KANSAS CITY, Mo. — During a Zoom news conference last week featuring six “Ted Lasso” cast members, questions were submitted from news outlets all over the world: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, India, Italy, Japan, Spain and Switzerland.
Even as he enters the third season of the beautiful show that is at once exhilarating and poignant, light and profound, the star, executive producer and co-creator of the Apple TV+ series still seemed amazed by that global fascination.
“It’s something else,” Kansas City’s own Jason Sudeikis told The Star later.
From its vast audience to endless acclaim, including numerous Emmy Awards, any number of measures demonstrate the show’s resonance — an appeal surely amplified by the messages of compassion and hope it delivered from its inception in the first months of the pandemic.
When Sudeikis considered what it means to him to have had the show strike such a chord, though, he suggested something more personal.
“We’ve all (in the cast) had people come up to us and say, ‘Oh my God, this show has saved my life,’” he said. “And I’ve said, ‘Me, too.’ And they usually laugh. And yet I’m not joking. As I know that they’re not joking with me.”
More acutely, he referred to the impact of the character’s father on the show: He committed suicide when Ted was 16.
“Now I’ve had people literally tell me how it saved their lives in deeply moving ways, emotional ways of decisions that they wanted to make for their lives similar to Ted’s father,” he said. “That this kind of talked them out of it because of the kids that they have and the people they’d be leaving behind.
“That can move me to tears if I really sit and think with it.”
No wonder it might be surmised that the 47-year-old Sudeikis is as gratified by the meaning of this work as any he’s ever done.
“I’m glad it happened to me later in my life. Or at least midway through my life, hopefully, and not early on,” he said.
With a smile, he added, “Otherwise I could have potentially gone the way of (the traitorous) Nate and thought way too highly of myself. I like that I know it’s not always like this.”
‘I love that town, man’
The spectacular success of the show, and its link to us, makes for another point of civic pride in the burgeoning hometown Sudeikis follows closely from afar and has long given back to as a founding member of the annual Big Slick fundraiser for Children’s Mercy and, more recently, his Thundergong for KC’s Steps of Faith Foundation.
He’s keenly aware of Kansas City being named a 2026 World Cup host site (“so excited,” he said), the Chiefs winning their second Super Bowl in four years and Kansas winning the 2022 national title.
(For that matter, the former “Saturday Night Live” cast member knows Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce just hosted “Saturday Night Live” but hadn’t had a chance to see it yet. He planned to see it soon, certainly before he joins the Kelce brothers for an upcoming appearance on their “New Heights” podcast.)
“I love that town, man, and it’s been really, really amazing to see (how about) every three months something neat is happening there,” said Sudeikis, who continues to infuse Kansas City references into the show. “I don’t know where we’re at with (getting an) NBA team. But I think there’s so many good things going on that I’m not going to worry about the things that aren’t going on quite yet.”
Among the good things going on, of course, is the new airport.
“As long as Kathy Sudeikis likes the new airport,” he said, referring to his travel agent mother, “I’ll like the new airport.”
As for the new season that begins on Wednesday?
Expect much of the same empathetic, thought-provoking and, of course, funny tone that made it so compelling all along.
“If Season 1 was how the people … all sort of banged up against each other, (and) Season 2 was probably about how they bang up within themselves,” he told a group of reporters before he spoke one-on-one with The Star, “Season 3 is how AFC Richmond bangs up against the world itself.”
Also looming large: Season 2 ended with the lingering implications of the betrayal of Ted by “Nate the Great,” who leaked the story of his panic attack to the media and then left the team for rival West Ham United.
Sudeikis sounded downright Lasso-like as he reflected on the twist that will be carried into this season.
The secret of the panic attacks was “a burden to carry, so Nate in many ways helped relieve that burden,” he said. “So what looks like a betrayal on the outside to the person having been betrayed may not feel the same. It’s a very artful betrayal by Nate the great.”
To which Nick Mohammed, who plays Nate, smiled and assured that the motivation was not at all to help Ted. Rather, it was “an incredible quality” of Ted’s to interpret it that way.
The alchemy of ‘Ted Lasso’
We can’t give away anything from a review of the first three episodes. But safe to say the show continues to reflect the abiding spirits of empathy, humor, vulnerability and juxtapositions that informed it from the start … even as it’s further animated by what Sudeikis called the “alchemy” and “lovely agitation” of other people’s ideas.
That helps explain how it’s all morphed into something so vital that Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt, Bill Lawrence and Joe Kelly never could have envisioned as they developed the series from a character Sudeikis, Hunt and Kelly first conceptualized in the early 2000s while performing in the comedy troupe Boom Chicago in Amsterdam.
With the premise of the naive but underestimated Kansas college football coach hired to coach soccer in London by club owner Rebecca Welton hoping he’ll tank her ex-husband’s enterprise, they hoped to cast messages of hope and tenderness against the backdrop of complicated relationships and private anguish.
How it landed, though, was “nothing you sit at a keyboard trying to invoke,” Sudeikis said.
“You would never be able to get there,” he said. “Maybe some people can. Paul McCartney might be able to do that at this point, but I can’t.”
What he hoped for was much more modest: a show they could all be proud of.
And to have the chance to play a refreshing sort of role, one that was unprecedented in certain ways.
“I didn’t want to play a character who was negative or snarky or not curious or arrogant,” he said. “Just because versions of that type of character have been portrayed wonderfully over the last two decades. Whether it be Don Draper, Tony Soprano, Walter White, even David Brent or Michael Scott, that type of character. Like, how was I going to add to that conversation?”
“That’s like spitting in the river, like my high school basketball coach would say.”
With a laugh, he added, “It wouldn’t matter.”
Sudeikis was referring once more to Donnie Campbell, one of several influences fused into the Ted Lasso persona from a group that, among others, draws from his “loquacious” father, Dan, the engaging manner and twangy drawl of current Kansas coach Bill Self and the misty-eyed folksiness of former KU coach Roy Williams.
In an interview with Campbell in his math classroom at Lee’s Summit North two years ago, the man who was Sudeikis’ coach at Shawnee Mission West spoke playfully of the former player he often called “Su-eikis” — since he didn’t offer much “D,” as in defense, for the Vikings.
In a room adorned with a show-inspired “BELIEVE” placard, Campbell also said he at times wished Sudeikis the player “didn’t put a lot of pastry on a lot of stuff he did.”
But he understood his essence was something more than that.
Sudeikis liked to shoot, sure. As a senior point guard, though, he averaged six assists a game and was highly coachable.
“It was never about Jason,” Campbell said. “It was always about the team.”
Jason Sudeikis, team player
That perhaps helps explain why Sudeikis in the past has been drawn to the collaborative dynamics of improv and skits. And it helps explain why he so cherishes his relationships with the cast and crew of the show.
“Doing something that you give a damn about with people that you give a damn about every single day,” he said. “If you can find a way to do that, even if it’s for a couple hours or 20 minutes a day, I think your life is richly rewarded.”
The chemistry onset is “infectious,” he said.
And certainly that applies to the impact of the show, including another element they never anticipated would catch on as it did:
The entire “BELIEVE” theme.
“I mean, religion’s big,” he deadpanned. “We didn’t coin the term believe. … (And) I know people have an instinctive desire to want to believe, whether it be in ghosts and love and magic and the inverse and opposites of those lovely things, too.”
Still, he didn’t expect it to become virtually synonymous with the show.
“Because it’s a powerful word on its own, and it always has been and it always will be,” he said. “And we’re just borrowing it for a little bit.”
Another way the show borrows from life … or vice versa:
If Sudeikis attends a soccer match, invariably people respond to him as if he’s … Ted Lasso.
“Me being called Coach? Very thrilling,” he said. “And I don’t know if, like, people from ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ get called ‘Doctor.’ And they certainly shouldn’t. Because people have to go to school for that.
“But it’s a fun feeling and a good feeling, (and) there’s a little bit of wish fulfillment, too.”
Speaking of which, his past as an athlete and fan is part of why he thought sports was the right vehicle for themes of the show.
Sports provides a window to really learn about the characters and from where they come as they do incredible things, he said. He alluded to the Olympics — and to “American Idol” — and “week after week after week … at Allen Fieldhouse, Arrowhead or Kauffman.”
“The thing I love most about sport, I think, is the metaphor,” he said. “And the way it can create heroes and villains within a moment, within a timeout, within a home run, within an interception.”
But as Hunt put it during the news conference: “If it was to have just been about the sport of it, it would have been rather a shallow show. It always had to be about people and relationships. But, handily, it’s in the world of sports, which can be a shortcut to high stakes and big emotions. But that’s only there to feed the other stuff, which is always more essential.”
All for a show that became more essential than anyone might have imagined — and already leaves us wanting more.
While Sudeikis has generally referred to this season as the last, he left the notion open when we spoke last week.
“Much like a real coach, I’m only worried about the season we’re in the middle of now because I’m still editing,” he said.
He didn’t mean to give “a brush-off,” he said.
It’s just that he hasn’t had the space “to really sit and think about it” and didn’t want to put himself in the position of being a liar … and adding “a scarlet ‘L’ on my Richmond kit.”
But this much he knows by now after not being so sure he could believe it himself early on:
“I accept the premise,” he said, “that people really, really love this thing.”
(Vahe Gregorian is a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star.)
©2023 The Kansas City Star. Visit kansascity.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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