Ted Lasso review – Apple's soccer sitcom plays an unfunny old game

Jason Sudeikis is the US coach of a British football team in a middling fish-out-of-water comedy that never finds its footing

With an ever-expanding wealth of new content at our fingertips, with new platforms launching on what feels like a weekly basis, one is likelier than ever to encounter a new show that causes a mantra to repeat as each episode unfurls: there’s just too much TV for this. As I watched Apple’s middling new transatlantic sitcom Ted Lasso, it was all I could hear in my head, a show that isn’t unwatchably bad but isn’t really much of anything, an in-the-background time-waster ill-suited to a time when there are so many other better things to be watching.

Lasso is a small-time American college football coach played by Jason Sudeikis, a character originated in a viral NBC Sports promo for its coverage of the Premier League. He’s been drafted in to lead an English team despite no knowledge of the game. He’s enthusiastic and unperturbed by his inexperience, unlike the fans and players who greet him, largely with the word “wanker”. The reason for his hiring is swiftly revealed as part of a Producers-style twist involving the club’s new chairman, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), taking over from her philandering husband and eager to tank the club fast just to spite him.

As overused as the fish-out-of-water set-up may be, it’s a timeless construction and when supported by sharp writing and some self-awareness of how hackneyed the subgenre now is, it can still be incredibly funny. But Sudeikis and experienced sitcom writer-producer Bill Lawrence (whose many credits include Scrubs, Cougar Town and The Nanny) start at the very bottom and stay there with a series of predictably base clashes of culture as Ted arrives in the UK. He asks for a coffee but all they have is tea! He doesn’t know the offside rule! He goes for Indian food but it’s so spicy it gives him an upset stomach! It’s grindingly unfunny as well as, at times, rooted in some questionable and uneasy stereotypes (aside from that bowel-inflaming curry, there’s also an overly enthusiastic Nigerian player who insists on befriending everyone).

It’s a relic in some ways while also a sign of the times in others because there’s something a little overly calculated in how its ingredients are assembled, an attempt by Apple to do a number of things at once without doing one of them particularly well. Taking an American comedy star and dropping them in a UK sitcom is now a common tactic (Andy Samberg in Cuckoo, David Cross in The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret and, most recently, David Schwimmer in Intelligence) as an attempt to appeal to both audiences, something that’s of even more importance when a title like this has a global release date. There’s also a rather clumsy attempt to add a melancholic undercurrent, as if to emulate a far greater show such as the transatlantic hit The Office, which doesn’t work here because the comedy is so broad and so silly that suddenly insisting we take the one-note characters with any real gravity feels incongruous.

The main problem, though, is that the titular character isn’t interesting or funny or substantial enough to warrant a commercial-to-sitcom expansion. He’s well-intentioned and warm-hearted yet also arrogant enough to think he can pull off an impossible task without doing that much work, a problem that, at least in the early episodes, isn’t explored enough. We’re expected to love him straight off the bat and while Sudeikis is fine, it would take a much better script for this immediate connection to work and instead the charm feels forced. Instead, it’s the British supporting cast who prove more engaging with slightly more nuanced characters to play, such as musical theatre star Waddingham as the new boss, Juno Temple as a savvy Wag (“I’m sort of famous for being almost famous”) and Nick Mohammed, who has the best comic delivery on the show, as Lasso’s new right-hand man.

But brief sparks aren’t quite enough to power us through a sitcom that one would need to seek out to watch on a weekly basis (like most Apple shows, the first three episodes drop week one then it’s every Friday until October) and with so many better, smarter, funnier comedies available, it’s hard to understand why anyone would want to come back for more. It’s yet another fizzled opportunity for Apple.

  • Ted Lasso starts on Apple TV+ on 14 August

Contributor

Benjamin Lee

The GuardianTramp

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