Television shows and movies adapted from characters originally created for commercials don’t exactly have a great track record but the first three episodes of the Apple+ series Ted Lasso show the comedy’s namesake is no cave man or talking baby.
In fact, the character that originated as a campaign for NBC Sports’ coverage of the Premier League is a welcome diversion in the cynical and divisive times we find ourselves in.
Portrayed by the affable BBQ-loving, Kansas City native Jason Sudeikis, Ted Lasso is a corn-fed Kansan who inexplicably agrees to take over fictional Premier League club AFC Richmond after leading Wichita State to a national championship on the gridiron (IRL they haven’t fielded a team since 1986).
As laughable of an idea as it is, the pilot reveals a somewhat plausible alternative universe reason for this. It’s like Major League, only the fix is in to exact revenge against a philandering, football-loving ex-husband whose aggrieved wife gets the club in the divorce.
Lasso has his reasons for taking the job and agreeing to put himself in the fishbowl of the Premier League — the one time you see him without a wide-eyed grin on his face is when he is talking to his wife on the phone back home — but primarily it seems to be about putting his team-building skills to the ultimate test.
Can he take a disjointed mess of a mid-table squad and make them an actual team?
Many of the great sports movies have explored the theme of teamwork and the ability to overcome odds with a strong leader and a little bit of gumption. Lasso doesn’t have the dark past of Norman Dale in Hoosiers or the tactical acumen of Brian Clough in The Damn United but there is a method to his madness. The paperback books he gifts to his players aren’t chosen at random. Nor is the birthday party he throws for a homesick Nigerian right back or the biscuits he makes and brings to his boss every morning.
While his inexperience with anything close to proper football rightfully earns him the nickname wanker from the fans, Lasso has a kind heart, a positive outlook and just enough obliviousness to block out much of the negativity surrounding his arrival.
This is evident in how he talks to people in and around the club, from the kit guy who is confused when Ted asks him his name, to people he meets in the park, the bar owner who pleads with her angry Richmond supporter patrons to give him a chance and everyone in between.
It should come as no surprise that Ted isn’t on Twitter and doesn’t even have a burner account. His trusty assistant, Coach Beard, is the brains of the operation as he presumably was at Wichita State, teaching him the terminology and reminding players in a pregame talk how much pace Crystal Palace has.
Ted, meanwhile, is the heart of an ill-advised experiment that regardless of his noob status in the beautiful game has something to teach us all back here in the real world about being kind in a cruel and confusing time.
The third episode closes with journalist Trent Crimm summarizing a most unusual day he spends with Lasso with the unlikely Premier League gaffer’s genuine kindness on full display. The in-depth article the typically tough Crimm is writing was pitched by the Richmond owner in hopes that it would advance her plot to take-down the coach she intentionally hired to blow up her ex-husband’s club. But even Crimm can’t helped be swayed by Lasso.
When Ted tells the journalist that he had a great time spending the day with him, Crimm’s response is that he actually means it.
Lasso has a ways to go to reach Ernest P. Worrell territory of commercial characters turned legendary underdogs — this is, after all, on Apple+ — but he’s well on his way toward achieving the impossible: getting soccer fans on Twitter to agree on something - that Ted Lasso is worth their time.
The fourth episode of Ted Lasso debuts on Apple+ on April 21.