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LINDA HOLMES, HOST:
Ted Lasso knows football but not, you know, football. He's an American football coach who finds himself in the U.K. coaching soccer in the Premier League. Jason Sudeikis originated the character in a promotional campaign for NBC's soccer coverage back in 2013. Now, Apple has given Ted his own 10-episode underdog sports series.
STEPHEN THOMPSON, HOST:
The show follows Ted's first season of play, which begins as a doomed campaign masterminded by an embittered team owner who's trying to tank her own team. But as the story continues, Ted turns out to have a surprisingly warm heart and maybe even some valuable insights.
I'm Stephen Thompson.
HOLMES: And I'm Linda Holmes. And today we're talking about "Ted Lasso" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR.
Here with me and Stephen from his home in Virginia is Glen Weldon of NPR's Arts desk. Hey, Glen.
GLEN WELDON, BYLINE: Hey, Linda.
HOLMES: And also with us from Oakland is Aisha Harris. Hey, Aisha.
AISHA HARRIS, BYLINE: Hey, Linda.
HOLMES: Many of you, I just want to start off by saying, have asked us to cover this. I'm delighted to be bringing you this show with all four of us together. The basic premise here comes from those Ted Lasso promo films for NBC Sports that presented Ted as a buffoon stumbling his way through this disastrous coaching stint, then through an equally disastrous broadcast job. But here, they've reframed it as a sports underdog story about both Ted and his team. Ted here is a much kinder presence. He's smarter than he might seem. Hannah Waddingham plays Rebecca, the owner of the team. She hates her ex-husband. She's trying to, as we mentioned, tank the team that he loves, and that's why she hires this clueless American. Right?
The series also spends a good amount of time with the players, including a young hotshot who is named Jamie, played by Phil Dunster, and an aging veteran named Roy, who's played by Brett Goldstein. They've also got Nick Mohammed as Nate, who's a member of the team staff, and Juno Temple as Jamie's girlfriend Keeley. Brendan Hunt, who played the assistant coach in the original films, is back here as Coach Beard. And Hunt and Jason Sudeikis co-created the series with sitcom veterans like Joe Kelly, who worked on "How I Met Your Mother," and Bill Lawrence, who created "Scrubs."
So I'm going to start with you, Stephen. You are a somewhat sports-y (ph) guy. How did you feel about "Ted Lasso"?
THOMPSON: Well, I am a somewhat sports-y guy, and I love a heartwarming sports story. This show hit me in exactly the right way at exactly the right time. It's presented as a half-hour comedy, but I think it works best if you go into it not thinking of it as a comedy so much as a kind of warm, tear-jerking drama about the transformative power of decency. I think the first episode or so, I was kind of rolling along with it, just being introduced to the general plotline, which is a little convoluted, as Linda kind of went through up front. But by Episode 2, you start to just see this guy's decency catch on with other people and grow and build. And the show just becomes more and more satisfying as it goes along.
It is deeply warm-hearted. It'll hit you in that "Parks And Rec," "Good Place," Michael Schur kind of way. I found it increasingly moving as it went along, not only because it is a show about the transformative power of this one guy's decency, but it is also a show about these developing relationships between so many different characters on this show. This show cares about Ted Lasso the character, but it also cares about a bunch of other relationships, many of them unlikely, and I found basically all of them extremely satisfying. I loved this show. I binged all 10 episodes basically in one sitting. And by the time this episode airs, I will have probably binged it all in one sitting again.
HOLMES: Wow. That is high praise. Aisha, how did you feel about "Ted Lasso"?
HARRIS: I, unlike Stephen, don't normally gravitate toward sports movies or TV shows. They are not my bag. "Friday Night Lights" is probably the one show that I can say that's about sports that I really, really love. And there are so many Coach Taylor-like moments in "Ted Lasso." I think some of them are conscious. They are meant to be there. There's a sign that Ted Lasso hangs over his locker room door. It says believe. And every once in a while, someone will raise their arm and tap the sign.
And so I came around to this show probably after the third or fourth episode when it stopped relying so heavily on jokes about the difference between British people and Americans (laughter). There's like - the first couple of episodes, it's just like, oh, you call these things differently, like football-football, haha haha. Once it really delved into the relationships is when I started to really appreciate the show. And the heartwarming factor is part of what drew me towards it just because, in the grand tradition of Leslie Knope, "Parks And Rec" - but also even just a little bit of, like, Will Ferrell in "Elf" and Mister Rogers, "Ted Lasso" has this, like, energy where he is unflappable. Like, no matter how many other angry, bitter people - and a few of the characters in this show are quite angry or quite terrible, at least to begin with. And to see him sort of have all of that kind of bounce off of him like Teflon, I think, is exactly what I needed right now.
I did have, you know, a few caveats beyond that, one of which is just, like, the premise of this white guy coming in and, like, being told to, like, you can do this. And I don't know how I feel about that. I think it's a little too optimistic or puts a little bit too much stock in the idea that, like - yeah, like, anyone, especially this, like, straight white guy can just come in and make everything better, even if he has no experience whatsoever. But overall, I found it heartwarming. I liked it. I will probably watch Season 2.
Glen, how about you? You, I think - I think of you as not a sports-y guy. What'd you think?
WELDON: No, I'm right there with Aisha. I mean, this show had me flashing on "Friday Night Lights." And my reaction to this show maps so closely over my reaction to "Friday Night Lights" because, like that show, this show has both small moments and big emotional moments. It's the small moments that work for me, the micro, not the macro, which is to say the character beats, the dialogue, not necessarily the story beats, the plot.
I mean, I am just constitutionally not built to find sports stories remotely entertaining. I mean, my eyes start to glaze over the minute I see a cleat. So when this was a show about the team on the pitch - I learned something, called a pitch - I was checking my phone. But you put Hannah Waddingham, who plays Rebecca, the owner, on screen with anyone doing anything for any length of time, and my phone ceases to exist. I mean, leave aside the fact that she also played the heavily memed shame nun on "Game Of Thrones," which - that right there, that's range - she has this amazing pained grin in her scenes with Ted Lasso, which is the only reasonable reaction to have to somebody like Ted Lasso.
Nick Mohammed's Nathan and Juno Temple's Keeley, both of those characters are of the kind that would be firmly placed in the background on any other show, such that if they weren't carefully written and performed, as they are here, they would stay one note throughout the one of the series. But they are both bringing layers. And we have to talk about the character who makes the biggest impact with the least amount of dialogue, and that is Coach Beard, played by Brendan Hunt. I could watch that guy for days.
So, yes, you give me a scene where Ted talks to the team in the locker room and the camera starts to spin slowly around him and the music starts to swell and he's saying things like, I believe in believing, and I'm like, see; this is what I was afraid of. This is what I expected it to be from what everybody was telling me about how heartwarming and sincere it is.
But for me, scenes like that pay for themselves with small moments between the characters, like, for example, the way this show uses pop culture references. It does so in exactly the same way that "Buffy The Vampire Slayer" never did. The references were a stylistic tic. They were the show's sensibility. Here, they exist solely to delineate the characters, Ted especially - because while it's funny that he has invested so much of his emotional health in the relationship of Jay-Z and Beyonce, when he says something like "The Color Of Money" is Scorsese's best film, at first you're like, what? But then you're like, oh, wait. No...
THOMPSON: That's right.
WELDON: ...That's exactly what this guy would think. It's such a smart touch. It's one of many. And that kept me in.
You know, in the prep doc for this episode, producer Mike Katzif refers to the show's wistful tone. And man, he nailed it. This show is so full of wist.
WELDON: You can't swing a dead cat without hitting some wist in this show.
WELDON: I think that's why the setting is so important because there is this steely British structure to it that keeps all that wist from spilling out all over the place.
HOLMES: Yeah. I had started to hear about this show. I had started to hear that people really liked it. I like Jason Sudeikis. But if you look back at those promo films where they originally created this character of Ted Lasso, that is not a plausible character to anchor any kind of show because he's a complete buffoon. He totally lacks self-awareness. He doesn't even know what he doesn't know. He's just - I mean, he comes off, like, dumb, and that's the joke.
Here, they have really flipped that so that he doesn't really know any more, but at least he knows what he doesn't know. And he is self-aware enough that he kind of knows when people are making fun of him. He's more able to blow it off than a lot of people would be. But he doesn't not understand the reaction he's getting, and that self-awareness is critical.
But I so shared with Aisha that feeling of starting this show and being like, so the lesson here is this white dude is totally unqualified for this job that he got that someone else should have gotten instead, let's root for him to prove that that doesn't matter? It is an uphill battle for me from that point.
So the first couple of times I tried to watch it - you know, I watched the first episode; I didn't really hook into it. But then, as you've all mentioned, as they started to kind of build these characters out a little bit and that you started spending more time with other people, it became a world that was much more interesting to me. And I think you start to see how Ted is kind of navigating his experience in a way that in those first couple episodes, it just seems like his whole thing is just, just keep saying uplifting things. And it's not quite that simple, his approach to this job.
So it did eventually really, really grow on me. And I really enjoyed the second half of the season, I think, significantly more than the first half. I love the character of Roy, who's the veteran who's kind of dealing with his own fears of obsolescence and what kind of a guy he wants to be and what kind of role he wants to play on the team. I very, very much enjoyed what they did with Keeley, who's the Juno Temple character. I think she turns out to be a little different than you think. And as Glen mentioned, the owner of the team, Rebecca, to me is just a mesmerizing and really fun character.
So I was very into it by the end. I was like - I rescheduled a meeting being like, well, I have one episode left (laughter) and I'm not going to finish it. So can we reschedule this meeting? So that'll tell you kind of where I was by the end.
THOMPSON: I do want to speak up for how I think ideally cast this show is. I think if you want a priggish guy named Rupert, you hire Anthony Stewart Head (laughter). If you want a folksy earnestness, you get Marcus Mumford to do your music. I do also think that it does require a suspension of sports disbelief. And again, I come back again and again to the way that relationships develop on this show in unlikely ways. The way a friendship brews between Keeley and Rebecca, I found really satisfying.
And ultimately, as much as this is a show about kind of the power of that, like, folksy hope that Ted brings, it's really a show about radical honesty and communication in ways that I found really unexpected. The way that masculinity is punctured on this show, I found satisfying and intriguing. I love this show much more deeply, I think, than you guys do (laughter). But that stuff, to me, really resonated beyond a simple sports narrative.
HARRIS: Well, to its credit, I will say that, like, as much as I sort of cringed at this way that the story attempts to want us, as Linda was saying, root for this white guy to come in and show that he can do it, it does challenge that narrative as well. There's one scene between Ted and Coach Beard...
HARRIS: ...Where Ted just keeps saying, I'm going to do this thing. I don't remember what it was exactly, but he was going to make some sort of decision about the team that would...
THOMPSON: Well and - and he says, like, I don't care as much about wins and losses.
HARRIS: Exactly, exactly. Like, that's what he keeps saying is like, oh, like it's OK. Like, we - I just got to teach them a lesson. It's all about the things that we learn along the way. And Coach Beard is like, well, that was fine when we were teaching children, young adults. But it's not OK when we are dealing with humans who actually care. This is very important to them. And I think that scene in particular made me respect the show a little bit even more because it does show that, you know, winning sometimes is important. We can't just pretend (laughter) like - that we're all "Kumbaya" and, like, it is about the lessons because winning is very important in many, many instances.
WELDON: There's some measure of self-awareness about the character Ted Lasso and the show "Ted Lasso." There's a moment in a local pub where Ted defends Rebecca, even though she didn't ask for him to do so. And he both acknowledges that he's white-knighting, but he continues to do it. The show and he are having it both ways. He learns that his wife finds his reflexive optimism kind of wearying, which I get it.
WELDON: But he knows that, right?
HARRIS: Exactly, exactly.
HOLMES: All right. Well, "Ted Lasso," as we mentioned, is available on Apple TV Plus. There are 10 episodes. And let us know what you think. Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/pchh or on Twitter @PCHH.
When we come back, it's going to be time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, What's Making Us Happy This Week, so come right back.
Welcome back to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR. It's time for our favorite segment of this week and every week, What's Making Us Happy This Week. Glen Weldon, what is making you happy this week?
WELDON: "Blood Of Zeus" is a new anime series on Netflix. It purports to be a Greek myth that just got lost to history, but its story is really familiar. Zeus dallies with a human woman, has a demigod son, here called Heron, and it makes his wife Hera very jealous - a tale as old as time, almost literally. But the difference here - one of the differences that I like is that Hera gets more to do. I won't say what, but she's more than just a woman on the sidelines being wronged. She gets her own agenda.
It is really gorgeous to look at. The character design of the big bads, the giants in this thing, they're so metal. It's - they're just a lot of fun to look at. I should say, this show is incredibly violent, if that's a thing for you.
But it has the feel of being made by people who know where of they speak when it comes to Greek myths. I mean, it was created by Charley and Vlas Parlapanides. Its voice cast includes actors like Elias Toufexis, Melina Kanakaredes and Chris Diamantopoulos. So I doubt that's a coincidence. I mean, it gives it some street cred or aquaduct cred, I suppose. So it's got gods fighting monsters. It's got gods fighting gods. If you grew up on D'Aulaires and Edith Hamilton or even "Clash Of The Titans," check out a couple episodes. See what you think - "Blood Of Zeus" on Netflix.
HOLMES: All right. Thank you very much, Glen Weldon.
Stephen Thompson, what is making you happy this week?
THOMPSON: Well, I've, in recent weeks, been sitting down with my daughter and showing her old movies that I think she might like. I got her into "Rocky Horror Picture Show" and more recently got her into the 1979 Allan Arkush vehicle "Rock 'N' Roll High School," starring, among others, the Ramones. Now, there are caveats to this recommendation. There are jokes that feel stale. There are a few jokes that have not aged well. It expects us to care about the jock. No one ever cares about the jock. Joey Ramone - terrible actor, unlikely leading man. This movie defames Vince Lombardi at Vince Lombardi High School, of all places. I have my reservations.
But this movie culminates in both a lengthy Ramones concert and a blast - a literal blast of catharsis that is so impossible for me and my 16-year-old daughter and the 16-year-olds within us all to resist. It also has a kind of wonderful performance by Mary Woronov as the evil principal Evelyn Togar. This performance feels like it would be iconic to a subsection of our audience, and I enjoyed it enormously. I think it is a very, very mixed bag. I think the second half is about a hundred times better than the first, but we greatly enjoyed it. Directed by Allan Arkush with an assist from Joe Dante, produced, of course, by Roger Corman. That is "Rock 'N' Roll High School" from 1979.
HOLMES: All right. Thank you very much, Stephen Thompson.
Aisha Harris, what is making you happy this week?
HARRIS: Well, when this month began, I made a promise to myself that I was going to participate in the annual Noirvember celebration, which, if you are a film buff, is where you celebrate film noir and you watch as many film noirs as you possibly can. I think some people have their own ways of doing it. They might group them by different categories or subsections - neo-noir, femme fatale noir, blah, blah, blah. So far, I have failed, and I have not watched a noir every single day. I got about five days in, and then life took over. But the movie that was new to me that I watched was "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead" from 2007. It was Sidney Lumet's final feature before he passed, and it is fantastic. I can't believe it took me so long to watch this. It was one of those movies that when it came out, I always meant to see it and then I just somehow didn't.
And the cast is amazing. You have Ethan Hawke and Philip Seymour Hoffman playing brothers who attempt to pull off a quote-unquote, "victimless crime." But this is a noir. It's a neo-noir. It's a crime film, so, of course, it's not victimless. Someone gets hurt. A lot of people get hurt. I just think the acting - Hoffman is great. Hawke is great. Marisa Tomei is fantastic. And the direction is just - I said fantastic already, but, like, that's all I can think of as an adjective right now. I highly recommend it if you haven't seen it yet. And if you have, I just think this is the perfect time to rewatch it - "Before The Devil Knows You're Dead."
HOLMES: Thank you very much, Aisha Harris.
What is making me happy this week? I've spoken before about some of the videos in the WIRED YouTube series Technique Critique. I want to talk about a genre that overlaps with certainly some of those but also includes some other things, and that is the larger universe of videos where people talk about the quality or lack of quality of actors' accents.
There's a guy (laughter) named Erik Singer who does these for Technique Critique, but he also has done, like, a ton of other ones. And he'll do stuff like, is this Irish accent being done by this American actor any good? Is this Southern - the Southern accents are also ones that he likes to dive into. He also talks a lot about specific pronunciation things that I had no knowledge were a thing. Like, he has this phrase goose-fronting that has to do with how you pronounce the oo (ph) vowel and where it is in your mouth. And it's the kind of stuff that once I started to hear him explain it, I understood it way better, and I could start to listen to the examples that he was giving and thinking, oh, no, that's not right because of X, Y and Z.
Once you go and you watch the Erik Singer videos, whether they're the WIRED ones or other ones that he makes himself, the algorithm will start to recommend other things to you (laughter), like British people trying to guess where American accents are from. There's one where two British people sit down and try to listen to, like, a Kansas accent. And they say this just sounds like a generic American accent. And then they show a picture of, like, where Kansas is, and they go, sure, right in the middle (laughter). So there is a whole genre of these that you can discover on YouTube. Start, again, with Erik Singer. It's E-R-I-K Singer. And that is what is making me happy this week. If you want links for what we recommended plus some more recommendations that are exclusive to our newsletter, subscribe to that over at npr.org/popculturenewsletter.
That brings us to the end of our show. You can find all of us on Twitter. You can find me @LindaHolmes. You can find Stephen @IDislikeStephen. Glen is at @GHWeldon. And you can find Aisha @CraftingMyStyle. You can find our editor Jessica Reedy at Jessica_Reedy, our producer Candice Lim @TheCandiceLim. You can find our producer Mike Katzif @MikeKatzif - K-A-T-Z-I-F. Mike's band, Hello Come In, provides the music you are bobbing your head to right now. So thanks to all of you for being here.
THOMPSON: Thank you.
WELDON: Thank you.
HARRIS: Thank you.
HOLMES: And thank you for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. We will see you all right back here next week.
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