The familiar elements of Apple TV+’s newest show aren’t hard to pinpoint — the fish-out-of-water sports comedy even features a pre-established character. But there’s something charming and fresh about Ted Lasso, starring Saturday Night Live alumni Jason Sudeikis, which captures what happens when a college football coach gets hired to teach the other kind of football — specifically an English Premier League team.
Sudeikis first played the character of Ted Lasso in a series of promotional spots for NBC Sports’ football coverage, beginning in 2013. But in an interview with Collider, he explained that the origins of Ted Lasso as a TV show began in 2015, when he and writer/producers Joe Kelly and Brendan Hunt (who also plays Ted’s loyal compatriot Coach Beard) sat down to figure out if there was anything to the idea of expanding upon the original commercials. “We sat down one week and just tried to outline and flesh out an idea for a pilot script, a first script. And then that happened really quick — we were able to figure out that story. I would say 80 percent of what we came up with back in spring, summer of 2015 is what you see on the show. We even outlined six to 10 episodes,” he said.
After that, though, the idea was “just sitting there for a while and life happened” — Sudekis became a father, while Kelly went on to co-create Detroiters for Comedy Central and Hunt also started getting a lot of work. “I remember saying to my manager, ‘Boy, it would be neat if someone that really knows what they’re doing would come on and shepherd this thing as a showrunner, as a creative, someone that really understands the medium of the situation comedy, of the half-hour format.’ And [my manager] was fun and playfully cynical: ‘That’s never going to happen. Why would anyone do that? If it’s not their idea why would they do that?’”
Enter Scrubs and Cougartown creator Bill Lawrence, who had already seen the Ted Lasso sketches. “Amongst comedy writers, we all thought they’re really funny — they were funny and silly and sketchy,” he told me.
Lawrence and Sudeikis met up in New York one day because Lawrence was curious if he’d want to collaborate. “I think we really met because I was sequestered with all my kids and looking for an excuse to invent work,” Lawrence said. “And so I was like, ‘Hey, could I come out to Brooklyn where you are, and we can just see if there are any shows we might be interested in doing?’”
During that meeting (“I stayed way too long,” Lawrence said) Sudeikis told him that because of football’s huge international reach, whenever he would go overseas he would get more recognized for the Ted Lasso ads he’d done than SNL or any of his film work. “[Sudeikis] said, ‘I think the trick would be making Ted a fully-rounded, three-dimensional character. And the reason I wanted to talk to you about doing it was that I wanted to do a show that had a lot of underlying heart, an emotional depth and maybe it sneaks up on people that it’s actually about something,’”
This appealed Lawrence because “that’s where we overlapped, in really wanting to make an optimistic and hopeful show… I’m not dissing cynical, snarky comedy. I love it. I could quote Veep to you all day. But to make a hopeful optimistic show right now is appealing, considering where we’re at.”
That was embedded in the fundamental make-up of the character, according to Lawrence. “We talked in the writers’ room about our own cynicism, that we’ve reached a point that if you were to meet someone like Ted Lasso… This became one of the driving factors of the show, that your initial reaction, mine anyways, would be, ‘No way this dude’s for real. This can’t be sincere. Eventually, the mask will come off and he’ll be an asshole.’ And then you feel like an idiot a week later when you’re like, “Oh, my God, that person’s that nice and optimistic.” So that was one of the goals.”
Sudeikis agreed, noting that “This show I don’t think would exist without something like the British Office, and I know the British Office probably wouldn’t exist without something like Larry Sanders. But between the influence of people who are just frustrating and maybe a little more biting and sarcastic and angry and off-putting,” Sudeikis said. “I love a great number of those shows, but I just felt like it’d be nice to play someone who doesn’t swear, in a show that doesn’t use snark as a currency. It was an exercise in trying to prove to as much to myself that it’s possible to be a good person and still be interesting.”
As Sudeikis continued, “There’ve been so many good anti-heroes both in comedy and drama — how would I be adding to the Michael Scotts and Don Drapers and Tony Sopranos? It would all feel derivative to me at this point. We wanted to flip the script a little bit.”
Another twist was that Ted Lasso evolved to be much more of an ensemble than one might expect. “Most streaming sites and studios, what they would expect and what the actor would normally want is a star vehicle in which you immediately know it’s the Jason Sudeikis show,” Lawrence said. “But Jason was very steadfast, even against criticism from questions from the studio, the network, even me, that the opening of this show was about the female lead [Hannah Waddingham, who plays team owner Rebecca]. It’s very weird that on the Jason Sudeikis show, you start in her office and with her life for a really long scene. I don’t think he even appears until the four or five minute mark in the pilot.”
Lawrence praised the approach because “it was an announcement that it’s an ensemble show, not only creatively but to the cast as well, and everybody noticed it and vibed off it. And that’s why we got really lucky with every actor and actress really taking ownership of their characters and knowing that it was an ensemble piece.”
While said ensemble, including Stephen Manas, Phil Dunster, Brett Goldstein, Bradley Wj Miller, Jade Mitchell, Juno Temple, Bronson Webb, Jeremy Swift, and Nick Mohammed, is a strong one, it could be argued that the real star of Ted Lasso, in the end, is the mustache on Ted’s face. At the very least, Sudeikis considers said ‘stache necessary to his performance. “It feels essential to me. It really does… Between the mustache and the shades, that really kicks it off for me. I mean, my joke has been that Audrey Hepburn used to say that she really would find a character through the wardrobe, through some Givenchy outfit. For me, it’s facial hair and the aviators and the visor.”
However, he added, “I’ve worn a mustache for a few different roles in my day, and you eventually forget you have it, but you see people respond to you in different ways when you have different kinds of facial hair. I also know that it feels good on my face and familiar because my father all throughout the ’80s growing up, he had a mustache. If my face is 50 percent his, which we can only assume through genetics it is, then that mustache doesn’t feel out of place on my face.”
The first three episodes of Ted Lasso are available now on Apple TV+. New episodes will debut weekly on Fridays.