBS Sports is the league's main broadcast partner) and FaceTiming into meetings and team events. At one point, she laments the lack of cameras covering a recent game, as the limited camera angles make the NWSL "look much less popular than it is." (In this case, the crowd gathered on the shady side of the stadium to avoid the summer heat, but cameras were only pointed at the sunny side, creating a false impression that the stadium was empty.)

    Portman's repeated complaints about the league's broadcast contracts, as well as her ideas about how ACFC can support the NWSL as a whole, reflect her growing awareness of the uphill battle faced by women's sports teams and her willingness to offer real solutions rather than feel-good platitudes.

    Because the stakes are so much higher for the women of ACFC, director Arlene Nelson (Gutsy) treats their conflict with respect, giving it room to play out across all three episodes. A clash between sporting director Eniola Aluko and head coach Freya Coombe follows them throughout the season as they debate whether to cultivate the talent within the clubhouse (Aluko's approach), or bring in outside help in the wake of superstar Christen Press' injury, as Coombe would prefer. Despite initially siding with Aluko, Uhrman comes to realize that adding depth to the roster is necessary, a decision that leads to Aluko's departure at the end of the season.

    The docuseries also focuses on the controversy surrounding midfielder Katie Cousins, who, in June 2022, expressed her support for the Tampa Bay Rays players who refused to wear Pride-themed jerseys due to their religious beliefs. Producers give Cousins an opportunity to respond — when asked if she would wear a Pride jersey in the future, Cousins says she "wasn't on the roster for the game," so she didn't have to make that call — but they spend far more time with the LGBTQ+ players who were hurt by their teammate's actions. "It's put me in an uncomfortable position," says goalkeeper DiDi Haračić. "I just have a hard time accepting that I'm told I'm loved, but I'm not accepted for who I love. That's a hard pill for me to swallow."

    Though Cousins remained on ACFC for the rest of the season (she now plays for the Throttur Football Club in Reykjavík), we never see her make up with her teammates. Coach Coombe doesn't force the women to talk through their differences at halftime or air their grievances in the locker room, because doing so would lend credence to Cousins' homophobic stance. In that sense, Angel City is correct to move on without offering any resolution. Ted may disagree, but the reality is, not everything can be swept away like biscuit crumbs — and some things shouldn't be.

    While there are moments when Angel City reverts back into Ted Lasso mode (the venture capitalists' unchecked #girlboss energy is reminiscent of Keeley's arc this season) the players ultimately bring the docuseries back down to earth. Amid management's lofty ideals and endless talk about ACFC's impact on the sport, players like Press and Simone Charley remind us that it's not enough to inspire the next generation; they want to win. If only these athletes had a sliver of the goodwill afforded to real-life embattled clubs like Manchester City, let alone the resources wasted on Ted and his folksy shenanigans.

    All three episodes of Angel City are now streaming on HBO Max. Episodes will also air Wednesday, May 17 and Thursday, May 18 at 9:00 PM ET on HBO.

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Angel City, HBO, Ted Lasso, Jason Sudeikis, Natalie Portman, National Women's Soccer League