The show, streaming now, is executive produced by Jason Sudeikis and Bill Lawrence (Scrubs). The 10-episode first season of Ted Lasso develops the character created in 2013 for two NBC Sports promotional videos intended to make soccer more palatable to the American audience.
“My partner, Olivia [Wilde], was like, ‘You should do it as a TV show,'” Sudeikis, who also plays the titular role, told me during a video chat. “I’m smart enough to know that I should listen to her.”
The premise of Ted Lasso, the show, is both a bit preposterous and kind of hilarious. Lasso is an unconventional yet successful American college football coach who gets hired by a Premier League team in London even though he doesn’t have the first idea what “football” means in the United Kingdom. He isn’t only clueless to the fact that football matches have two halves instead of four quarters and can end in a tie. He also has a lot to learn about passionate fans’ expectations and aggressive journalists.
The show has evolved from the sketch-type situations portrayed in the original promos. Lasso finds himself in a world where the press is brutal and the fans turn hostile fast when things don’t go well for their team. Ted Lasso’s creators made sure to portray all elements around the revered sport.
“The regional, almost religious-like devotion to their teams there was really overwhelming. And the press is mean and nasty,” said Lawrence, also via videoconference. He joined the project after Sudeikis and producers Brendan Hunt and Joe Kelly wrote the first version of the pilot and outlined several more episodes. “We were shocked by that.”
But Ted Lasso, the character, has a secret weapon for dealing with everything thrown at him. It’s the so-called Lasso Way, which basically consists of facing life with good humor, niceness, enthusiasm and curiosity.
“Like the old sales technique of answering the phone with a smile,” Sudeikis said about playing his character. “The goal with him is to never let that optimism come to a point where he is dumb. We try to play that optimism at the height of his intelligence.”
Getting the football right
Beyond making sure to include all the ingredients that surround a professional football team, like fans and the press, Ted Lasso’s producers wanted to make sure to depict the sport in a faithful way.
Christo Fernandez, who plays Dani Rojas, played professionally in Guadalajara, Mexico.
“Phil [Dunster], who plays Jamie Tartt, was a great youth player and had the skill set. As did Toheeb [Jimoh], who plays Sam. We peppered the rest of the team with people that had a background in football. A lot of those guys just had lines here and there,” said Lawrence about the strategy for getting the soccer right. Sports commentators Arlo White and Chris Powell even make cameos.
But don’t fret. Even with all the show’s faithfulness to soccer, you still don’t need to know anything about the game’s rules, or even care about it, to enjoy this show. This is still just a piece of scripted dramedy. According to Sudeikis, Ted Lasso is as much about soccer as Rocky is about boxing. They are both very human stories.
If you’re still on the fence about checking out the show, consider another partially sports-themed fiction analogy from Sudeikis: “If people could look at this show as maybe being Friday Night Lights with jokes, then we’ve done it correct.”