Whoa. Did not see THAT coming.
A comedy series that began life as a cute (ish), lame (ish) NBC promo package to entice American viewers into watching British soccer?
A show that tries to turn Jason Sudeikis, who has spent his career on the Summer’s Eve side of the character actor spectrum, into a drawling Power of Positive Thinking pussycat?
A series where “Coach” analogies are a real worry?
“Ted Lasso” has “kind of slipped by me” written all over it. Making it for a streaming service, where R-rated language rules the day, hints at a “Coach’ with Lots of Cursing.” But as the cursing will be of the British persuasion, and the “fish out of water” story trope endures because, well, it works — let’s give it a try.
“Scrubs” seems to be the operative analogy with this often funny and occasionally quite sentimental series on Apple TV. Bill Lawrence of “Scrubs” had a hand in turning those NBC promos into a season-long story of a goofy, relentlessly-upbeat college football coach lured from his FBS (not “Power Five”) Wichita State (they no longer play football) job to coach an also-ran British premiere league club.
And if it isn’t “Death of a Salesman,” or “Vice Principals” or “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” it’s perfectly watchable low-hanging-fruit TV, with funny supporting players (including co-creator Brendan Hunt) and a flurry of “Innocents Abroad” style jokes about a naive American crashing into British slang, jargon, accents and culture in soccer-mad Richmond, where AFC Richmond wallows in mediocrity.
Lasso (Sudeikis) and the too-aptly-named Coach Beard (Hunt) are career sidekicks, hurled into this situation because the new owner (regal Hannah Waddington of “Game of Thrones”) wants the team she won in a divorce to burn to the ground, as revenge on the repellent, rich ex (Anthony Head, perfect).
The Lasso/Beard dynamic is played-up just enough to score a couple of laughs every episode. Yes, Beard is the semi-silent “brains” of the operation — doing the homework that hyper glad-hander Lasso doesn’t. Yes, the situation is “Major League” trite, with whole episodes devoted to “teamwork” building, torture by tabloids and even vanquishing a silly superstition.
But as with “Scrubs,” the fun in the series comes from the banter, the caricature/characters revealing hidden dimensions, skills and gifts and heart.
Hit or miss wordplay is a part of that. The star player is a preening diva named Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster). Teaching him “teamwork” involves befriending his Internet personality/spokesmodel girlfriend (Juno Temple, a delight). She’s worried about headlines from a photograph of her and Lasso together.
“Jamie’s Tart breaks Tartt’s Heart…the power of RHYMING in this country!”
Jamie? He just wants the endorsements, the elevation to an elite team, the fame and glory. He wants the crowd singing his little goal-scoring celebration song, set to “Baby Shark.”
“Jamie TARTT doo doo doo doo du-du!”
Teammate Roy (Brett Goldstein, terrific) is the ageing, furious ex-star on his last legs, cursing and threatening one and all and utterly intolerant of this “wanker” brought in to ruin the team.
As indeed are the punters in the pubs and the stands.
Lasso? He lets every insult, every evisceration in the form of a “question” at his press conferences, roll right off his back. Their next opponent is a “tough cookie.”
“Know what you do with ‘tough cookies, don’t-ya? DIP’em in milk!”
Sudeikis, playing against type, may be the big surprise here. He is, if not quite charming, at least disarmingly-grating in this In-over-his-Head turn.
Hunt’s Coach Beard? He’s Robert Wuhl in this riff on “Bull Durham.” His rare lines are limited to “explaining” how “They call cleats ‘boots'” and a single last moment assessment of every opponent, delivered in the locker room as they hit the “pitch, not field.”
“SPEED on the outside!”
Nick Mohammad plays the shy, downtrodden “kit man” (equipment manager) who, because Ted talks to EVERYbody as his real gift is evaluating talent, chemistry and intelligence, becomes a part of the brain trust. Toheeb Jimoh is a Nigerian kid who might be the star of tomorrow if he ever asserts himself.
There’s a gruff but lovable pub owner, a “soccer girl” schoolkid who schools Ted with her feet every now and then and a team of misfits who’ve got to be taught to “Believe!”
Yeah, I know how that sounds. But if you like sports cliches served up in “Scrubs” (Zach Braff does some directing on “Ted Lasso”), it’s not a bad way to kill a half hour a week.
MPAA Rating: TV-MA, lots of swearing, drinking, adult situations
Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddington, Juno Temple, Brendan Hunt, Brett Goldstein, Toheeb Jimoh and Nick Mohammad.
Running time: 10 episodes @34:00 each