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Ted Lasso has no right to be as good, funny, and moving as it is

  • "I’d have put money down on AppleTV+’s Ted Lasso being as bad as the streamer’s dystopian series where Jason Momoa is a blind warrior named Baba Voss," says Miles Surrey of his first reaction to the news that Jason Sudeikis' NBC Sports marketing character into a full-blown Apple TV+ series, "Well, I have to eat my words. Ted Lasso the sitcom … seriously rules. The series has no right to be as good, funny, and moving as it is. And yet I devoured all 10 episodes in a single day while frantically messaging my editor in disbelief that this is one of my favorite new shows. As far as TV productions go, this might as well be Leicester City winning the Premier League." Surrey adds: "As far as first seasons of a sitcom go, when it can take time for characters to jell—Parks and Recreation didn’t fire on all cylinders until Season 3—Ted Lasso feels like a genuine triumph. From Lasso on down, there’s a real depth to the ensemble, who are all given complete arcs throughout the season."


    • Ted Lasso succeeds because it's pleasant: "If you’re judging Ted Lasso on its relative success as a TV adaptation of an advertisement, a category that most infamously also includes a short-lived TV version of the Geico Cavemen, then Ted Lasso succeeds wildly," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "The show also succeeds on a different but more valuable metric, a metric that’s especially important in 2020. It’s pleasant! It’s a pleasant show about a nice guy, someone who arrives in the middle of a somewhat dysfunctional and toxic work situation and gradually puts things to right by being the nicest, most considerate, most optimistic possible version of himself. Sudeikis’s TV Lasso is a much sweeter man than his commercial counterpart. And crucially, the show pulls off the most important element of transitioning from a simplistic TV commercial premise. A guy who knows nothing about his job works for four minutes, but does not work for ten episodes, and Ted Lasso invests enough energy in developing side characters and small story arcs that can fill out its originally narrow concept."
    • Ted Lasso takes full advantage of Sudeikis' comic persona: "Although Sudeikis certainly had go-big moments during his eight seasons, his position at SNL was more like a youthful version of utility players like Phil Hartman or Will Ferrell—the sketch-comic everyman willing to play just about any man," says Jesse Hassenger. "In his post-SNL career as a sort-of movie star, that flexibility has made Sudeikis difficult to pin down. Sometimes he plays nonchalant wiseasses in the mode of Chevy Chase or Bill Murray; sometimes he’s a grounded romantic lead like any number of ex-comedians switching to indie mode. He tends to work well in teams, because despite ample evidence of the material he likes to self-generate, it’s been hard to say what, exactly, the Jason Sudeikis comic persona really is. On paper, Ted Lasso sounds like an attempt to recapture and redefine that persona well after the SNL magic has faded. It’s not quite based on an old sketch character, but it very nearly is; Ted Lasso first appeared in a pair of videos for NBC Sports, as a stereotypical American football coach blustering his way through a new job in the sport that the rest of the world calls just plain football, marveling at everything he doesn’t know about soccer. The Ted Lasso of these bits resembles the enthusiastically clueless sportscaster Pete Twinkle that he played opposite Will Forte in the endless series of 'ESPN Classic' SNL sketches."
    • Ted Lasso may be the second coming of Leslie Knope: "I completely adore Ted Lasso (now on Apple TV+). The series from Bill Lawrence (Scrubs, Cougar Town) and Jason Sudeikis has basically the same energy as this Sudeikis character the moment he jumps onto the dance floor (in SNL's 'What's Up with That' sketches)," says Dustin Rowles. "The title character, played by Sudeikis, is basically that character combined with the relentless optimism that Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope brought to seven seasons of Parks and Recreation. Sudeikis has played wiseacres and douchebags for so many years now that I’d actually started to think of him that way, but Ted Lasso completely altered my perception of the Horrible Bosses star. Likewise, while Bill Lawrence has always been one of my favorite showrunners, Lasso feels like the commingling of Lawrence’s sense of humor with Mike Schur’s sensibility. It’s funny, and heart-swelling, and infectious. I absolutely love it."
    • Ted Lasso is the dad pants of sitcoms: "You can predict most of the sports-comedy heartbreak and uplift that flow from these premises — the big games, the locker-room speeches, the drunken road-trip hookups, the selfish players coming around," says Mike Hale. "What you wouldn’t guess, and may be continually stunned by, is how determinedly cornball the show is. It’s as if Sudeikis et al. foresaw the chaos and terror of the summer of 2020 and wanted to prove that America could do something right. In its relentless positivity and commitment to making its audience comfortable while maintaining a sheen of pop-cult knowingness, Ted Lasso is the dad pants of sitcoms. It contains some of the foul language and snickering sexual humor that streaming allows, but they’re an excuse for Sudeikis to goggle his eyes and purse his lips in a way that says Lasso is wholesome enough to notice but cool enough not to make a thing out of it."
    • Ted Lasso has been made to be more kind, but not more funny: "It’s a significant shift in tone from the character’s NBC Sports incarnation. Back then, Sudeikis wanted you to laugh at Ted. Now, he wants you to love him," says Alan Sepinwall, adding: "But if Sudeikis, Lawrence, and Co. have figured out how to make Ted a more viable series lead, they haven’t figured out how to translate his newfound kindness into laughs...The series is extremely likable throughout, but it’s more a hypothetical comedy than an actual one."
    • Ted Lasso is the most heartwarming comedy of 2020: "To refer to Ted Lasso as merely a 'good' TV show wouldn’t be accurate because this uplifting, hilarious sweetheart of a series is easily the most heartwarming comedy of 2020," says Josh Sorokach. "Based on the NBC Sports character of the same name, Ted Lasso is portrayed with inexhaustible charisma by Jason Sudeikis. Considering the actor’s previous success, the series isn’t a 'breakout performance,' but it is a character tailor-made for Sudeikis’ theatrical strengths. Ted Lasso would’ve been dead in the water if the main character’s endless positivity and relentless optimism were perceived as cloying instead of endearing, but it’s simply impossible to hate Ted Lasso, both the character and the series. The show will win you over with its refreshing sincerity and unwavering commitment to full-throttle kindness, both of which are in short supply these days."
    • Bill Lawrence and Jason Sudeikis made a few smart decisions that makes Ted Lasso a success: "First, they went easy on the fish-out-of-water concept," says Shane Ryan. "Yes, there are jokes about Lasso despising tea, or learning the new names of biscuits and chips, and boots and other kinds of boots, but in the grand scheme it’s a very minor part of the comedy. Other reviews that claim the show treads into cliched territory are, I think, ignoring the rarity of these forays. Second, they don’t really try to explain why Lasso, a successful Division II national championship coach, would ever accept a job with AFC Richmond, a middling English soccer club facing relegation. They dance around it a few times but never quite pinpoint the answer, because, frankly, there is no satisfying answer. If the show was devoted to even traces of realism, this would never make sense. You have to take the premise, and the drama, as fantasy; once you make that shift, you’ll be on their wavelength and stop caring. Third, they never try to force the notion that Lasso becomes some kind of soccer genius. Even when his owner tells him that he has a chance to see the sport from a new perspective (as close as they get to sports cringe despite the landmines of the conceit), all the trick plays he devises, with one hysterical exception, come from his players. Comedy or not, transforming Lasso into a soccer savant would be insulting."
    • Jason Sudeikis does his best with a barely there character on a deflated soccer series: "Sudeikis brings to bear genial charisma and light accent work, but it’s not clear what about this character suggested that going deeper would yield more — for one thing, Ted Lasso is about as deep as a pleasantry," says Daniel D'Addario, adding; "Lasso’s path among the Brits he consistently charms is so conflict-free that there’s little to grab on to. Why should we root for Ted if he hardly needs our help?"
    • Ted Lasso is a reexamination of what defines a "successful" comedy: "I laughed very rarely while watching — a minor problem especially in the first two episodes, which feel more punchline-driven than the rest of the show," says Daniel Fienberg. "But isn't there success in generating affection for a large cast? In stirring up smiles and swells of emotion? In finding yourself truly invested in both characters and the show's central sporting franchise after 10 half-hour episodes? Absolutely."
    • One of the joys of the first season of Ted Lasso is to watch it become more than a one-joke, one-man piece: "Co-creator Bill Lawrence, who co-wrote the pilot, has delivered this kind of character-based comedy before on shows like Scrubs and Cougar Town," says Brian Tallerico. "Those shows often leaned into obvious sources of humor and physical hijinks, but they did so with just enough honest affection for their characters that fans didn’t mind. Ted Lasso is driven by Sudeikis, but it fits that Lawrence model in that supporting characters are allowed rich backgrounds and subplots too. After all, football and comedy are both team sports. And if people are drawn to Ted Lasso, it will be for Sudeikis first, but for his supporting ensemble not long after."
    • Ted Lasso is the first Apple TV+ show that feels like an actual TV show: "By making Lasso – played by the undeniably charming Jason Sudeikis – an affable fish out of water rather than just the straight-up buffoon he was in the original sketches, they’ve given the character legs sturdy enough to carry an entire series," says Ben Allen, adding that the show "manages to actually build on the one joke the original sketches laid out – that Americans don’t understand football – rather than just spreading it out very thinly, as Ferrell was guilty of in, say, his recent two-hour long Eurovision movie."
    • Ted Lasso delivers an absorbing, heartfelt crowd-pleaser with wit and charm
    • Sudeikis, whose handsome-actor mien veers sinister or sweet depending on the project, brings unexpected depth to his performance as Ted
    • Olivia Wilde, Jason Sudeikis' partner, refused to let him give up on a Ted Lasso series idea: “Olivia, even when we were just writing years ago without any buyers or even pitching it yet, gave it a big push,” said Brendan Hunt, whose serious, monosyllabic Coach Beard is the straight man to Sudeikis’ Ted. “Olivia was like, ‘Jason, you are doing this show. You’re going to London, you’re going to make this with your friends, and that’s all there is to it. But it just really couldn’t happen until Jason crossed paths with Bill Lawrence. Bill Lawrence got us over the finish line.” Lawrence is the only member of the production team to have won anything in competitive soccer. His passion for the sport faded soon after that, but Sudeikis convinced him Ted Lasso was worth backing. “He sold me,” Lawrence said of Sudeikis. “The only reason that it took a while was people always thought it was a super funny sketch, but they didn’t have the vision Jason had in his head of it being a show with a big heart.”
    • Bill Lawrence on choosing Ted Lasso as his first non-broadcast show: "The trigger finger is so quick in network television that you’re asking all these young writers not to choose between a 22-episode season and a 10-episode season on cable, but between an initial 10 episodes on a streamer that’s liable to go three seasons or a network show that, odds are, will be 13 episodes and gone," he says. "They have taken the business incentive out of doing network TV. I am always behind network TV, but if I were the president of a network I would say, 'Hey, we know how hard it is to find an audience. If the show is good, we’re going to stick with it for two seasons and see if it can grab a toe hold.' I really argue against the itchy trigger finger that they get. It’s probably sour grapes because I thought Whiskey Cavalier (which Lawrence exec produced), on ABC, should have lasted more than a season."
    • Sudeikis on how Wilde pushed him to make Ted Lasso: "I think it's worthwhile for any guy to listen to their partner, but certainly when they know their stuff. Olivia knows her stuff. We did the commercial in 2013… She was like, 'You should turn this into a show.' She said that over dinner that she mentioned that. I just started riffing ideas where I was like, 'Oh, it needed this. It needed that.'"

    TOPICS: Ted Lasso, Apple TV+, Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt, Jason Sudeikis, Olivia Wilde, NBC Sports

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