One of the perks of this job – other than the fast cars, extravagant gifts and access to the rich and famous – is that people are always telling you the great television they’re watching. And one of the trends I’ve noticed in recent months is that an increasing number of those shows are on Apple TV+.
In fact, it’s happening so much that if I were Netflix or Amazon Prime, I’d start getting a little worried about the lack of buzz surrounding their TV shows right now. Either that or I just don’t know the kind of people who are likely to recommend “Sex/Life” or “Too Hot to Handle: Brazil” – and for that I am truly grateful.
A few of the shows people have been praising, and which are atop my “To Watch” list this summer, are Ronald D. Moore’s space drama “For All Mankind,” the video-gaming comedy “Mythic Quest” and the quasi-musical “Schmigadoon!” – all of which have evaded my scrutiny, despite the first two having already aired for two seasons.
But the No. 1 Apple show people rave about is “Ted Lasso” (pronounced “Lass-o”), whose second season just started Friday – to coincide, presumably, with the launch of the Olympics in Tokyo.
And if it’s a choice between “Ted Lasso” and watching obscure sports that global audiences have never heard of – skeet shooting, sport climbing, baseball (just kidding; I’ve heard of skeet shooting) – this Apple comedy is the only game in town as far as I’m concerned.
The funny thing about “Ted,” other than the fact it is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny, is that it really shouldn’t work. Here is a sitcom set in the world of professional English soccer – or “football” to us Brits, as I shall henceforth call it – in which none of the world really rings true: The staging of the football matches is more akin to a computer game than an actual match; an agent only appears for the first time in episode 2 of the second season; and the fans are a completely amorphous, one-dimensional bunch. In short, it’s as much a fantasy as anything ever penned by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Yet it works in such spectacular fashion because it has something very few television shows have these days: a huge heart and the unerring ability to serve up just the right amount of sweetness without becoming too cloying.
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Much of the credit for that must go to co-creator and star Jason Sudeikis, who makes the eponymous Ted Lasso so endearing – a cockeyed optimist operating in a world full of, well, cocks.
This is not the type of comedy we’re used to seeing in recent times, where snark, cynicism, awkwardness and world-weariness are the predominant emotions du jour. And I write this as someone whose favorite new comedy of the past year is probably the Jean Smart HBO Max series “Hacks,” a show that feeds on cynicism the way vampires are drawn to hemoglobin.
“Ted” is the polar opposite of another recent Apple TV+ show, “Physical,” which also has an immensely likeable actor playing the lead role (Rose Byrne), but then does everything it can to make her aerobics-instructor character as dislikeable to audiences as possible. With “Ted,” we’re even rooting for the supposed bad guys like narcissistic star forward Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster).
Neither Jewish nor Polish
I should declare a special interest here. I am truly a football obsessive and am never happier than when watching a game either live or on television. How much do I love the sport? Put it this way, when I told my mom I was planning to get divorced about a decade ago, her first response was: “Well, you always did prefer football to girls.” Believe it or not, my mother is neither Jewish nor Polish.
So yes, I love “Ted Lasso” because I am a football-aholic and because I am British, and therefore revel in all the throwaway English references. I still chuckle, a year on, about a Shredded Wheat cereal gag in season 1, and applaud the copious usage of the word “wanker” – which hasn’t had this much airplay since director Guy Ritchie first burst onto the scene at the end of the 1990s. (Interestingly, season 2 seems to concentrate more on American references that the Brits don’t get than vice versa, which may be a sop to how U.S. audiences appear to have taken “Ted” to their hearts.)
However, the true genius of “Ted Lasso” is that you really don’t need to like football to love the show. Each episode is 30-ish minutes of pure unadulterated bliss, centered around the most positive man in the universe – a man whose sense of bonhomie is almost as infectious as the delta variant; a man who, when asked if he believes in ghosts, responds, “Yes, but more importantly, I think they need to believe in themselves, you know?”
Sudeikis never once turns Ted into a joke figure, a Michael Scott-type to be mocked for his misguided approach to life – even when he (season 1 spoiler alerts) is in the midst of a messy divorce or learns that he has been hired to manage AFC Richmond as an act of revenge by new owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddington), who wants to destroy something her ex-husband adores.
Ted is never the butt of the joke for the audience, even if he may be for some of the characters around him. Instead, he’s a quixotic hero who, despite working in the ultimate results-based business, refuses to define success in such simple terms as which team puts the ball in the other team’s goal the most times.
He also provides us with an answer to the question of what it would look like if Leslie Knope from “Parks and Recreations” had a twin brother and he managed a fictional English football club.
I’ve seen six episodes of season 2 so far (like a perfect pre-match snack, “Ted Lasso” should not be consumed hastily – and Apple is smart to drop one new episode every Friday until October 1), and can report that the show is maintaining its winning streak, even if AFC Richmond can only dream of such things.
All of the memorable characters from the first season are back in the starting lineup, and it’s significant that two of the best are women operating in a notoriously male world: the wonderful Waddington (why is this the first time I’m noticing her on screen?) as the now-rejuvenated club owner, and Juno Temple as Keeley Jones, marketing guru and partner to perma-scowling hard man Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein, channeling real-life football legend and world’s angriest man, Roy Keane, especially in season 2 as he contemplates life beyond the football pitch).
This is a show driven by wonderful characters and great one-liners (“You beating yourself up is like Woody Allen playing clarinet: I don’t want to hear it” was my favorite from season 1, while in season 2 Ted explains why sportsmen and women should never say the phrase “the yips” out loud, just as “you never say ‘Macbeth’ in a theater or ‘soccer’ in England”).
It’s also full of fun cultural references that are a world away from the testosterone-fueled one of football: When Ted references Socrates, for instance, he’s referring to the Greek philosopher rather than the Brazilian midfield great, and I heartily approve the Paul Thomas Anderson reference and use of the Aimee Mann song “Wise Up” as a throwback to his 1999 film “Magnolia” in season 2.
There’s a fun new character in the second season in the form of a serious-minded sports psychologist (played by Sarah Niles), and the only episode that’s dipped below the series’ impressively high standards so far is the fourth episode of season 2 – or maybe I just have an aversion to Christmas-themed shows broadcast in the height of summer.
If the show maintains this level of quality, there’s no reason it can’t run for years, in the same way as medical comedy “Scrubs” – another winningly sweet show devised by “Ted Lasso” co-creator Bill Lawrence – did from 2001-2010. After all, in the words of the show’s ebullient Mexican forward Dani Rojas, “Football is life.”
‘100 Foot Wave’ (HBO)
Surfing is arguably one of the unlikelier sports at this summer’s Olympics, but you can witness even more incredible feats on the very high seas in new HBO documentary “100 Foot Wave.” Of course, a 100-foot (30-meter) wave is probably what we’ll all have to circumnavigate on our daily commute to the office in a few years, thanks to climate change. But for now, it’s an almost mythic creature found off of the coast of the Portuguese town of Nazaré.
There’s a good reason episode 1 of this gripping six-part series is called “Sea Monster,” because the swells crashing in on this Western European shoreline are total beasts. To put it in simple terms, imagine an eight-story building crashing in on you: Those are the kind of waves we’re talking about here.
The man at the heart of the documentary is Garrett McNamara, an extreme surfer whose obsession with the sport is best exemplified by the fact that he named one of his children Barrel (as in, the barrel of a wave). With access to amazing footage of this American sporting legend (54 next month) in action, from big wave surfing in Hawaii to riding tsunamis caused by calving glaciers in Alaska, director Chris Smith’s hypnotic, in-depth series – perhaps a little too in-depth for some – traces the surfer’s adrenaline-fueled “working” life over the past decade.
The other undisputed star of the show is Nazaré itself, where McNamara and his equally passionate team (including the surfer’s level-headed wife/manager, Nicole) chase the dream of riding a once-in-a-lifetime colossal wave. These are ferocious, relentless waters, giant monsters that crash in on the surfer from all directions, and only the very best survive.
The documentary offers a fascinating insight into this extreme world, where superficial “surfer dude” vibes actually belie a group of dedicated, driven athletes willing to risk their lives in pursuit of the ultimate rush. And no one is operating under any illusions about the sport’s dangers. As one self-effacing British surfer, a former plumber called Andrew “Cotty” Cotton puts it, no one ever conquers the ocean; you just flow with it for as long as you possibly can.
The surfing footage is simply awe-inspiring (congratulations, “100 Foot Wave”; I didn’t think my jaw could drop any lower this past week than when hearing Israeli politicians’ responses to the Ben & Jerry’s furor). And while the surfers interviewed – many of whom are now middle-aged men and look like long-forgotten members of Green Day – are a captivating bunch, the series’ secret weapon is the hypnotic soundtrack by Philip Glass, which provides a perfect aural accompaniment to all the breathtaking footage.
Come for the staggering surfing skills; stay for the even more staggering wipeouts, which are memorably described as “like being in a car accident for a minute.” Even Ted Lasso might struggle to stay positive after that.
Season 2 of “Ted Lasso” is out now on Apple TV+, with new episodes dropping every Friday. “100 Foot Wave” is on Yes Docu on Mondays at 9 P.M. and is also available to download on Cellcom tv and Sting TV.