By JASON MARTIN (@JMartRadio – July 19, 2021)
Thank goodness Ted Lasso is back.
End of review.
Nah, not really, but it truly is good to have a television show that almost always puts a smile on its audience’s face. Season 1, basically built off a commercial spot, not picked up by NBC, and finding a home on of all places, Apple TV, it’s increasingly becoming a cultural volcano. No question, Apple TV is why many still haven’t seen it, but the streaming service is banking on its “talk about it” or “have you seen” show bringing consumers to the pitch for training. The Emmy nominations won’t hurt either, although that kind of thing doesn’t mean what it used to in terms of the cultural zeitgeist.
What’s funny about Apple TV is with relatively few original offerings, still in the infancy of its growth phase, the service has three absolute gems with Lasso, Mythic Quest, and For All Mankind. Compare that to Netflix, where it’s about quantity, not quality, and the hit rate for Apple is pretty darn high, all things considered. Nothing gets a faster recommendation from me these days, however, than Ted Lasso, because of the delight it brings.
When last we left AFC Richmond, the squad was facing relegation, the retirement of Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), and the pains of a young team with mediocre talent and the strangest coaching hire in football (soccer/futbol) history. With a Major League premise as a start point, the first season was a dynamo in every way, making Jason Sudeikis a household name for the first time in his career. Not that he didn’t have moments, but Lasso is the role he needed to break out.
My wife loves Ted Lasso, even though she’s not a huge sports fan outside of her Vols, and what she said to me last night over dinner encapsulates what this show has managed. “The cast is so good.” That doesn’t seem to be deep analysis, but it’s important. Here’s why. Ted Lasso‘s success is coming on the blood, sweat, and tears of a cast filled with relative unknowns, and as such, we don’t view these people as OTHER roles, outside of maybe Sudeikis, but even there, Lasso looks like a PG version of an SNL character. Thus, we get someone like Hannah Waddingham, who had worked on Game of Thrones and Les Miserables, but whose Rebecca Welton character earned her award noms and everyone’s attention.
She had to walk the tightrope between villain and sympathetic and did so masterfully, better than Margaret Whitton in Major League, but there’s also much more humanity to this character. Her marriage breaking apart and a vindictive, selfish husband that then made her despise what he loved, namely the team the two controlled. But, Lasso’s charm, not to mention his biscuit box, made it impossible not to start rooting for Richmond, despite all the internal strife boiling in her heart.
Season 2 picks right up where Season 1 left off, with a hilarious opening sequence to remind you what show you’re watching. The expectations are high, as when you set a high bar, it means merely hitting that level again can be a challenge, but the first few episodes indicate the drop off is almost non-existent. What you liked about it before, you’ll love now, although now you add a little more depth to the story. We bring in one new character of real note to shake up the proceedings and spend some time learning about the present for Roy and Jamie in particular, as both are in new phases of their lives.
The evolution of those two characters was crucial and remains so important because it was the effect of the Lasso COACHING strategy on the series. The way he related to everyone and even broke through with Tartt prior to the call-up to Manchester City is where you really saw the heart of the series. Rather than jump into the plot line, I wanted to point out something else that’s been on my mind about the show.
Had this show been on NBC, we wouldn’t have the language and the content would have been sanitized. Originally, I liked that idea, but the more I’ve watched into Season 2 and certainly in Season 1, the language creates a “realism” factor. The kindness is more authentic because it’s surrounded by the world people actually in, rather than an idyllic version where it’s all gumdrops and lollipops. Roy Kent drops a lot of f-bombs, and boy does he keep that up in the new episodes. He has rough edges, but he’s also someone you can root for.
Nobody is a “savior” in this show and nobody avoids mistakes. Lasso himself is still dealing with the end of his own marriage and a son halfway across the world. His heart is pure, which is the difference, but outside of him, everybody has jagged corners and low moments and spots where you could lose some respect for them. The real theme of Ted Lasso, why it resonates, is grace. Without the abrasions, it loses something. Sure, the content then moves away from “children of all ages,” but Lasso’s grace as a coach infects everything in every episode, and the result is the smile on our face that comes with a warm feeling. It’s this unique sensation that we’re watching something with a soul, but not something phony or disingenuous.
As my wife said, the cast really is perfect. From Sudeikis on down, everybody shines. Brett Goldstein gets better and better, but Phil Dunster has really stepped up his game. The Jamie Tartt character was unembraceable early, but the guy you meet in Season 2 has so many layers and feels far more approachable and, dare I say it, sympathetic. The best way not to have a letdown is not to reinvent the wheel. Ted Lasso didn’t need to change. All we need is more Ted Lasso. And that’s what we get.
So again, thank goodness Ted Lasso is back. It’s so necessary. And so wonderful.
In a world increasingly full of sludge and slime, it’s good to have some barbecue sauce.
(NOTE: Apple has provided the first eight episodes to critics, and the series will release weekly. Thus, I’ll be writing and publishing each week on Fridays and will continue to avoid spoilers. The plan will be to write after every episode I watch, probably getting ahead this week with football season coming… but you’ll have a review each week to read to accompany your own viewing schedule.)