Like Adam and Eve post-bush-burning, I’m hella anti-Apple. Thus, when the vocal “Cult of Lasso” first took to evangelizing, I ignored them like a snake that’s hooked on phonics. The language used by rabid fans — seemingly the only kind out there — to describe that specific Apple TV+ show was upsettingly hyperbolic. As anyone who has read my Reader work knows, that’s vastly irritating because it’s my thing. I finally consented to watch the damn thing almost purely out of spite, the most American of all productivity motivations.
Within a few weeks, I had watched all episodes three or more times.
Within a month, I was nakedly forcing it upon others like a mom-duping, Facebook-based pyramid scheme.
At one point, I literally drove to my father’s place, installed the Apple TV app, paid for his subscription, and made him text me his reactions to each episode.
Yes, Virginia, there is a Ted Lasso.
That is to say, the character and show operate as a transcendent, Santa Claus-ish symbol, a mustachioed rebuke of toxic masculinity and a gleefully vulgar demand that we at least try to give a shit. What started with me watching a half-hour comedy about British football — that’s the one with less head trauma but kinda the same race-based problems — ended with me realizing how desperately, impossibly badly we need “the theater of optimism” and how Lasso may be the tip of that spear.
On social media and elsewhere, the joyful embrace of this heartfelt gem shifted to our standard approach to just absolutely everything: Find its flaws, rip it apart at the seams, and try to make people who love it feel like stupid idiots.
I stand before you today (in print) not simply in defense of Ted Lasso (including season two, which is better than season one, and yes you heard me). I stand before you today (again, metaphorically), asking you to demand more uplifting entertainment. Not stupid comedies or “feel-good” biopics but real, honest-to-goodness goodness. Here’s why you should join me in this fight.
I Believe You Should Believe in “Believe”
I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone who hasn’t yet been lassoed by Ted, but we have to start with some basics about that pun-loving, tea-hating Midwesterner in London. The show’s premise is that Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) hired Ted (Jason Sudeikis), a goofus college football coach known mostly for a viral video of his locker room antics, to intentionally tank her ex-husband’s beloved Premier League team that she won control over in the divorce. Ted doesn’t know he’s supposed to fail and operates accordingly.
This means he has to try and bridge the gap between aging team captain Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) and rising superstar Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster). The former is a lion-hearted asshole whose vocabulary is exclusively George Carlin’s seven words, whereas the latter is basically an underwear model as vapid as he is good at doing all of the soccer … things. The thrust of the show should be a traditional underdog tale about a ragtag group of castoffs uniting to do sports super awesome. It isn’t.
The show immediately, explicitly tells you that the competitive athletics part of things isn’t driving this car but will be toted along in the boot. Oh, sorry. A boot is a car’s trunk in American. The whole “boot” and “football” thing was too good to pass up. Ted Lasso simply loves to cut away during climactic moments on the field. Several major moments that would have been season finales in other programs play out over the radio while character stuff happens.
Because this show is legitimately all about character stuff. Specifically, one kind of character stuff: Being a better person. Ted Lasso is “Things Don’t Have to Be Like This: 101.” It is laser focused on one message, spread across every single stinking person in the whole show. With a combo of F-bombs and cutesy moments — a too-rarely deployed twosome that may partially explain the problematic, decades-long embrace of Love, Actually (but that’s a column for another time) — it screams, “I believe you have a better version of the life you are living inside of you.”
I know that every show, particularly every comedy, sounds like it can be reduced to “characters try to get better.” This is different. In fact, its commitment to this theme is the real reason that some people have jumped off the show’s bandwagon. Many critics have dogged the lack of dramatic conflict/tension. Others have chided it for being predictable or preachy. They are valid critiques that also completely and totally miss the point.
Ted Lasso’s incredible cadre of writers is committed to predictably preaching that the key dramatic conflict is between yourself and who you ought to be. The show almost never throws true twists, just mild subversions, of narrative expectations. It would rather spend the time unpacking trauma that prevents us from growth, celebrating the joy in those rare moments where we become better, and asking us to ever-so-briefly believe in a tomorrow that doesn’t suck.
A Unicorn Riding a Pegasus
This isn’t 100% revolutionary. And yet, identifying adult-targeted movies and TV shows from the last decade or so that occupy this same space is difficult. I said difficult, not impossible, despite the intentionally hyperbolic section headline here.
The reason Ted Lasso hit such a nerve in that first season is not only because it was a good, nice thing that dropped at arguably one of the worst, ugliest moments in our interconnected modern history; it was because it so nakedly and aggressively put forth a manifesto of optimism. That same element is why there’s been a backlash now.
Believing that things can be better is a sucker’s game. That’s the popular opinion. Ted Lasso knows this mentality is a hurdle to climb. “The Hope That Kills You” is literally the title of one of the show’s episodes. On social media in particular, cavalier nihilism and nonchalant self-defeatism is seen as savvy and, dare I say, “hip.” I dared, but I know now that I shouldn’t have.
Given that the planet seems doomed to die at the hands of a cabal of wealthy elite, embracing inevitable defeat certainly seems like the smart play. We’ve gargled dystopian fiction for decades. At some point, we stopped reading them as warnings and began accepting them as coming attractions. This isn’t why things are bad. But it absolutely has to be part of why we think only dumb idiots would hope for good things.
To be clear, I am not advocating for entertainment that embraces the kind of monstrous toxic positivity shoveled by spiritual influencers. As Roy Kent would say … well, he’d say a lot of expletives accurately describing what those folks can go and do to themselves. I am, however, asking why it is so f’n hard to think of genuinely kind and encouraging adult movies and TV shows while “middle-aged murder dad” is now its own entire genre that has a friggin’ Bob Odenkirk movie in it!
Nothing in Ted Lasso suggests that everything will turn out OK. It probably won’t. But it does argue that it’s OK to not be OK, and that “better” is an acceptable alternative to “bad.” Empathy is at an all-time low, and while no comedy or drama is going to make a misguided killmonger wear a mask or get a vaccine, shouldn’t we be using more fiction to “vision board” what society could look like if we all gave a shit about ourselves and each other?
Although they almost certainly won’t read this whole thing, many of the folks trashing season two of Ted Lasso would likely respond by saying that I’m wrong/naïve and that the show just sucks. Cool. Go watch yet another Martin Scorsese mafia movie, the same Paul Schrader movie he’s made like a dozen times, or a streaming TV dramedy about cruel rich people who manipulate each other for sport. I actually mean that. Those are good! They are also plentiful.
What’s not plentiful is aspirational and empowering filmed content that is unafraid to be vulnerable and unapologetically uplifting. We don’t need fairy tales for people with 401Ks. But we could really stand to have a second or third film or show immediately come to mind when asking the last time entertainment both comforted you and made you want to do and be better.
Who’s with me?