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Ted Lasso scores

Ted Lasso scores

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Film and television have a pretty dismal record making dramas and comedies about football. But now there’s Ted Lasso.


Transcript

Hi, I’m Andrew, and this is the Playmaker.

One story every day to make sense of the world of football.

Today, the ugly history of bad football dramas – and how Ted Lasso changes everything.

***

Voiceover: “In 1942, the Nazis thought they were sitting on top of the world, never suspecting that they could be toppled in one conflict. The most unusual battle of the war…

‘It has been decided that a German national team will play a combined team from the prisoners of war of the occupied territories.’

‘That’s crazy!’ ” 

Escape To Victory trailer

Michael Caine was right. 

You don’t need to be a football purist to shudder at the goalkeeping style of Sylvester Stallone.

Escape to Victory, the 1981 movie which took the spirit of The Great Escape and channelled it into a football match was pretty hopeless at capturing the action on screen, even with a line up of prisoners of war in front of Stallone that included World Cup winners Ossie Ardiles, Pele and Bobby Moore.

And the story is as leaden and unconvincing as Sly’s dive to his left to meet a last-minute penalty from the Germans.

The truth is, sport rarely translates well to TV or the movies unless it pays attention to the detail of the life, the culture and the sheer romance that surrounds it.

Baseball has the sugary love affair Field of Dreams and American Football has the stunning Friday Night Lights TV series which is really about life in smalltown America with a bit of sport tacked on.

And football? Well, Gregory’s Girl 40 years ago was pretty heart-warming and Bend it like Beckham made stars of Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley nearly 20 years ago.

But it has taken a show featuring an American fall guy to put up a mirror to football today and give us a chance to love it for all of its vanity. 

Ted Lasso has just won four Emmys for Apple TV+, which is quite an achievement for a show initially written off as a “middling new transatlantic sitcom” by one sour review. It went on, calling it “A show that isn’t unwatchably bad but isn’t really much of anything, an in-the-background time-waster”.

All of which makes it sound like the experience of watching quite a lot of real football teams.

So what is Ted Lasso?

It actually began as a spoof online promo for the US channel NBC Sports. 

Back in 2013 when the channel had won the contract to broadcast live premier league games in the US, NBC Sports dropped An American Coach in London.

“Hey how you doing, this is Ted Lasso I’m the new head coach of the Tottenham Hotspurs and I’d like to talk to the Queen please…”

NBC Sports

A comedy of manners follows at a spoof press conference… 

“Football’s football no matter where you play it…helmets with masks on”

NBC Sports

Jason Sudeikis, who brought Lasso to life in the original trailer, expands the role in the series as the coach of second tier college football team the Wichita State Shockers… brought to London to manage fictional Premier League team AFC Richmond…

And like an early demo making it onto an album, that press conference from the original NBC Sports trailer is recreated as the heart of the TV show’s first episode.

“No I have never coached the sport that you folks call football…”

NBC Sports

What follows? Well, some epic swearing – led by a Roy Keane-style hard man – and a pretty uplifting fairytale as the hapless Lasso finds the value in building a team while all around him plot his downfall.

The backdrop for the match scenes is Selhurst Park, but as Crystal Palace would not allow the actors onto their pitch, the action is super-imposed by CGI. 

To be honest, at times the goalkeeping is a bit like Stallone in Escape to Victory, but the show zips along and the characters all get time to develop.

Coach Beard, Lasso’s American sidekick is a particular triumph of timing and understatement. And all of the women in the show are in charge.

The comedy is gentle and heart-warming in the Richard Curtis vein. So yes, it’s a bit corny and a bit schmaltzy, but even the Financial Times recently found a few leadership lessons in there. 

And if real football sometimes makes you want to cry, like the hand-written sign he sticks up in his dressing room, Lasso might make you Believe.

Today’s episode was written by David Taylor, presented me Andrew Butler, and produced by Imy Harper.