The Apple TV+ series “Ted Lasso” is a pleasure, which took me by surprise. Because it’s based on Jason Sudeikis’s character from a pair of popular 2013-14 NBC Sports ads, I assumed it would be thin, flip, pointless, and, most likely, dated. Just like the ads. Turns out, it’s a sweetly cheerful comedy, and the Ted Lasso character, a dumb-American buffoon in the ads, has been made into a big-hearted, optimistic, even charming guy. He’s a sort of male version of Leslie Knope, finding the good in everyone and never giving up.
I keep wanting to make an unlikely comparison between “Ted Lasso” and “Schitt’s Creek,” even though “Ted Lasso” is a lot slicker and it’s set in England. The reason is that they’re both feel-good comedies with simple premises that feature some well-sketched out characters. Their best strength is not in plotting or in punch lines so much as in delivering thoroughly likable ensembles, where even the not-nice ones are kind of endearing. Bill Lawrence, of “Scrubs” and “Cougar Town,” is also involved in developing “Ted Lasso” for series TV, and his spirited touch is clear.
Sudeikis’s Ted is a former Division II football coach who has been hired by a high-profile British soccer team despite the fact that he knows little to nothing about soccer. He and his co-coaching pal and sidekick Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) arrive ready to whip the team into shape, but the team and the locals don’t respect them and ridicule Ted — behind his back and to his face. Can Ted work some Coach-Taylor-from-”Friday Night Lights”-like magic on the players and turn them from mediocre to magnificent? Can he win over the skeptics?
Rooting against him is the woman who hired him, Rebecca (the wonderful Hannah Waddington), who is trying to pull a “The Producers” for reasons I won’t spoil here. She is one of the show’s more interesting characters, as she toggles between being Cruella DeVille and a broken woman beaten down by sexism and a brutal divorce. She and one of the soccer players’ gregarious girlfriends, Keeley (Juno Temple), form a warm, unlikely connection that is one of the many unexpectedly delightful elements on the show. We also see Ted doing his best to sneak his way into Rebecca’s cold heart, not because he needs her but because he wants her to be happier. I wouldn’t bet against him.