A version of this story about “Ted Lasso” first appeared in the December issue of TheWrap magazine.
Jason Sudeikis calls it “a lovely surprise” that people “sparked to” his new Apple TV+ comedy “Ted Lasso.” Well, Jason, there has been no lovelier surprise of 2020 than the U.K.-based soccer sitcom, which is an impressive reimagining of his NBC Sports Network commercials that ran from 2013-2014. TheWrap caught up with Sudeikis shortly after his surprise hit received an early Season 3 renewal from the streaming service, which said the program is its No. 1 comedy series and has increased viewership each week. All that was missing from the conversation was some tea.
Or maybe that would be the wrong beverage. Here’s an example of a perfect “Ted Lasso” exchange, this one between the title character played by Sudeikis and the owner of his AFC Richmond soccer club, Rebecca, played by Hannah Waddingham:
Rebecca: “How do you take your tea?”
Ted: “Well, usually I tell them to take it right back to the counter, because someone has made a horrible mistake.”
Midwesterner Lasso’s attitude toward tea is just about the only negative comment you’ll catch the football-coach-turned-football-coach making all season long. It’s a fitting character for real-life nice guy Sudeikis who, after becoming a dad six years ago, realized he doesn’t want to do anything “inconsequential.” (That rules out most Hollywood projects, we figure.)
For those who saw the NBCSN digital shorts and noticed a similar maturation of Coach Lasso himself, you’re not entirely wrong. But Sudeikis believes the change in Lasso’s demeanor, as well as the expansion of a short-form, punchline-heavy sketch into a well-rounded world fit for episodic television, actually began earlier than one might presume. “A jokes-on-goal version of the ‘Ted Lasso’ show, meaning boom, boom, boom, boom–I can conceive of that show, you can conceive of that show,” Sudeikis said. “But that wouldn’t have felt authentic. That’s not how I view and see the world. So it really was the step from doing the first commercial to the second commercial that unlocked this whole idea of Ted’s optimism and enthusiasm, even in strife.”
The series was developed five years ago as Sudeikis made that defining turn from his 30s to his 40s, which, as he reminded us, was “pre-Black Lives Matter, pre-#MeToo, pre-Trump coming down the escalator.” We did not get “Ted Lasso” the series until 2020, but that may be exactly when we needed it most–when civility was at a premium and the coronavirus pandemic was kicking us squarely in the soccer balls, we got one of the nicest comedies since “Modern Family.”
With Joe Biden set for the Oval Office before we get “Ted Lasso” Season 2, we asked the guy who used to play Biden on “SNL” if he is at all concerned about the niceness losing its novelty as the Trump era mercifully fades. “I don’t think kindness, empathy and openness ever goes out of style,” Sudeikis said. “There’s never not space for it.”
“There will still be those other elements in the world,” he continued. “And one of the themes of the show is how you go about reacting to those elements, because you can never get rid of bad. You can never get rid of people’s baggage. You can help them open it up and go through it with them and help them fold, but they’re the ones who have to put it in the drawers.”