It's tempting to write off a television series about sports when you're not a fan. But just like The Walking Dead isn't really about the zombies (er, walkers), some of the best TV series that seemingly center around sports — from soccer to football, baseball, or even martial arts — aren't really about the sport. At least not entirely.
Even when the sport is front and center in the storyline, there's often more than enough happening on the sidelines to keep sports-resistant viewers engaged. Don't know what a chip shot is in football? It doesn't matter. Completely unaware of how an assist works in hockey? Don't worry.
We call the following ten shows “sports-adjacent,” because in each case there's a good deal more brewing beneath the surface than just a ball, a puck, or punches flying.
Perhaps the very best example of a sports-adjacent show that almost anyone can enjoy, Ted Lasso has been a surprise runaway hit for Apple TV+ in the U.S. (your first tip that an interest in English football isn’t required). Played by Jason Sudeikis, the title character is an American football coach who’s transplanted to England to coach the AFC Richmond football team – meaning soccer, which is a completely different sport from the one he knows. The series begins in fish-out-of-water fashion as the Kansas-born, happy-go-lucky American arrives to a very unwelcoming legion of players and loyal fans. But the show quickly becomes about the camaraderie that grows among the players and staff , alongside themes of acceptance, forgiveness, and taking care of oneself. While soccer is front and center at times, it's the show's compelling (and often hilarious) characters who truly draw us in. Streaming on Apple TV+.
Combining coming-of-age teen drama with bitter adult grudges and rivalries, this YouTube-turned-Netflix original series picks up with the stars of the 1985 film The Karate Kid three decades later. Not to worry, though, you needn’t have seen the original film nor have an interest in martial arts take it all in. The show’s new generation of kids will quickly have you on the edge of your seat, with some viewers (ahem) known to have binged entire seasons in a single sitting. Streaming on Netflix.
Lauded for its realistic portrayal of life in middle America, NBC’s Friday Night Lights focused on a small West Texas community and its high school football team. Based on the 1990 book by H.G. Bissinger (which itself was modeled after a true story), the series boasts great character development as it tells the stories of everyday citizens. A super-talented cast, combined with storylines that tackle racism, drugs, and economic inequality give the show true mainstream appeal. Streaming on Hulu.
Gen-Xers who grew up in the '90s — particularly those with kids today — will want to check out this Disney+ show for sheerly nostalgic reasons. A follow-up to the 1992 movie, Emilio Estevez returns as coach Gordon Bombay, who discovers his passion again as he coaches a new team of underdogs. Yes, there are hockey scenes, but it's the show’s message that will leave viewers of all stripes with their hearts warmed. Streaming on Disney+.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and Rob Corddry head up a talented cast in this twisty HBO dramedy. Johnson's character is Spencer, a retired football player who now works as financial manager for the team. The five-season series beautifully tows the line between drama and comedy; a crowd-pleaser that’s well worth a watch. Streaming on HBO Max.
Recreational tennis serves as the backdrop for this three-season Amazon comedy that stars Craig Roberts as a college student who takes a summer job at a prestigious New Jersey country club in 1985. Period music and episodes helmed by indie movie directors like Amy Heckerling, David Gordon Green, and Hal Hartley make this a fun and heartfelt journey back in time. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video.
John Stamos stars in this Disney+ series as Marvyn, the moody and reluctant coach of a high school girls basketball team. While it's predictable and rife with typical tropes, the dynamic between the elite private high school girls and Marvyn make Big Shot worth watching. Streaming on Disney+.
Despite its name, it’s easy to forget that this popular ‘90s ABC sitcom centered around a fictional NFL expansion team. That’s because while Craig T Nelson’s Coach Hayden Fox interacts with his team on the show, storylines tend to focus more on his relationships with co-workers, his daughter, and girlfriend. Streaming on IMDB TV
Netflix viewers did backflips over this 2020 docuseries that followed coach Monica Aldama and the Navarro College Bulldogs Cheer Team as they prepared to compete in the National Cheerleading Championship. Whether you respect cheerleading and/or the sports it’s associated with, witnessing the hard work that goes into making a routine is awe-inspiring. Streaming on Netflix.
Fans were devastated when Netflix abruptly canceled this comedy-drama during the COVID-19 shutdown despite previously renewing it for a fourth and final season. The cult series from executive producer Jenji Kohan (Weeds, Orange is the New Black) told a fictionalized story of the real-life ‘80s-era women's professional wrestling circuit, the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW). Yes it’s about wrestling, but it's also about women letting loose, being fearless, and having tons of fun in the process. Streaming on Netflix.
Christine Persaud has been writing for close to two decades and freelancing for the last eight, with her entertainment work featured in Digital Trends, Screen Rant, Reviewed Canada, and others. Follow her on Twitter @christineTechCA.
TOPICS: Ted Lasso, Ballers, Big Shot, Cheer, Coach, Friday Night Lights, GLOW, The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers, Red Oaks, Cobra Kai