NBC's "An American Coach in London" Mocks English And American Stereotypes Alike
I am not contrarian by nature. I don't contort myself to assume anti-mainstream poses, or disqualify personalities, programs or anything else just because they're popular ("Oh, so you enjoy writing on vintage typewriters, do you, Mr. Hanks? Can I get you a side of French socialism to go with your pretentious fart sandwich?"). I like what I like. If I have to invent a reason to justify enjoying something - for instance, that the new Kings of Leon album might be listenable because its lead single shares a name with an implement of watery annihilation - it's a sign that my affection will be fleeting and that I'll be back cranking up Van Halen before the week is out.
All of that is to say: My lack of interest in soccer reflects a genuine lack of interest, rather than a conscious push-back against the sport's mouthier proponents, who refuse to accept that a sports fan might, by some catastrophic quirk of fate, not be a soccer fan. I mean, I get it. I appreciate the athleticism and the skill. I'm awed by fans' passion, especially the eloquence with which football hooligans vocalize their innermost yearnings. But like any number of sports fans - casual or zealous, young or old, bone-dumb or Affleck-smart - I don't enjoy watching or following soccer. Somehow I feel the need to apologize for this.
Alas, now that the proliferation of sports-only cable networks has created a programming void so vast that somebody might resort to airing the NCAA elephant polo regionals, it's once again in the sports media's interest to re-re-re-re-re-sell soccer to U.S. sports fans. And so it is that NBC has begun dredging for demographically bodacious eyeballs in advance of its broadcast of matches from England's Barclays Premier League. This is kind of a big deal; outside North America, the Premiership, as it's known to the jargonically attuned, is like the National Football League times seven, with less brain trauma but more unrepentant diving.
NBC's online salvo comes in the form of "An American Coach in London," which stars Jason Sudekis as Coach Lasso, a gum-chomping, aviator-shades-wearing Premier League transplant. He might not know much about the rules, the gear, the competition, the customs or the country, but really: How different can one sport be from the next? The clip thus chronicles his transition from football coach to football coach.
It's funny as hell. Sudekis plays Lasso less as a broad caricature than as a benign twit who doesn't know what he doesn't know. As a result, the clip schools viewers and coach together, noting everything from the absence of helmets to the distinction between quarters and halves. Lasso characterizes the team's stretching regimen as "trust exercises," interprets "wanker" as high praise, attempts to unlock the mysteries of English geography ("Wales - wait, that's another country?" / "yes and no") and likens Premier League institutions to pickup trucks and Jennifer Lawrence. The video doesn't skimp on physical humor, either, courtesy of a bit in which Lasso goes a day without using his hands. Of course there's a toilet scene. You had to ask?
What's most entertaining - and surprising - about the clip is that it doesn't choose sides, mocking both American assumptions about soccer and English assumptions about American assumptions. In that sense, "An American Coach" reminds me most of A Fish Called Wanda, which ripped on stereotypical American boorishness and English pomposity with equal delight. That's as lofty a compliment as I can give. Is there a greater comic creation in cinema history than Kevin Kline's Otto? I say no.
Here's the thing, though. Even after rewatching "An American Coach" four times and inserting "ties and no playoffs? why do you even do this?" into my movie-quote rotation, I still doubt it will have any measurable impact on viewer interest. It's my sense that sports fans who have been exposed to 75 here's-why-you-are-an-athletic-philistine-if-you-don't-like-soccer campaigns aren't going to suddenly see the light just because Jason Sudekis is a funny guy. Similarly, I sense that soccer zealots have long since been made aware that, finally, they'll be able to watch matches at home if they so choose. So who's this clip for?
I like playing soccer, because I'm inherently pro-any activity that involves running around and kicking things. And, like many sports-liking people, I've flirted with soccer's charms in the past, one time motivated by perhaps the most emotionally resonant sports-first video campaign ever created. But I can't see how "An American Coach" will activate any dormant enthusiasms or curiosities. As funny and self-aware as it is, the ship has sailed on soccer as a mainstream North American media property.