Television

Ted Lasso Makes America Good Again

With Jason Sudeikis as a can-do coach, the Apple TV series is gentle, genial counter-programming for the state of the world.

Jason Sudekis and Brett Goldstein in the physical therapy room on Ted Lasso.
Ted Lasso. Apple TV

It is a commonly held belief that a good comedy should make you laugh. But what if a good comedy just makes you feel good? Apple TV’s Ted Lasso, which stars Jason Sudeikis as a Southern-accented college football coach selected to run a Premier League soccer team, is that kind of show. Like Parks and Recreation and the Emmy-sweeping Schitt’s Creek (plus a dollop of Major League), Ted Lasso is a big-hearted puppy dog of a series, an anti-cringe comedy where everything that seems like it might go wrong goes right instead. It’s counterprogramming for the state of the world.

Ted Lasso himself is a variation on an American archetype you don’t see much anymore, for obvious and painful reasons: the innocent naïf, the pure-of-heart bumpkin, the uncultured savant. (The character originated in a series of promos for NBC’s Premier League coverage.) The Brits have stiff upper lips, but Ted has a mustache you could take a nap in. Like some character out of 19th-century literature, he bounds into the U.K. to take over the middling London club AFC Richmond. It’s a job he’s landed because his jaded British boss Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) took one look at him and thought: dopey American, perfect. Rebecca, coming off a painful divorce, is out to stick it to her ex by tanking the team, and she sees Ted as the perfect mark, a rube who won’t guess her motivation. Floating on American naïveté, can-do spirit, and overconfidence, Ted thinks he just might be the man for the job, despite knowing next to nothing about soccer. The feel-good twist of the show, for Americans anyway, is: Of course he’s the man for the job!

Like a sitcom version of Coach Taylor, Ted Lasso is a good man who not only wants to see the good in everyone he meets but wants to be loved in return. He bakes cookies for his boss, charms jaded newspaper men with his pure heart and willingness to eat food that’s too spicy for him, and wins over his players with psychological insight. Though he is coded as a macho red-state American, he’s basically the opposite. He doesn’t care about winning and losing but how you play the game. He gets buy-in with enthusiasm, warmth, and folksy charm. The only things Ted doesnt seem to like are tea and tie games, such harmless things to make cracks about that they only underscore his all around affability. Meanwhile, the only person who finds Ted’s relentless cheer off-putting is his wife, who wants a divorce. Her struggle with his near-pathological optimism is the only place in which the show hints at the truth: Yes, some people would find Ted Lasso annoying. On some other show, Ted Lasso is like the impossibly sunny colleague, always punning, who refuses to ever have a bad attitude. But that’s not this show.

And it’s not just Ted: Every single person on the series is a teddy bear at heart. Rebecca only appears to be an ice princess, and by the time the the show literally has her sing “Let It Go” at karaoke, she has thawed, thanks both to Ted and the unexpected friendship of Keeley (Juno Temple), a 30-year-old WAG who is dating the club’s best player but who turns out to be a delight: clever, insightful, generous with other women. Her boyfriend, Jamie (Phil Dunster), is a self-obsessed pretty-boy footballer who won’t pass the ball—but it’s because of his daddy issues. Aging star Roy (Brett Goldstein) is always furious, but he turns out to actually be Oscar the Grouch, his growls and scowls covering up a heart of gold. The other coach, Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt)—yes, this premiere league team has only two coaches at the outset—is Ted’s gentle, laconic, chess-playing right-hand man, and together they kindly give the equipment manager, Nate (Nick Mohammed), who no one has ever given the time of day, a chance to join their ranks. Ted, Coach Beard, Nate, and Higgins (Jeremy Swift), an executive who seems at first like a stuffed shirt in on Rebecca’s scheme, but who turns out—surprise!—to be lovely, form a foursome, doling out locker-room advice to players about their feelings.

Probably the worst thing you could say about Ted Lasso is that if you are looking for a sports show, it is relatively light on sports. Yes, there are long-awaited victories, injuries, and many trick plays, but the audience never really gets to know more than a handful of players. The show basically sees the world as Ted sees it: It’s all about the relationships. A surprisingly large amount of screen time is taken up by women (especially given that the cast’s gender breakdown is something like 25 to two), but that’s because, again, sports are just Ted Lasso’s setting, not its primary concern. That concern, as far as I can tell, is being lovely.

And to be lovely right now—it takes some thinking. Earlier this year Peacock began airing Intelligence, a British comedy starring David Schwimmer as an unbearably smug and overbearing American spy, bringing his idiot ego to an MI6 office. The show wasn’t obviously awful or anything, but it’s a difficult time to pass off excruciating and boorish American overreach as comedy. Ted Lasso has no such problems, because it operates squarely in the space of fantasy and flattery. The show vends a soothing vision of a red state–coded American as a kindly, gentle internationalist, as well as a world in which American soft power still works and does good, and an underestimated, know-nothing American can teach a bunch of foreigners a thing or two about the Beautiful Game and the game of life. On Ted Lasso, American innocence, humility, and heroism are all alive and well—and you don’t have to consciously notice any of that for it to bring you comfort.