In the world of “Ted Lasso” (2020–), positivity trumps all — a well-worded pep talk, a heartfelt apology or a can-do attitude can usually right any wrong. So goes the philosophy of the most recent Apple TV+ comedy, whose commitment to feel-good stories greeted us with open arms beginning in the middle of a harrowing summer.
“Ted Lasso” is based on (funnily enough) a series of NBC Sports ads from 2013 promoting the channel’s coverage of Premier League soccer — or, as the English call it, football — in the United Kingdom. Now a full-on sitcom with 10 half-hour episodes, “Ted Lasso” follows Ted (Jason Sudeikis), a Kansas college football coach who’s hired to coach AFC Richmond, an English Premier League club on the verge of relegation. Unbeknownst to Ted, the club’s owner, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) has hired him to lead the team to its downfall, as AFC Richmond was the pride and joy of her despicable ex-husband.
“Ted Lasso,” which Sudeikis helped create, landed on a slate of original programming on Apple TV+, Apple’s originals-only streaming service whose scripted shows have received critically mixed reviews across the board. However, “Ted Lasso” does seem to rise above its peers (though the bar isn’t incredibly high) for committing to a feel-good formula relatively well, especially during a time when there’s so much chaos on live TV.
The meat of the show comes from Ted’s relationship with the team’s players, all headstrong and macho soccer stars who eventually learn to soften from Ted’s idiosyncratic yet ever-buoyant coaching style on and off the field. Besides all the fish-out-of-water jokes — Ted doesn’t like tea, Ted thinks there are four quarters in a game of soccer — and corny dad jokes (“We’re gonna call this drill ‘The Exorcist’ cause it’s all about controlling possession”), much of the comedy comes from seeing these players balk at Ted’s methods only to melt their hardened exteriors to, say, read “A Wrinkle in Time” (1962) for advice on leadership at Ted’s request or do karaoke together after one of their games. At its core, “Ted Lasso” is all about this kind of feel-good, people-are-nicer-than-they-seem storytelling that usually hits the mark in making us, as Ted would probably say, feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
Where “Ted Lasso” can sometimes struggle is balancing this remarkably heartwarming formula with the conflict and stakes necessary to drive a show like this forward, especially in the streaming age. When your main character is someone hell-bent on forgiving and forgetting, consequences seem to go out the window. Loose ends are either tied up all too quickly or simply fade into the background. A few episodes stand out, with “Make Rebecca Great Again” being the most interesting and enjoyable because, for once, we actually get to see Ted break down and finally wonder what will happen next. However, for the rest of the season, Ted soldiers on with his constant positivity, providing more laughs and good moments, yes, but detracting from the depth of his character. The show’s female leads, Rebecca and Keeley (Juno Temple), a model dating one of Richmond’s players, refreshingly don’t descend into stereotypes — the two develop an authentic friendship, and Keeley is perhaps one of the wisest characters on the show.
However, all of these strengths don’t necessarily add up to create a knockout show — the characters are good, the setup is good, the jokes are funny, and the sequences that do take place during the soccer matches were a pretty good substitute for all the real-life sports that got canceled this summer. All together? It’s a cute show, even if it’s not blowing anyone’s mind.
Does “Ted Lasso” have legs as a series? Sure! It’s already been renewed for a second season! It’s a great feel-good distraction during these confusing times. While it’s probably not worth a subscription to Apple TV+ on its own, “Ted Lasso” is funny and worth a watch if you do happen to have access. You’ll laugh, you’ll smile, you’ll sometimes wonder why you didn’t feel more satisfied by the plot. Ultimately, though, you’ll feel a little more hope about how far an unflaggingly good attitude can take you, which isn’t a terrible thing to keep in mind these days.