LOS ANGELES – An American football coach with no clue about soccer trying his hand as a Premier League manager?
That is the wacky premise of the upcoming sports comedy television series “Ted Lasso,” whose lead actor Jason Sudeikis said in an interview with EFE that he fell in love with the beautiful game as a young adult in Europe.
“I’ve fallen hook, line and sinker for the sport. It’s tough not to when you get to see a match anywhere on the professional level, but certainly in the (United Kingdom),” Sudeikis said. “We can watch them in the pubs, we can go see them live. It’s just an incredible infectious energy that I love being around. It reminded me a lot of college athletics.”
The 44-year-old Sudeikis plays the title character – a stereotypically parochial yet likeable American – in this Apple TV+ series that is set to premiere on Friday and also stars Brendan Hunt, Hannah Waddingham and Juno Temple.
The Ted Lasso character is a continuation of the one Sudeikis portrayed in a series of promos several years ago for American television channel NBC’s coverage of the Premier League.
After those promos went viral on YouTube, Sudeikis and his colleagues came to the conclusion that those short clips could be expanded into something much bigger.
In his comments to EFE, Sudeikis set aside his small-town-American alter-ego yet still acknowledged that, like many of his countrymen, soccer had not previously been a passion of his.
“The bulk of my knowledge came from playing the sport when I was like six, seven, eight years old, and then there was a large gap probably until about fall of 2000 when I started playing a lot,” he recalled.
“I was living in Amsterdam working at a theater called Boom Chicago, and myself and my buddy, Brendan Hunt, who’s one of the writers and producers on the show … we played a lot of FIFA on the Playstation. He would be Arsenal and I would be (Manchester United), so it was (Dennis) Bergkamp and (Thierry) Henry going head-to-head with (Wayne) Rooney and (David) Beckham,” Sudeikis added.
In the series, Ted Lasso takes the reins of failing A.F.C. Richmond, a club with an owner, Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), who is out for revenge against her ex-husband; an arrogant striker, Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster); a veteran captain, Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), who is in the sunset of his career; a meek staffer named Nathan (Nick Mohammed); and a budding Mexican star, Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernandez).
In contrast with the NBC promos, the Ted Lasso of the TV series is less buffoonish and reveals a subtle intelligence and a big heart.
“We wanted to make … the premise believable, have it exist in the real world,” Sudeikis said. “And not just be like in a parody, satiric place like ‘Naked Gun’ or ‘Airplane’ or something like that, where it’s only jokes, jokes, jokes.”
“That style is great, but I felt Ted just had more to him and we had only scratched the surface,” the actor added.
Much of the credit for the series’ human touch belongs to its co-executive producer and co-creator (along with Sudeikis, Hunt and Joe Kelly), Bill Lawrence, who had already shown an ability to inject a heart-warming vibe into slapstick comedy with his work on the successful medical comedy-drama series “Scrubs.”
“Ignorance with curiosity,” Lawrence said. “Right now, our social discourse is filled with ignorance with arrogance, where people if they don’t know something, they go, ‘Oh, I know everything about that I know more than you.’ Instead of Ted kinda being like, ‘hey, what’s relegated mean?’”
“Jason really wanted to make a show that at its core was hopeful and optimistic … I love cynical comedies, man. I’ll watch ‘Veep’ or ‘Dave’ or ‘30 Rock’ where characters are kinda edgy and some are soulless … But this show at the end of the day, it really mattered to us that it was hopeful and optimistic and you maybe felt there was a light at the end of the tunnel,” he added.
In that vein, a notable aspect of the series is its take on masculinity in an environment where machismo and aggressiveness are prized, particularly in the warm friendship that develops between Lasso and his inseparable assistant, Coach Beard (Hunt).
“None of us are particularly macho,” Hunt said. “I just think there’s more than one way to be a man. There’s a million ways, and like trying to prove what a man you are all the time, in the end, isn’t particularly manly.”