Strange things happen when Hollywood gets involved with British soccer. There is the example of Welcome to Wrexham, in which Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney acquired Wrexham AFC and turned a team struggling in the fifth tier into a golden calf for soccer hipsters across North America. And then there is Ted Lasso (Apple TV+), a feelgood series about empathy, warmth and kindness set amid the sports-washing fantasia of the English Premier League.
The Premier League is an overpriced purgatory of day-tripper fans, fake clubs and soulless stadiums. But in Ted Lasso it’s as wholesome as the apple pie on which the American football coach turned Premier League manager was raised in Wichita, Kansas. In one of many toe-curling scenes in the finale, the squad of Richmond AFC, a side almost as made up as the present-day iterations of the state-backed playthings Manchester City and Newcastle United, serenade their manager with a song from The Sound of Music.
Is this how Americans see soccer? The answer is probably yes. They regard it as a bit foreign and twee but also as essentially English and slightly 19th century. (US media outlets invariably seem to hire English journalists to explain soccer to their audiences, never someone from the Continent or, heaven forbid, South America.)
The makers of Ted Lasso also see London as the same city brought so treacly to life by Richard Curtis in Notting Hill, though with the breakthrough that not every character is white. The schmaltz is as unrelenting as Manchester City in the transfer market.
Ted Lasso began life as a lockdown treat. Jason Sudeikis was quietly charming as the naive Ted. He’s a gosh-darn-it American hired by the owner of Richmond because she wanted to see the team relegated, as revenge against the cheating ex who saddled her with the club. Instead, over three seasons, they’ve turned into Premier League powerhouses. Ted doesn’t know the difference between the Champions League and the Championship. But he still has what it takes, apparently, to manage at the highest level.
In the final episode the title will go to either Richmond AFC or Manchester City, another pretend team. As the eternal plucky loser, Ted finishes in second place. But he’s happy, as he’s returning to the US after three seasons to be with his wife and child.
There is also a big farewell for Hannah Waddingham, who became famous with her charming turn hosting the Eurovision Song Contest in Liverpool. Here she plays Richmond’s owner, Rebecca Welton, who flirts with flogging the club. She instead decides to sell 49 per cent to the fans – something common in Irish and German soccer but unheard of in the Premier League. Everyone toddles happily into the sunset. For the viewer, the overwhelming feeling may be relief that this orgy of saccharine is finally done.