Now that “Ted Lasso” is finally back, maybe the online uproar can cool down a bit. The delightful fish-out-of-water series about an American football coach who is hired (for originally nefarious reasons) to take over an English professional soccer team landed during the pandemic and was an instant hit, drawing huge audiences and winning two straight Emmys for best comedy series.
The problems started when the creators of the show let it be known that they had only planned for the series to have a three-season arc; the fans wanted more. Then there were numerous delays in production and the rumors started flying. Should they give the public what it wants and go beyond three seasons? Should they stick to their original plan because everything they’ve done so far has been just about perfect (except for the “Coach’s Night Out” episode)? We really don’t know, and we don’t know if they know either.
It’s weird, I had the darnedest time getting my son to watch the show. He thought the title was stupid. (He still does, but he’s hooked on the show.) I later had the same issue with trying to get him to watch “Hacks,” a very funny show for which Jean Smart has won the Emmy for best comedy actress.
One of the best things about “Ted Lasso” is that it uses sports action judiciously to move the story along. And even though it’s soccer, we remain interested in what happens to the characters.
“Ted Lasso” does an amazing job of using sport as a backdrop while serving (for many players) as a raison d’etre. It has entered our culture in a big way, from Dani Rojas’ mantra of “Football is life!” to a handwritten “Believe” sign hanging in thousands of high school and college locker rooms throughout America.
If you haven’t watched it, ignore the dumb name and give it a try.
“Ted Lasso” is one of a small handful of sports-related TV series that has been artistically and commercially successful. It’s not an easy do. There have been a whole lot of bad attempts. “One Tree Hill” was on for something like 15 seasons. A soap opera with basketball in it, the show served as the launching pad for a huge number of actors, all of whom can now be seen on Hallmark Christmas movies.
“All-American” follows a star high school football player who is moved from an inner-city school and taken to a school in Beverly Hills. The show should have been called “Cliches.”
Among the good ones are:
“Sports Night”: This thing was doomed from the very start. It was created and written by Aaron Sorkin, who wrote many of the great episodes of “The West Wing” (the greatest TV show ever about politics) and also wrote the screenplays for “The Social Network,” “A Few Good Men” and “Moneyball.” The show had snappy dialogue, razor-sharp banter and was very funny. I wrote at the time that it was too clever for its own good and “probably way too smart for the average sports fan.” That last line was condescending and cruel and, for just about everyone living in a state that contains at least one school in the Southeastern Conference, almost certainly true.
“The English Game”: You must check this out when you get the chance. It’s an absolutely wonderful six-part miniseries that has a beginning, a middle and a completely satisfying end. It’s not one of those things where it has a magnificent season and then, because it was so well received (critically and/or ratings-wise), comes back for more even though nobody asked them to. (That’s what happened with “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which was a near-perfect adaptation of the book…and then came back for seconds and thirds. Anyway, back to sports, this thing is set in the 1870s and it involves the early days of soccer. It reminded me of the Academy Award-winning best picture “Chariots of Fire” in that it is based on a true story and it uses sport to explore the sources and deleterious effects of classism. It’s really good.
“Friday Night Lights”: Not just the best sports-related series ever, it’s one of the best TV series, period, of all time. It’s set in a football-crazed small town in Texas with the classic chant “Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose!” When it first premiered, one critic said that was “great — not just as a TV series, but like a painting or a poem.” Crazy praise indeed. It survived low ratings and a writers’ strike to become a classic. In the last two seasons, you’ll marvel at the performances of soon-to-be big stars Jesse Plemons, Jurnee Smollett and Michael B. Jordan. And the series finale is one of the greatest in TV history.
It makes me wonder if “Ted Lasso” will be able to stick the landing.
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