Apple TV Plus arrived to a crowded streaming market (which just got a little less busy, RIP Quibi) with an odd message. Subscribers were told that they would enjoy "inspiring and authentic stories," and that sounded like it was going against the grain.
TV, though, has been trending in the opposite direction for quite some time. Game of Thrones was one of the most popular shows in recent memory, with The Walking Dead trailing right behind. I was skeptical of Apple's plan. Or at least I was until I met Ted Lasso, the show and the fictional character played by Jason Sudeikis.
As I watched Apple TV Plus' Ted Lasso over a span of a week, I quickly realized that Apple's sales pitch on its streaming service could really work. I'm also re-learning this lesson right now, as I watch the series for a second time, showing it to my parents (who love it). Here's why you should watch Ted Lasso, and why it's the perfect Apple TV Plus show.
Why Ted Lasso works
Ted Lasso also won me over because it came at about the perfect time possible. As a second wave of COVID-19 infections and election anxiety ripple throughout this country, and life seems all the more bleak, I needed its peculiar brand of humor. I'll only break down episode 1's interactions, though, to keep this as spoiler-free as possible.
From the moment you meet Theodore "Ted" Lasso, you're gonna smile. A coach of a Division 2 American football team in Kansas, who went viral for busting sick dance moves while celebrating his team's major championship win, Coach Lasso is a dictionary-definition charmer.
From his wholesome and authentic smile to each and every one of his witticisms, Lasso will melt your bad mood even after the longest day (and trust me, I've had some long ones lately). But it's his positivity in the face of adversity that is the first indicator that he's a different breed.
Brought in to be the manager of the Premier League club FC Richmond, Lasso seems to be in so far over his head that he might not know what side is up or down. From an unfiltered youth on the cross-Atlantic flight to practically every single pub customer, nobody believes in Ted. Except Ted, that is. Even his assistant coach, Coach Beard, is only positive and optimistic in a quiet, stoic way, and doesn't seem to want to tell Lasso they will do well. And then every single member of the UK sports media descends upon Lasso, highlighting how little he knows about the game, and shouting at him to go back to America.
In all of this, Lasso finds the ability to push forward, and stay positive, a capability that's all the more difficult for all of us with each passing day of these utterly deranged months of the pandemic. Once you see the credits for Ted Lasso, you start to understand why: it's from Bill Lawrence, the brain behind Scrubs — if he could build a show around Zach Braff, one that lasted 9 seasons, he could do anything.
How Ted Lasso wins
And it's through that positivity that Lasso begins to win over those around him. Whether it's the kit man Nathan, who seemingly hasn't experienced basic respect from his superiors in his life, or Roy Kent, the brooding veteran player who calls Lasso "Ronald F*cking McDonald," those who see the authenticity in Lasso start to get won over.
Making matters worse, though, Lasso is actually set up to fail. Rebecca Welton, FC Richmond's new owner chose Lasso explicitly because she wants to ruin the team. Welton acquired the team through her very public divorce with her husband, the former owner, who was cheating on her quite frequently.
Lasso doesn't know about that intent, though. And he keeps doing his best to befriend Weltton, unwittingly chipping away at her want to see him fail. Lasso's positive attitude can't kick a ball, but it's enough of a weapon that it helps him deal with life. Even when the show gets sadder, as happens near the end of episode 1, when you learn about what he's left behind back home in the U.S.
Where Ted Lasso helps Apple TV Plus
I reached out to Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Comscore, to talk about how Apple's plan for content seemed to go against the grain. He struck on the right point, when mentioning the business strategy known as red ocean and blue ocean.
"If you're going to create something, don't jump in the same waters as your competitors and do the exact same thing," said Dergarabedian, as that would find you in the red ocean, filled with the blood of all the bruised competitors.
Instead, he noted, there's a good strategy in going 'blue ocean,' as Apple's programming can be "differentiated by its content, having a different point of view, a different mission statement," and how "that can pay off too because there's audiences of all kinds out there looking for different types of content."
Dergarabedian continued, noting "I mean, when I think of Showtime, I think of Dexter. When I think of HBO, I think of The Sopranos and Oz. ... It's very easy for all these to meld together and how do you distinguish yourself to consumers who are making choices based on economic situations that may preclude them from signing up for every single service?"
While I've heard good things said about some Apple TV Plus content (I enjoyed Beastie Boys Story and Mythic Quest, others liked The Morning Show and For All Mankind), I think Ted Lasso has a potentially wider appeal as a sitcom centered in sports. Those aforementioned projects may have been a bit too niche or flawed, as I haven't felt a single need to rewatch. But by the end of Ted Lasso season 1, I'd gone through a whole gamut of emotions and needed the second season to get here already. While I wait, I've actually re-started the show with my parents.
The good news is that Ted Lasso appears to be one of the most successful shows in Apple TV Plus. Apple doesn't hand out viewer metrics, but they just announced Ted Lasso would get a third season, even though its second season isn't even out yet (and won't get here until around August 2021). And Ted Lasso's been so good that it's helped me feel like I'm willing to give Apple TV Plus a chance after my complimentary subscription runs out in February — as a part of the Apple One bundle, of course.