Sometimes, I don’t jump on bandwagons as quickly as I should. Some would assert at my age I shouldn’t even be thinking of bandwagons, or even the act of jumping. Curmudgeonly, smug, entitled attitudes seem to fester with age, and as you can tell my dander is kicked up at the very thought of settling into any pattern that would effectively leave me just biding my time before real issues compromise the opportunity to embrace something new.
If you think that sounds overly flowery and optimistic, especially for me, then you’ve probably never seen TED LASSO, the Emmy Award-winning comedy whose third season dropped on AppleTV+ yesterday. And, save for its premiere episode, one that was all but teed up when I heeded the advice of a special person to upgrade my IPhone to a model they had just purchased, and looked so darn amazing using for audition tapes, I was part of those uninitiated souls that had yet to truly discover why this show has been as honored as it has been. The hype and promotion for the much-awaited Season 3, nearly two years after its second season dropped, was ominpresent in my social media feeds, and my Apple News algorithm all but assured I saw an awful lot of it.
So, on yet another horribly rainy night where sheer exhaustion was kicking in, I finally clicked through to S1/E2, thus making me yet another example of the “echo effect” that platforms and studios hope for when a new season of a returning program kicks in. The third season premiere that dropped yesterday is the 23rd episode of the series, and I had 21 others to catch up on. Fortunately, as TED LASSO is a comedy, and episodes are in the 30-50 minute range, ir’s potentially bingeable, especially for me.
I’m hooked. Period. And I should have been hooked when that first season dropped. Because in the summer of 2020, when the world was in lockdown and little new content was available anywhere, TED LASSO was exactly what the industry, and, frankly, humanity needed. And now I know why that was the case.
As our friend Wikipedia recounts for the still uninitiated:
Ted Lasso, an American college football coach, is unexpectedly recruited to coach a fictional English Premier League soccer team, AFC Richmond, despite having no experience coaching soccer. The team’s owner, Rebecca Welton, hires Lasso hoping he will fail as a means of exacting revenge on the team’s previous owner, her unfaithful ex-husband. However, Ted’s charm, personality, and humor begin to win over Rebecca, the team, and those who had been skeptical about his appointment.
The series has received critical acclaim, with particular praise for its performances (particularly Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham, and Brett Goldstein), humor, writing, themes, and uplifting tone. Among other accolades, its first season was nominated for 20 Primetime Emmy Awards, becoming the most nominated first-season comedy in Emmy Award history. Sudeikis, Waddingham and Goldstein won for their performances, and the series won the 2021 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series. Sudeikis also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Television Series Musical or Comedy and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series.
If this plot line sounds a tad familiar, the concept of a scheming, jilted, spoiled female sports owner has been ominpresent in U.S. comedy for decades. Inspired by the real-life ascension of Los Angeles Rams owner Georgia Rosenbloom Frontiere to the unlikely role of NFL team owner, one that competed in the Super Bowl in the first year after her husband’s untimely–and, many claim, mob-related death, and eventually won one after the Rams moved to St. Louis, we’ve seen this plot in everything from HEAVEN CAN WAIT, to the acclaimed early 90s HBO darling FIRST AND TEN, to ANY GIVEN SUNDAY. Hell, even the middling but venerable ABC comedy COACH borrowed this plotline for its later seasons.
There are two differences between those worlds and the one of TED LASSO’s, besides the fact that it’s set around the world of what Brits call “real” football. One is that TED LASSO is just so gosh-darn positive. As Jenni Carlson of THE OKLAHOMAN opined in her review/confession of the newly dropped season, a viewer can’t help but have the same kind of reaction the players for Lasso’s fictional AFC Richmond have had:
Ted’s optimism is over the top ― his catchphrase is simple: BELIEVE ― but frankly, the world could use more optimism, not less these days. And positivity in coaching is oftentimes even more fleeting with too many coaches yelling at players, degrading them, even bullying them.
Ted instead sees the good in his players, then tries to get them to see the same in themselves. He even asks around to find out what makes them tick. Jamie, for example, needs positive reinforcement, so when Ted needs to have a difficult conversation with him, the coach makes sure to start with some positivity.
“I haven’t known you that long,” Ted starts, “but I can honestly say you are the best athlete I have ever coached.”
Jamie: “Yeah, I mean, I work hard.”
Ted: “I see it. You are truly great at everything you do out there. … Jamie, I think you might be so sure that you’re one in a million that sometimes you forget that out there, you’re just one of 11. And if you just figure out some way to turn that ‘me’ into ‘us’ … the sky’s the limit for you.”
If sappy “awwww” moments reminiscent of earlier era comedies were all that there was to this show, it would probably be more disposable. But it’s also both funny and poignant, almost simultaneously. Witness another other examples Carlson’s thoughtful review reveals:
When Ted sees Sam struggling with failure, letting any little mistake fester, Ted offers a suggestion.
“You know what the happiest animal on Earth is?” he asks Sam. “It’s a goldfish. Y’know why? It’s got a 10-second memory.
“Be a goldfish.”
And then there’s this summation, which mirrors mine:
You could become enamored just by the one-liners, which are so good there’s a website, lassoism.com, devoted to “Ted Lasso” quotes.
“I do love a locker room,” Ted says in the pilot episode. “It smells like potential”.
He admits early and often to knowing little about soccer.
“I think I literally have a better understanding of who killed Kennedy than what is offside,” he says at one point.
He doesn’t even know all that many of the sport’s top players.
“You got Ronaldo and the fellow who bends it like himself,” he says.
But what he knows is how to treat people. Even though the players, the press and the fans all think he’s an idiot ― if you thought the Indianapolis Colts hiring Jeff Saturday was bad, a Ted Lasso scenario in real life would cause heads to explode ― Ted always responds with kindness. He treats people the way he wants to be treated even when they aren’t reciprocating.
Sudeikis’ layered, nuanced portrayal of this cross between Forrest Gump and Dick Vermeil has won him acclaim far beyond that which he earned as a valued sketch performer on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE. The performances of British comedy veterans like Waddingham are undeniably brilliant, and as their characters’ layers are peeled back by Lasso’s optimism, and eventual on-field success, they become more endearing as well. And as USA TODAY’s Kelly Lawler telegraphed in her favorable Season 3 review, there’s more of that ahead:
We return to AFC Richmond after the team has returned to the Premier League, newly promoted but still predicted to finish the season dead last. Ted (Sudeikis), still recovering emotionally from his divorce and other mental health concerns, walks back into the locker room as relaxed and pleasant as ever. But everyone else is antsy: owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) is now obsessed with beating West Ham, the team her ex-husband Rupert (Anthony Head) recently bought; Beard (Brendan Hunt) and Roy (Brett Goldstein) are angry at their former coaching colleague Nate (Nick Mohammed) for betraying them and Ted by going to work for Rupert; and the players just want to win. Outside the pitch, Keeley (Juno Temple) has launched her own public relations firm and is desperately anxious about her success.
And now the bad news. This could be the show’s final season. At least, those were the initial indications leading up to this promotional blitz, though several recent interviews from Sudeikis and co-creator Bill Lawrence, who cut his teeth on less deserving, longer-running network sitcoms such as SPIN CITY, SCRUBS and COUGAR TOWN, are indicating that might not be the case after all.
We know the business reasons why the greenlighting of a streaming series beyond season three are fraught with downsides. Cast and crew are typically eligible for huge jumps in pay, the echo effect potential when more episodes are in queue diminishes, and audiences typically diminish in later seasons. Plus, at least the way Apple TV+’s is currently conceived, there’s even less of a need for a deeper library of bingable content than what may exist at a competing streamer. Indeed, TED LASSO is produced by Warner Brothers, whose parent compant is flailing with the soon-to-be renamed MAX. ATV+ is basically a network without many back-end rights. In success, TED LASSO will, like FRIENDS, find its way back into a competitor’s ecosystem, and the more episodes they have will make it all the more valuable down the line. So the business incentive for a company that effectively treats this platform as a software hook to move hardware, much like Sony has treated its production company, to go forward beyond this point is one that is, at best, debatable.
But Apple TV honchos Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht ran Sony’s TV business quite successfully (I’d like to think with the help of folks like myself) and would often make impassioned arguments for content they believed should be produced for creative and, at times, more overreaching reasons that parochial dollars-and-sense considerations. So I’d like to offer my old colleagues this argument:
We’re heading into perhaps an even darker and more polarized time than we were in in the summer of 2020. Every time we turn on the news and we see the images of a stumbling current President, an angry former President, a clueless Speaker of the House, a lying Long Island congressman, an insane Georgia congresswoman, or a sneering Florida governor driving almost every defender of free speech and love to tears, the need for shows like TED LASSO to be an alternative to this sort of real world grows greater. If we thought we were in trouble when BLM protests and crowdless bubbles were common, I’d argue those were almost the Roaring Twenties in hindsight.
If there’s concern that this particular storyline may be running its course, hell, Apple just plunked down what amounts to chump change to invest in an exclusive window for MLS coverage. Reportedly, they will announce later this week some participation in Pac 12 sports, a conference reeling from the losses of USC and UCLA to the Big 10. Maybe a return of Lasso’s to America, where both of those worlds could be integrated (you could always make him the coach of an Oakland franchise to compete in a derby with San Jose, and perhaps give Keeley a job with the Pac 12 conference to try and sell that Trojan (well, Trojan-less) horse to media outlets in the process. In other companies, that’s called synergy. In this case, I’d call it an investment in keeping the world from cratering.
The world could use a lot more TED LASSO. It doesn’t seem like too many other outlets are intent on making anything quite as positive, or capable of making anything as good. Whatever the cost might be to make a few more seasons, and, yes, give more people like me a reason to continue to find $7 a month in our couch cushions to keep subscribing despite its relatively meager library and its array of critically acclaimed yet denser and less bingable originals, should be considered a write-off.
I’m officially LASSOed. Don’t tighten the noose by choking it off just yet.
Until next time…