When Ted Lasso was in the early stages of development, co-creator and writer Bill Lawrence delivered an important mantra to the show’s writers room.
“He just said ‘this is NOT a show about soccer’,” recalls star Brendan Hunt – best known to Ted Lasso viewers as Coach Beard. “This is a show about relationships that just so happens to take place in soccer.”
It turned out that Lawrence was right. When the show debuted during the dark days of 2020, viewers immediately fell for the charm of Sudeikis’ titular coach, a moustachioed beacon of Kansan sunshine who is hired to manage English football side AFC Richmond despite knowing nothing about the sport.
But beneath the sunshine came an examination of the things that people are driven to when their relationships come to a bitter end. Unbeknownst to Ted, he was at the centre of a revenge plot cooked up by owner Rebeccca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), who was intent on letting the inexperienced American sink the club to get back at her cheating ex-husband.
However, it was Ted’s unwavering charm and optimism that eventually won out – with his relentless kindness eventually melting the frosty exteriors of both Welton and his own group of cynical players. This is part of why audiences have fallen in love with the show: its relentless celebration of kindness and empathy feels like a much needed constant in uncertain times.
The show, which began life as an NBC Sports skit back in 2013, has gone on to become Apple TV+’s biggest hit – scooping a staggering seven Emmy Awards. Season three, which debuts today, is surely set to continue that golden run of form. The warmth remains, but there is a real villain for the first time in the form of Nate Shelley (Nick Mohammed), AFC Richmond’s former coach who betrayed Ted’s loyalty to join West Ham – now owned by Rebecca’s ex-husband (a deliciously dastardly Anthony Head).
Elsewhere, another central plot involves the uncertain future of Roy Kent, a washed-up pro played by British comic Brett Goldstein, and his girlfriend Keeley – a glamour girl turned PR star portrayed by Juno Temple. Again, as Lawrence insisted, it’s all about those relationships. In Keeley & Roy, the show finds its romantic core.
“Filming with Juno has been a magical thing, considering we didn’t know each other at all,” explains Goldstein.
“When Jason [Sudeikis] first mentioned the idea of casting her as Keeley, it terrified me! She’s a proper actor and had done proper shit, so I thought it would make me look awful. But she was fucking delightful and she’s so wonderful to act with. Juno just gives you the light and then all you have to do is give it back to her.”
He adds: “Most of the time you’re filming with big groups of people, but when it was a Roy & Keeley scene it was often just the two of. It always felt very intimate and like we had a little private holiday. I really loved doing that.”
Goldstein’s brilliant turn as the tough-nut defender with a heart of gold has also turned him into a household name across the globe, no mean feat considering he was originally just brought onboard as a writer. He only bagged the role after sending an unprompted tape to Lawrence and Sudeikis.
“I just felt really strongly about playing Roy,” Goldstein tells Rolling Stone UK over Zoom.
“I just felt like I really understood him. I saw part of myself, but I’ve also grown up around footballers and I’ve always understood that world. My dad was a bit of a football hooligan and as a child, I was around men of Roy’s age who were friends of family and were faced with this situation where their career is coming to an end and they’re forced to grapple with what that means.
“I think it’s all quite relatable too. Roy never wanted to stop playing football but his knee doesn’t work. It’s tragic and we can all relate to that, no one likes ageing. You take away the glamour of football and it’s still the same thing.”
But the role has not been without its challenges. In the show, Roy is considered to be a legend of Chelsea FC. In contrast, the real life Goldstein is an ardent fan of their bitter London rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
“It’s something I’ve struggled with near-daily on set,” jokes Goldstein – who is even forced to endure a chorus of adulation from Chelsea fans at one point in this season.
“But the tragedy is that Roy had to have played for a Champions League winning side and you know, even though I hate to say it out loud, that couldn’t be Spurs! Every time we have to mention Chelsea, I’m just like OK, I’m going to have to live with this for the story.”
Temple, meanwhile, credits the writing team for avoiding the pitfalls of presenting Keeley as a stereotypical and unfairly maligned WAG (the tabloid term for the other halves of British footballers).
“All of the writers room are very aware of the importance of femininity and also the importance of not pitting us against one another. We see that in Keeley’s friendship with Rebecca and it’s something that I couldn’t be more proud to put out into the world”, she says.
Rivalries aside, the show has also proved adept at subtly tackling wider societal issues too. A prominent plot thread in season two sees AFC Richmond’s Nigerian star Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) taking a stand against corruption in his home country, while series three tackles another one of the beautiful game’s biggest taboos.
Jimoh’s character was originally written as being a Ghanaian footballer, but the actor spent a portion of his childhood in Nigeria and felt the character could be better served through the guise of his own experiences.
“I love having the opportunity to use Sam as a vessel to voice some of the things that I care about and some of the messages that I want to send out into the world,” explains Jimoh.
“I also relish the opportunity to speak for Nigerians who might not have the same platform that I do or Sam does. I think we’ve got to take our hats off to our creative team, who have managed to almost Trojan Horse these really insightful, personal, deep human stories into this zany comedy show about football and Americans and British people. We manage to sneak in these really impactful gut punch storylines.”
Brendan Hunt, one of the show’s chief writers as well as Coach Beard, adds: ” You know, the stuff with Sam is sort of like an amalgamation of, you know, when Kevin Prince Boateng finally walked off the pitch after racial abuse, but also what the L A Clippers did when they found out that the owner of the club was a just hate spewing racist. We wanted to take a look at what happens when athletes exercise their power but we don’t want to spend too much time on it. Because we are still a comedy show.”
As for the rest of the season, there remains the question of whether this is the last we’ll see of the AFC Richmond gang. Sudeikis has previously insisted that it is a three season and out affair, but Hunt says more episodes could emerge down the line.
“This little story is coming to an end for sure, but that doesn’t mean the show is,” he insists.
Instead, in his own real-life football fantasy, he’s hoping that his high-flying Arsenal win the league.
“You know, I want to get to some more Arsenal matches for a while and then after the dust has settled in our hearts and minds, then we’ll figure out what’s happening next.”
Goldstein, slipping into Roy Kent’s grizzled dead-panning persona for a moment, has an entirely different and presumably not-so-serious take on things.
“The fact that five of the main characters die in this season mean that there’s a world where it’s set in the afterlife, because I do think with Ted Lasso we have to surprise people. I don’t think anyone is expecting a season with ghosts.”
An unlikely twist, but you sense that millions of fans across the world, now fully immersed in the fortunes of AFC Richmond, would still be there to watch.