I had heard so much about the Apple TV series “Ted Lasso.” The promo image of the Ned Flanders-esque face did very little to pique my curiosity, though I learned that it had recently won Emmys. I happen to have a free subscription to Apple TV and had seen it listed among the programs. Waylaid with a bad headache, I decided to give it a go, and I was simply blown away by it. And I am not even a fan at all of soccer (“football” as they call it in England and overseas)! The show is truly well done on so many fronts that it continues to amaze me, halfway through the first season. These are the things that make it such a delight to watch, from an artistic standpoint.
First, it is not a show about soccer. The English Richmond football team (called “AFC. Richmond”) is indeed the key player–pardon the pun–in the show, but the show is about the characters, rather than the game. “Ted Lasso” shows us a good example about how to tell a story about a very specific subject that people might not be familiar with or interested in: make it relevant and about the people. This show could have worked if Ted were trying to take over a bakery, an orchestra, or a corporation. There is enough commonality and universality in the situations in each episode that the viewer is engaged.
Second, the premise is absolutely engaging: a second-tier American football coach (Jason Sudeikis) is hired to coach an ailing English football team by a bitter ex-wife of the former owner (Hannah Waddingham), precisely because she wants the new coach to run the team into the ground. So, it makes for fertile comedic ground. There are endless cultural clashes, strong personalities, and interesting situations for the characters to work themselves out of. The show also highlights class differences in a very subtle way, with the flashy, lowbrow Keeley (Juno Temple) who is a very streetwise, emotionally-intelligent foil to the upper class, repressed Rebecca, who are so archetypally British, contrasting with the archetypally American egalitarian, optimist Ted. The show also pokes fun at British class differences and life to a T.
Third, “Ted Lasso” is a perfect mix of comedy and tragedy. As the series progresses, we get moments of deep tenderness and sadness, as both Ted and Rebecca are recently split from their spouses. We see Ted’s unfailing optimism start to show cracks as he is served divorce papers. We learn that Rebecca was once a very fun-loving, vibrant woman who has lost her sense of self, as she was under the thumb of her tycoon ex-husband when they were married. Ted is far away from his beloved son, Jamie is coming to terms with his arrogance, given his hardscrabble background, and Roy is aware of every athlete’s nightmare: the effects of age on one’s performance. Nate, the trusty assistant and go-fer, is bullied by team members, and yet he is able to fight back and analyze each team member’s performance, telling them to their faces what they need to do to improve their game. He is given this chance by Ted.
Fourth, Ted is an optimist whose subconscious motto seems to be “kill them with kindness.” And that is what makes it such a feel-good show. We see, in each situation, the triumph of goodness and morality over ego and depravity, or at least the attempts to act with integrity. That is a uniquely American quality, and Ted is the metaphor for it. The positive athletic coach who wants people to be their best is an important figure, as that person has to be aware of each person’s strengths and weaknesses and know how to articulate them. This could potentially be very corny and maudlin; however, the use of comedy and even poking fun at Ted’s cheerfulness through the lens of British grumpiness, and the reality of difficult situations under the sunny surface make the execution strong and enjoyable.
Finally, for any women having doubts about watching the series because of it being a “jock show” about men and football and coaching, the women hold equal weight and airtime in the show. I would even argue that it is quite feminist, for the owner of the club is a woman, the female characters are all very empowered and pursuing their own goals, and they call out the men on their bad behavior. If you like the film “Bend it like Beckham,” you will certainly like this show. The cast is rightly diverse, people from all ethinic backgrounds, as is the case with much of England.
In all, “Ted Lasso” has been an exciting discovery, one of the best shows (along with “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”) that I have seen in a long time. Highly recommended!