If the character of Ted Lasso seems familiar, it’s because the series Ted Lasso, created by Sudeikis and Bill Lawrence, is based on the character Sudeikis originated in 2013 for a series of Premier League promos for NBC Sports. In fact, a lot of the lines he says in the press conference part of the first episode are taken right from the original video in the series, like the one where he says that in this country “playing for a tie is a sign of the apocalypse.” Can Lawrence and Sudeikis make what was a bit of a one-note joke — Southern-accented small-college football coach becomes manager of a Premiership team — into a fully-realized series?
Opening Shot: Soccer players are practicing on the pitch, and then we pan into the owner’s box, and we see a woman staring at a painting as movers are taking things out.
The Gist: Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) has gotten ownership of the Premier League football team AFC Richmond during a messy divorce with the team’s longtime owner, who philandered one too many times. Her first order of business is to fire the misogynist coach who wears tiny shorts. When Higgins (Jeremy Swift), the team’s communications director, asks about candidates for the job, Rebecca tells him she already has her choice.
Cut to SportsCenter’s announcement that Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis), head football coach at the small school in Wichita that he took from the dregs to the Division II championship, has been hired to manage AFC Richmond. He got the job despite knowing nothing about soccer, or what pretty much the rest of the world calls football. As he’s flying to London with his assistant, Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt), a kid asks for a “usfie” and tells Lasso that he’s going to be crushed by the press and the players in England. At least Coach Beard has been studying, enough to know what the term for “out of bounds” is.
When they get to the UK, Ted is wired because he hasn’t slept and, after taking a detour to see the Tower Bridge, they’re ushered into the offices and home stadium of AFC Richmond, where they’re yelled at by the waterboy, Nathan (Nick Mohammed), to not touch the grass. Ted jokes that he loves Nathan’s hot dogs, and Nathan has no idea what he’s talking about.
Ted and Coach Beard meet Rebecca. She immediately throws the jet-lagged coach to the wolves; in other words, his introductory press conference. There, he promises that his team will play hard for “all four quarters” (“two halves!” yells a reporter), and they’ll try hard “win or lose” (“or tie!” yells another reporter). When one reporter asks Ted, “is this a fucking joke?”, Rebecca defends him in front of the reporters. Then in the background, she tells Higgins that she hired Ted to ruin the team, her ex’s most prized possession.
Ted and Coach Beard meet the players, but they mostly ignore him. The team captain, Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) thinks Ted’s presence is a complete joke, and one of the players, Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) leaves early when his girlfriend Keeley Jones (Juno Temple) picks him up to get waxed. Ted and Keeley bond a little when she gets back later to pick something up, which is good because, while Ted misses his family back home, he’s not just in England for the new job.
Our Take: One of the good things that both Lawrence and Sudeikis did with this version of Ted Lasso is to make him a good guy who just wants to win, not an American jerk trying to shoehorn his ways into some other system. Series Ted is definitely a bit clueless about what he’s getting into, and he definitely has no idea that the team’s owner hired him to fall on his face. We’re betting that he’ll take some time, but he’ll not only win over his players but actually make AFC Richmond more than the mediocrity it has been for years. Thankfully, he has Coach Beard, who actually took the time to learn the game.
Sudeikis plays Ted like he plays a lot of his characters: Endearingly dorky, a bit clueless, but for the most part a guy who just wants to do the right thing. Where he shines is in the final scene, where he talks to his son and then his wife on the phone, and the searching look in his eyes tells us that Ted’s stateside life is not all that great at the moment. This gives Ted a little more depth that we didn’t quite see when he was doing things like putting up a poster that says “Believe” over his office door.
While the first episode didn’t really have a ton of laughs, we know that Lawrence and Sudeikis will get to the funny stuff eventually. They’ve done a good job establishing who Ted is, and just why he’s in the UK. Both of the show’s creators know how to get laughs from character instead of gags, and we’ll see more of that as the series goes on.
Sex and Skin: Besides the players changing in the locker room and a poster of Keeley with some strategically-placed stars, nothing.
Parting Shot: After his gut-wrenching phone call with his wife, we see an overhead of Ted in his new bed. He turns off the light, then says to himself, “Shoot, now I can’t sleep.”
Sleeper Star: This is a tie between Brendan Hunt as the quietly efficient Coach Beard and Juno Temple as the down-to-earth Keeley, who seems destined to be a love interest for Ted.
Most Pilot-y Line: It’s not a bad line, but could have been better… when Ted tells Roy that he’s had a great career, Roy responds by saying, “Never thought it would end being coached by Ronald Fucking McDonald.”
Our Call: STREAM IT. Ted Lasso has a feel-good vibe about it that overcomes the first episode’s lack of funny lines. And it helps that Sudeikis is amazingly likable and he’s hooked up with Lawrence, who always knows how to get the most out of his show’s characters.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company.com, RollingStone.com, Billboard and elsewhere.