The Magic of Ted Lasso
By Miriam R. Kramer
“If the Lasso way is wrong, it’s hard to imagine being right.” Trent Crimm, a British journalist from the Independent writes these words in his column about soccer, or football, as most of the world calls it, becoming one of many aloof or hostile characters won over by an American football coach named Ted Lasso. The Emmy-winning Apple+ TV series emerged just when it was needed at the height of the pandemic on August 14, 2020. The story of Lasso, who moves to the London Borough of Richmond to coach a Premier League soccer team, Ted Lasso lives up to its hype. Currently in its third and last season, it continues to reveal the kind of heart, beauty, and humor that most TV stumbles past even with clever plotlines and spot-on writing.
Ted Lasso is its own animal, a show that may make you tear up but never makes you feel despair. It is anti-despair, and despair is very fashionable in peak TV, the golden age of television characterized by cable series and shows released by streaming series.
I am tired of hunting for TV that makes me happier, while also spoiled by excellent series. From shows like The Sopranos to Mad Men, Homeland, Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, or a lesser-known British gem such as The Fall, I consume series and then let them go, while remembering great acting, storytelling, and the moods they evoke.
While many of them are wonderfully written, memorable, humorous, or provocative, they often reflect and support deep cynicism and feelings of desolation. I recently finished the first season of The Last of Us, a post-apocalyptic series that jangles the nerves, picking up the ever-popular theme of zombies while highlighting deeper human stories in some episodes. I have now tried the celebrated HBO series Succession twice, but cannot get past the first three episodes because I dislike the characters so much.
Ted Lasso is completely improbable as a concept but completely convincing on an emotional level, and compulsively likeable. As a coach who finds himself over his head when he moves to England with the laconic, bizarre, and delightful Assistant Coach Beard, the title character gradually wins over a section of his reluctant fans despite having to learn the technical aspects of a game that is almost as much a part of them as breathing. In the first series, he does so with an incurable optimism that is never treacle-sweet, just happy.
As you may have read before, Ted Lasso is based more on the art of coaching than it is on the actual sport of football. Anyone can watch it, even non-sports fans. Lasso becomes a mentor to his team of young men in soccer’s Premier League, many of whom need someone to turn to as a masculine role model in a country where some have come to play as foreigners. As a man whose father let him down, Ted refuses to quit on his players, despite his separation from his wife and the sense that he is quitting on his family. After this sentence, I find myself needing to re-affirm that this show is never needlessly sentimental, because I want you to give it a chance. Lasso has to face his own demons.
Ted Lasso is wholesome, charming, kind, and hilarious, but never unconvincing. This show starts off as a bright, winning comedy that gradually deepens over its three series into a show about facing mental illness, understanding what it is to be a father with all its difficulties, growing up, and finding friendship and love of all kinds despite facing loneliness and your insecurities wherever you might be in your life or the world.
The male characters in Ted Lasso become mature enough to talk about how they feel and connect emotionally with one another, and the female characters are strong, funny, well-defined women who support each other through their trials. Strong-willed Rebecca Welton, the owner of the soccer team AFC Richmond, gives the charming Keeley Jones, a player’s girlfriend and former topless model, a job in PR, which catapults Keeley into running her own agency. Men may have created the show, but the women featured are the exact opposite of the narcissistic banshees who populate the “Real Housewives” reality series.
It becomes almost impossible to pick your favorite personality among this bevy of characters, male or female. Ted Lasso is also quirky and strange without ever being off-putting, delivering a great musical soundtrack to boot.
Ted Lasso’s writers have great fun referring to a wide range of cultural topics, as the coaches and players debate anything from romantic comedies and Julie Andrews characters to whether they should go to a rave or the red light district after playing a game in Amsterdam. They let their freak flags fly, looking for ways to become more secure and realize better versions of themselves. Ted Lasso’s manifesto, “Believe,” is his mission to realize the potential in the people around him, helping them trust their ability to win despite all the reasons they have to be pessimistic.
As season three, the last season, progresses, I have started to appreciate the series’ depth and subtlety underneath its more obvious messages. Its creators, Jason Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt, Joe Kelly, and Bill Lawrence, along with its other writers, have laid out their tight, careful plotlines since the beginning of season one, and hints made then about characters are coming to fruition now as those characters stumble awkwardly towards maturity and self-belief. You may disagree with the writers’ artistic choices, but at least they are thoroughly thought through.
I do not want to spoil this series, which ends May 31st. All I can say is that if you have missed out so far, you should watch it for its hilarity, originality, sweetness without undue sentimentality, and sharp eye towards characterization. While it has aspects in common with Ricky Gervais’s wonderful series After Life, with the same keen understanding of the human condition, it features less caustic sarcasm and offers an inherent warmth and sunniness that offsets the darkness we experience.