Ted Lasso Doesn't Save The World
That's what is so endearing about the show
Major spoilers for Ted Lasso season 1 and 2.
I recently got into Ted Lasso, the tentpole of Apple TV (in the sense that they don’t have any other interesting shows). I had been waiting for the start of season 2 so I could watch it all together. For the uninitiated, the show is about a mid-western football coach (played by Jason Sudeikis) who accepts a job as a football coach in England, despite knowing nothing about soccer (to give his wife some space to save their marriage). The show’s ridiculous premise borrows liberally from Major League, the Major League of Sports Movies. The owner, a woman (Rebecca Welton played by Hannah Waddingham) who wants to destroy the team to accomplish her own personal goals, (in this case to punish her philandering former husband) hires Ted to ruin the team. As is the case with virtually all sports movies/shows, that isn’t what happens. The semi-lovable loser turns out to be full of homespun charm, wisdom and heart and rallies the team on togetherness. Until he doesn’t. His marriage isn’t saved, the team is relegated anyway, and Ted is struggling emotionally and mentally with the losses. There is a lot to be written about this show (and has been), but I just wanted to lay out the 3 things I find most endearing about the show.
Ted is a normal human being, albeit one with some real wisdom. Ted comes across early on as an earnest doofus, but this proves to be an unintentional front (except that ONE time). He shows incredible savvy in identifying people’s motivations, communicating effectively and directly, and in recognizing his own self-worth and balancing that with humility. Ted might lack for soccer knowledge, but his emotional quotient is quite high. Still, Ted is shown to be lacking in some areas. He struggles to come to grips with the state of his marriage, with being apart from his son, and with trying to get the team on board with his style. Having it be a mini-series really helps to add more depth to his character and the other characters so we see how complex they all are. There aren’t really villains in the series (with the notable exception of Rebecca’s husband). People are just shown to be who people are, broken and working through it.
Athletes are portrayed honestly, with the struggles athletes go through. The primary athletes on the show, Jaime Tartt (Phil Dunster), Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), and Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernandez) all deal with things modern athletes do. Tabloid journalists, overbearing sports parents, the struggles of accepting the end of a great career, the struggles of finding your place in stardom, the struggle of coping with PTSD and having the yips, and dealing with injury. All of the key players have their moments of triumph and pain, but there is very little sugarcoating of the unique experience of being a great athlete in the modern world. It comes with all the baggage you would expect and plenty you wouldn’t.
Pain is felt, acknowledged and normalized. I just mentioned in my first two paragraphs numerous struggles the characters go through. Many of them wind up resolving, but not all of them in ways that feel positive. Not everyone comes back from injury. Not every marriage is fixable. Not every relationship can or should be salvaged. Not every player can be taught to buy in or wants to. When that happens, it hurts. Real life is not Live Laugh Love. A lot of times it is Cry Hurt Heal. A LOT of sports shows and movies don’t want to acknowledge this. The hero bucks up and saves the day, living happily ever after. In real life, however, you usually can’t save the day. Sometimes, the day becomes too much and you can’t cope. Ted Lasso makes a point to acknowledge this and to show the journey through Cry Hurt Heal. It’s validating to see this message as a rebuttal to the usual message to men (the only acceptable emotion is anger) and women (“negative” emotions mean you are unstable).
There are plenty of other things to like about the show. It is funny and smart. The female characters are strong and have their own motivations as the show is moving along, instead of just fixating on men (as they do early on). While Ted has a bit of a savior complex, he shows a willingness to accept help as well, which is very compelling as his humility is a nice anti-dote to the hyper look-at-me-I-will-save-you attitude that actually permeates sports. I look forward to continuing season 2 in the coming weeks. Check it out (and not much else) on Apple TV.