Believe it or not, the new Apple TV+ comedy series “Ted Lasso” isn’t the first TV program or movie to be based on an advertising campaign, as it follows in the footsteps of such endeavors as:
o “Uncle Drew,” the entertaining film from 2018 based on a 2012 spot starring Kyrie Irving as an elderly hoopster.
o “Cavemen,” the execrable and mercifully short-lived series from 2007 “inspired” by the insurance ads about modern-day Cro-Magnons.
o “The Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid,” the 1981 made-for-TV movie expanding the story of soda pop-drinking Mean Joe Greene and the kid who gets his jersey — played in the movie by Henry Thomas a year before “E.T.”
On paper (or PDF pitch), “Ted Lasso” would seem to be awfully thin material for a full-length series, given it’s based on what was basically a one-joke ad campaign for NBC Sports back in 2013, the joke being Jason Sudeikis’ titular character is a folksy American football coach who knows nothing about soccer but is hired to become manager of a British soccer team. And true enough, by the end of the 10-episode first season run, we’ve pretty much reached the bottom of the well of running jokes about Ted knowing almost nothing about soccer, hating tea and learning the true meaning of “wanker” and other popular British slang. But thanks to an infectiously affable performance by the likable Sudeikis, a terrific supporting cast and a surprisingly warmhearted center wrapped inside all the sitcom wisecracks, “Ted Lasso” is a charming, easygoing little biscuit of a treat.
(Note: In England, they call cookies “biscuits.” They have cookies as well, but they’re more like our biscuits. Something like that. Crazy!)
The setup for “Ted Lasso” is reminiscent of the first “Major League” movie in that the no-nonsense, female owner of the franchise actually wants to burn the team to the ground for her own gain. That explains why a mustachioed, cornpone, second-tier football coach from America has been imported to coach AFC Richmond, much to the dismay of the rabid fan base as well as the colorful but underachieving members of the team, including the iconic but over-the-hill and rage-filled Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), and the young pretty-boy star Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), who is more concerned with individual stats and endorsement deals than team success.
One key difference from “Major League”: Whereas Margaret Whitton’s Cleveland Indians owner Rachel Phelps was a cardboard caricature (literally, on one level) of a villain, the wonder Hannah Waddingham’s Rebecca is smart and cunning, but also vulnerable and lovely and quite funny. The complicated and changing dynamic between Ted (who doesn’t know it’s complicated, as he pretty much takes everyone at face value and is an eternal optimist) and Rebecca is one of the more intriguing storylines in “Ted Lasso.”
In fact, any number of potentially stereotypical characters prove to be more than the first impressions they give, e.g., Juno Temple’s Keeley, who makes a splashy entrance as Jamie’s seemingly superficial and daffy model girlfriend but turns out to be something more — just as “Ted Lasso” turns out to be something more than just a padded version of an old ad campaign.