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The new comedy starring Sudeikis as an American hired to coach a U.K. soccer team is frequently laugh-out-loud funny.

By Kristen Baldwin
August 03, 2020 at 03:01 AM EDT
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Ted Lasso has no right to be this funny. It’s got a one-joke premise, built around a character created for NBC Sports back in 2013. But the new Apple TV+ comedy — starring Jason Sudeikis as a soccer neophyte hired to coach a football club in the U.K. — is a wonderfully amusing, surprisingly thoughtful sports sitcom that is, of course, not really about sports at all.

Former college football coach Ted Lasso arrives in London armed with a folksy twang and a full understanding that everyone thinks he is completely unqualified to coach AFC Richmond. “Heck, you could fill two internets with what I don’t know about football,” he tells the incredulous British press. But for Lasso, coaching isn’t about understanding the offside rule (he doesn’t) or being able to name other Premier League footballers (he can’t) — it’s about helping his players “be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.” He’s aided in this mission by his laconic right-hand man, Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt), and surreptitiously sabotaged by Richmond’s posh new owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), whose reason for hiring Ted involves getting back at her cruel, philandering ex (Anthony Head).

Ted Lasso
Credit: Christian Black/Apple

Much like Friday Night Lights, the football matches in Ted Lasso (premiering Aug. 14) are used primarily to enhance the interpersonal dynamics of the characters off the field (sorry, pitch). Richmond is a team in disarray; its most famous players — cock-of-the-walk pretty boy Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) and aging anger junkie Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) — openly loathe each other. Faced with these two facets of masculinity, Coach Lasso, a sports fanatic who loves Broadway musicals and refers to God as “She,” tries to drill a little EQ into his men. He delivers life lessons in the form of classic literature (Jamie gets The Beautiful and Damned; Roy gets A Wrinkle in Time), puts a suggestion box in the locker room, and treats the team’s kit man, an insecure soccer savant named Nate (Nick Mohammed, stealthily hilarious), as an equal.

Once a gum-snapping buffoon hyping NBC Sports’ coverage of the Premier League, today’s Ted Lasso — co-created by Sudeikis and Bill Lawrence (Scrubs) — is a warm-hearted optimist whose sunny demeanor masks a shrewd understanding of human nature. The first episode ends on an emotional note: Ted calls his family back in the States, and we’re given a wealth of backstory — a man desperate to save his marriage, a wife who needs space — through one side of a quietly tense conversation.

Sudeikis, whose handsome-actor mien veers sinister or sweet depending on the project, brings unexpected depth to his performance as Ted — a man who came to terms with being underestimated long before he hopped the pond. The ensemble, a mix of writer-comedians and British character actors, bounces nimbly off each other like a tight-knit sketch-comedy troupe. Hunt infuses a remarkable amount of humor into Beard’s monosyllabic dialogue, and Goldstein hits just the right balance between Roy’s macho bluster (“Oi! If I don’t hear silence, I’m gonna start punching d---s!”) and elder-statesman maturity. Juno Temple is a scene-stealing treat as Jamie’s quick-witted girlfriend Keeley, who helps Rebecca navigate her literal boys’ club.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about the way Ted Lasso’s story beats play out, but the show — a mix of workplace antics, sentimental sports inspo, and soapy romance — is undeniably winning. And as Coach Lasso might say, you’re doggone right that pun is intended. Grade: A–

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