Rolling Stone

Rooting for TV’s Good Guy to Win

After an era of narcissist­ic antiheroes, Ted Lasso proves it’s just as fun to see a goofy, kindhearte­d character come out on top.


‘Do you believe in ghosts, Ted?” Ted Lasso’s boss, Rebecca, asks him in the first episode of Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso. “I do,” Ted replies, “but more importantl­y, I think they need to believe in themselves.”

Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) has hired Ted ( Jason Sudeikis) — a second-tier American college football coach with no soccer experience — to coach her Premier League club, AFC Richmond, as part of a clandestin­e plan to sabotage the team and punish its biggest fan, her adulterous ex-husband. She takes Ted’s joke about ghosts as confirmati­on that she has chosen the right idiot for the job. And in a series of ads for NBC Sports’ Premier League coverage that introduced Ted to the world back in 2013, that’s all he was. But by the time Sudeikis, Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence, and others brought Ted back to star in his own series, he had become a lot more than the yokel Rebecca took him for. He was someone who wanted not only ghosts, but also everyone to believe in themselves — in a way that felt aspiration­al rather than ridiculous.

It’s unclear if Ted is actually a good coach, at least when it comes to X’s-and-O’s strategy. (His main goal of Season One is just getting selfish star Jamie Tartt to make the extra pass on offense.) But he is unequivoca­lly a good man, in a way that made the series Apple’s first word-of-mouth phenomenon.

For the past two decades, television has been defined by its antiheroes — from fictional icons like Don Draper to reality-show staples like Simon Cowell and comedic figures like Larry David. Some of this was a response to the way that TV of the previous century prized likability above all else. But over time, it became a market overcorrec­tion, with shows about morally gray figures feeling just as tired as the ones about nice guys.

Tony Soprano liked to ask, “What ever happened to Gary Cooper?” Somehow, our

Gary Cooper turned out to be a mustachioe­d, underquali­fied soccer coach, with Ted’s fundamenta­l kindness and empathy feeling like a radical choice in this era of TV.

“I believe you can outscore your opponent and still lose,” Ted tells sportswrit­ers, “just like you can score less than them and win.” When coaches talk like that, it’s usually code for some kind of repressed, hypermascu­line ideal of a bygone era. But with Ted, it’s about a genuine, radiating desire to help the people around him be their best selves, scoreboard be darned. He is curious about everything and everyone, and polite and caring in ways that Rebecca and the players keep assuming is a put-on, because who could possibly be this friendly all the time?

The show smartly acknowledg­es the downsides of pathologic­al decency — Ted’s wife leaves him because she feels smothered by his attentions, and she’s not presented as a villain — but for the most part it’s a Jason

Sudeikis charm offensive. And bit by bit, Ted wins everyone — Rebecca most of all — to his side. “He thinks he’s mad now?” he says after meeting perpetuall­y surly, past-his-prime midfielder Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein). “Wait’ll we win him over.”

A few months before the second season’s July 23rd premiere, a handful of Europe’s top clubs attempted to form a new “super league” that would forgo relegation — where the worst teams each season are demoted to a lesser league and have to earn their way back — which is both a crucial part of how the sport works in most of the world and a key story point on Ted Lasso. The craven, anti-competitiv­e spirit behind the endeavor inspired so much protest among fans that the super league collapsed within days of its announceme­nt. Once, that would have seemed too Pollyanna-ish a plot twist for real life. But in a world that’s given us Ted Lasso, anything seems possible.

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AFC Richmond's finest: Sudeikis as Ted; Brendan Hunt as Coach Beard; Waddingham as Rebecca; Goldstein as Roy (clockwise from top)
PLAY ON AFC Richmond's finest: Sudeikis as Ted; Brendan Hunt as Coach Beard; Waddingham as Rebecca; Goldstein as Roy (clockwise from top)

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