Smells Like Team Spirit: Jason Sudeikis is Ted Lasso

Jason Sudeikis proves to be a good sport when it comes to goofy, feel-good comedy Ted Lasso.“Ted Lasso is not a show,” says its star, Jason Sudeikis. “It’s a vibe.”

The vibe in question is a kind of relentless optimism and goofy good cheer that’s proven to be infectious, leaking out of the world of the show and winning the hearts of even the most cynical audiences and critics.

A regular on such shows as Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock, Sudeikis embodies this perpetual positivity in Ted Lasso’s titular role – a lovably inexperienced American football coach hired to instruct a British soccer team – for which he won a Golden Globe earlier this year. The show’s first season, which premiered in 2020, was a salve of joy and comfort in a difficult year: if Lasso could stay upbeat through strife, so could we.

“It’s a mentality,” Sudeikis continues. “We just labelled it as ‘Ted Lasso’, but it’s been out there forever. We’re not the first work of art, television show or film to engage in this type of storytelling by any means.”

He cites some of the show’s spiritual antecedents: Ron Shelton, Nora Ephron, John Hughes. “Those are geniuses,” says the Virginia-born, Kansas-raised comedian. “Those of us who created [Ted Lasso] grew up with their stories, and that’s what we’re aiming for.”

Ted Lasso emphasises the value of teamwork, refusing to hail its protagonist as a sole leader or hero – a refreshing change from the hyperindividualist storytelling that tends to dominate Western screens. Both Sudeikis and co-creator Brendan Hunt, who plays Ted’s stoic offsider Coach Beard, credit Lasso’s team spirit to their backgrounds in improvisation.

“When I got into acting, I gravitated towards ensemble art like sketch and improv from the get-go,” Sudeikis notes. “Part of that might’ve been fear-based, but I think it was also the desire to succeed and fail with others – to either row that boat or sink in it together.”

Comparing the teamwork of soccer and filmmaking, he says, “It’s all the same for me. Life is not a solo sport. There’s a big ol’ thing going on out there that we’re all a part of. A lot of the philosophies that we couch within the show are life philosophies. Sport is just a really nice metaphor to map team-building on.”

“Improv philosophy doesn’t separate people,” adds Hunt. “It makes you part of a continuum of people and ideas. Everyone’s constantly listening to each other and adding to what’s being said. Taking those philosophies into leadership, and leading from within, is far more interesting to us than leading from a separate, dictatorial place.”

But it can often feel safer to separate yourself from others. Ted Lasso’s focus – a particularly unique one in the hypermasculine environment of professional sports – is on breaking down walls, forming emotional connections and entering spaces of vulnerable proximity. Sudeikis compares it to an embrace.

“Hugging can feel dangerous,” he explains, “because you’re bringing someone into your space. You don’t know what they could do. They could headbutt you. They could hug you, they could kiss you, they could bite your ear off, if it happens to be Mike Tyson,” he jokes. “But I think it makes it easier for the vibrations between a couple of human beings to exist when they’re in that embrace, metaphorically or otherwise.

“I think Ted wants that for himself, in a selfish way, because it makes him feel good,” says Sudeikis. “Then other people see it and emulate it – but by no means is he a saint.” Season one offers glimpses into Lasso’s layered humanity, exploring his troubled marriage and allowing him the occasional burst of anger. This complexity is developed even further in season two. “There’s a lot of things coming at us to push away,” he continues, “and a lot of things that push us away. We go through that in these next 12 episodes.”

A new character in the second season is poised to spark some of these internal reflections for the perennially sunny coach. Advising and guiding his players through professional and personal problems alike, Lasso was almost a therapist figure in season one. But with the arrival of a real therapist, Sharon (Sarah Niles, I May Destroy You), Lasso will be forced to confront the limits of his problem-solving abilities.

“I would say the biggest challenge for Ted will be Ted,” says Sudeikis. “I’ve referred to this season as Empire Strikes Back, tonally. This is the season where the characters have to go into their inner cave and face things. Sharon is a vessel for change, not just for Ted, but for the show as a whole.”

The overwhelmingly positive response to the series, which Hunt describes as “a real pat on the head”, has led to Ted Lasso already being renewed for a third season. “We’re going about making it with the same passion, work ethic and intentionality that we made the first season with,” Sudeikis promises. “Hopefully those things that we have control over will manifest in people’s enthusiasm and appreciation.”

Ted Lasso is streaming on Apple TV+.

By Ivana Brehas. Ivana is a writer, actor and filmmaker based in Naarm/Melbourne.

This piece was first published in Edition #643 of The Big Issue.

Photos courtesy Apple TV.