Monday, October 12, 2020

Ted Lasso was a wonderful surprise: the best and most radical show of the year

© Apple TV+

'Ted Lasso’ is a must see, one of the best first seasons of a comedy in a while.
by Jeremy Fogelman

I’ve seen an absurd number of television shows this year. They range from the great (Devs) to the good (Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist) to the decent (High Fidelity) to the mixed (Avenue 5) to the meh to the downright poor. There were some legitimately very good and sometimes deep shows this year, but as it sometimes happens, we got the best in August with Ted Lasso.

The character of Ted Lasso was originally from a 2013 short that was a promo for coverage of the Premier League (the UK top level soccer/football league). There Ted was simply a college football coach who had been hired by a soccer team who simply did not know the rules. The show takes that much further, combining with a concept reminiscent of Major League except instead of being dated and kinda racist, it’s heartwarming, funny, inclusive, and revelatory.

Ted (Jason Sudeikis in a career best role) is hired by Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) to take over as new head coach for AFC Richmond, which of course is a fictional team. The backstory is deceptively clever: Rebecca is suffering after a very nasty divorce to super rich Rupert (Anthony Head at his most mustache twirling) where she became the new owner. As Rubert loves the club more than anything (including and especially his ex-wife), Rebecca, embittered and angry, wants to ruin it.

Thus enters Ted, a genial mustached gent with a Southern accent and an overwhelmingly positive attitude. This is the sort of the thing that could get annoying fast, but shockingly, it never does -- instead over the course of the season, even as Ted goes through difficult emotional times himself, we begin to appreciate his mindset and philosophy. From the start he’s all about positive thinking and belief, and even winning the day against Rupert in a darts throwing competition with dropping an epic Walt Whitman quote about being curious, not judgmental.

© Apple TV+

By the end he’s still dropping wisdom, offering the truly genuine take that kindness begets more kindness. He puts out this positive energy, and he knows people often don’t get it. Because Ted is no fool, he is not naïve, nor anything so cliché -- he is making a choice to be positive and to be kind. Ted represents the best sort of real life American hero we’d want, someone who represents the underlying values without holding onto bigotry or fear. It’s kind of unreasonable how great it feels to watch all these people change for the better over the course of the season.

I’ve said before that any show or movie that can make me laugh and cry is automatically a favorite, and Ted Lasso is no exception. There are funny lines in every episode with characters that never get too broad, and depth that gets revealed over time. It’s a great cast of characters besides the titular character. Ted’s assistant, Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt), always has a great low key energy, and someone who learns about the new world they’re in faster than his boss.

Kit man Nate (Nick Mohammed, somehow brilliant in this but the opposite in Intelligence) getting an arc of self-confidence and self-reliance, Rebecca’s assistant Higgins (Jeremy Swift) getting the same, and various and sundry footballers. Pretty-boy phenom Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) is shown to be trying to work past his own damage and poor male role models, even if he’s not quite there.

© Apple TV+

The great relationship that develops between dynamic effervescent Keeley (Juno Temple, who should now be in everything) and gruff, secretly kindhearted Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein, who is pretty phenomenal considering he’s primarily been a writer before this) is so good it is only overshadowed by the wonderful friendship that grows between Rebecca and Keeley. Considering that those are the main female characters in the show, they get a lot to do on their own and with each other.

Trying to convince someone that Apple TV+ is a worthwhile subscription is a hard sell -- I wasn’t sure myself at first, and I’m still not a fan of their UI, which is often quite difficult to use, and I don’t care for the end of episode autoplay that seems to happen inconsistently and cannot be controlled. There are some pretty decent shows on there (The Morning Show and Dickinson for example), but after watching those first episode drops of Ted Lasso, I knew I had found a new favorite. It is worth the monthly free trial for sure to watch this show, which I thought might be good -- created by Bill Lawrence and starring Jason Sudeikis were positive signs -- but I didn’t guess how good.

There are some reviews out there that don’t quite get why the show is as good as it is -- they see these story beats and think of it as the same old same old. But you only have to consider the show’s unsubtle refutation of toxic masculinity and universally well written cast of characters to appreciate that this show is far from ordinary. We’re in October still, but for me, Ted Lasso is the best new show of 2020 and a must see.

Watch on Apple TV

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