Ted Lasso: What's the big deal about Emmy-winning football comedy?

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Jason Sudeikis and Brett Goldstein in Ted LassoImage source, Apple TV
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Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) takes an ice bath in a wheelie bin alongside Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis)

Perhaps the most important thing to know about Ted Lasso is you don't need to like football to enjoy it. After all, the show's titular character barely understands the rules himself.

But that doesn't stop the well-intentioned American coach from attempting to turn around the fortunes of a fictional Premiership team.

His rather unusual, kill-them-with-kindness approach and unconventional coaching style is mocked at first, before he gradually starts to win over the bad-tempered and arrogant players.

The Apple TV comedy became a word-of-mouth hit in the months following its launch last August, and on Sunday it was rewarded with several of the major prizes at the Emmy Awards.

The show took home best comedy series, as well as acting prizes for Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham and Brett Goldstein.

That level of recognition is a reflection of the show's broad appeal and how much it connected with audiences in a year filled with worry and uncertainty amid lockdowns around the world.

Here's everything you need to know about the now Emmy-winning comedy series.

What's the premise?

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Brett Goldstein and Hannah Waddingham won best supporting actor and actress for Ted Lasso

Ted Lasso tells the story of a kind and well-intentioned American coach who is brought in to rescue a fictional Premiership football team AFC Richmond - despite a total lack of experience.

"I have never coached the sport that you folks call football, at any level," he says during a press conference in the opening episode. "Heck, you could fill two internets with what I don't know about football."

But something else Ted doesn't know is he has been hired by the club's owner Rebecca Welton (played by Waddingham) precisely because she wants the team to fail, in an effort to spite her former husband.

Ted's unconventional coaching style and relentless optimism takes some getting used to for many of the team's bad-tempered players, with some hilarious consequences.

It is, fundamentally, a classic culture-clash comedy. We follow Ted as he grapples with British sarcasm and cynicism, while also slowly but surely winning over those he encounters.

Ted Lasso has arguably done the same thing with TV audiences, and instead of aiming only at football fans, the show follows the Friday Night Lights model of using the sport to explore friendships, relationships and being part of a team.

The character first appeared in a commercial

Image source, Colin Hutton
Image caption,
Sudeikis won a Golden Globe earlier this year for his role in the Apple TV show

Ted Lasso's first appearance on TV was actually in a 2013 series of TV commercials. At the time, NBC Sports was airing the adverts to promote its forthcoming coverage of Premier League football - known in the US as soccer.

In the commercials, Lasso is depicted as the new head coach of Tottenham Hotspur. It establishes the fish-out-of-water premise, with Lasso struggling to get to grips with even the most basic rules of the game.

("Any team I coach is going to play hard for all four quarters," he says in a press conference, before a journalist points out to him that the game is actually made up of two halves.)

The short promos went down well with audiences, and Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence was enlisted to develop a television series based around the character in 2017. Several lines of dialogue from the initial TV ads were re-used in the eventual series.

Many critics welcomed how much more depth had been added from the original Super Bowl commercials. "The Ted Lasso character, a dumb-American buffoon in the ads, has been made into a big-hearted, optimistic, even charming guy," noted The Boston Globe's Matthew Gilbert.

But other critics made the exact opposite point, arguing that Ted should not have been softened for the series. "How I wish this had been better written, smarter [and] crisper," said the Sunday Times' Camilla Long.

The show helped Apple TV establish itself

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Apple chief Tim Cook definitely owes Jason Sudeikis a drink

It's fair to say Apple TV hasn't yet made as big a splash in the streaming market as Netflix, Disney and Amazon. Yet Ted Lasso has played a part in strengthening its foothold.

When the streaming service first launched, much was made of Apple's flagship drama The Morning Show, which starred Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell.

That aside, there wasn't a huge amount of new and original content on the platform to begin with. And yet people who bought an Apple product were treated to a year's free subscription to the service in an effort by the company to get more people using it.

As a result, there were scores of potential viewers hungry for content, rooting around for something else they could enjoy on Apple TV during the pandemic.

Ted Lasso, which landed in August 2020, was perfectly placed to fill that void. Many viewers gave it a go without knowing what it was, and the show spread from there as a word-of-mouth hit.

Striking a chord

Image source, Apple TV
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Hannah Waddingham and Juno Temple were both Emmy-nominated for their roles

Lockdown helped the show find its audience, in more ways than one.

Not only were viewers everywhere stuck at home and looking for new TV shows to binge, but Ted Lasso also offered a wholesome and comforting tone which many people needed as the pandemic gripped the world.

The show's titular lead character offers compassion, humility and decency, even in the face of insults and abuse. His unshakeable good mood could have been an irritating trait in the wrong hands, but Sudeikis gave the character an endearing quality which lifted viewers' spirits.

Unsurprisingly for a series largely set on the pitches and in the locker rooms of a football team, there's no shortage of swearing in any of the half-hour episodes. And yet the series as a whole gives off the same positive vibe as Ted.

"Do you believe in ghosts, Ted?" asks club owner Rebecca in one scene. "I do," he replies. "But more importantly I think they need to believe in themselves."

"Ted Lasso has no right to be this funny," said Entertainment Weekly's Kristen Baldwin. "It's got a one-joke premise... But the new Apple TV+ comedy is a wonderfully amusing, surprisingly thoughtful sports sitcom that is, of course, not really about sports at all."

Not everybody was impressed by it though. "Everyone I know loves Ted Lasso but I hate Ted Lasso," said The Telegraph's Chris Bennion. "I hate his Forrest Gump aphorisms, I hate his Instagrammable optimism. I hate how he tries to get British people to smile. I hate his moustache."

There's more to come

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Jason Sudeikis won best leading comedy actor at the Emmy Awards on Sunday

As is often the case at the Emmys, Ted Lasso was undoubtedly helped by the fact that its second season was airing at the time voting was taking place.

Despite having only its first season eligible for this year's awards, the new episodes being released weekly by Apple clearly helped keep the show fresh in Emmy voters' minds and helped its awards season campaign.

A third series has been commissioned, but that could be the last. Sudeikis has previously described the story as having a "three-season arc", and his own limited availability could be a factor in there not being any more.

"I think we've always meant it to be three seasons," one of the show's stars, Brendan Hunt, told Entertainment Weekly. "I think it would be pretty cool if, in the face of how much everyone likes this show, that we stick to our guns and really just do three seasons.

"But even as committed to that idea as Jason may have been, none of us were prepared to the degree to which people love this show... I think that could make hard-hearted old Sudeikis soften up a little bit.

"I will say that, whatever he decides, I will happily abide."

Image source, Colin Hutton
Image caption,
L-R: Brendan Hunt, Jason Sudeikis and Nick Mohammed in Ted Lasso

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