Published on May 30th, 2021 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
Ted Lasso: A Modern Hero of Noble Behaviour
With Season 2 just around the corner, KK praises season 1 of the feel-good AppleTV series.
Finally! I finally found the show and the character I’ve been looking for. The one that existed vaguely in my busy, confused mind as I’ve been navigating the covid world for the last few months. To wit, I nearly let one of my recent articles go off the rails with complaints about the incessant persistence of cancel culture – you shouldn’t say this, or do that, or use this term, or discuss that perspective and you should absolutely call out everyone for all their behaviour if you believe it’s more than just a misunderstanding or a mistake to learn from. Ultimately it’s about self-improvement and accountability. Even still, I wasn’t quite ready to blast Morrissey in the article I’m referring to because I was bemoaning how it feels like society is obsessed with telling other people how they shouldn’t be acting, rather than simply demonstrating how we should be acting. It’s exhausting to better one’s behaviour, and there are plenty of fingers ready to point at you, scolding, should you attempt to explore nearly any subject in the “wrong way”. Lucky for me (and anyone who read the article) my editor, Hayley Stovin, took the time to talk me through – and effectively out of – a misguided rant that would have had me sounding inaccurately out of touch. A link to that article is here: [http://www.thefeedbacksociety.com/television/stop-me-if-you-think-youve-heard-this-one-before/]
But never mind too much about that now, I’m just explaining why I’m so excited to talk about Ted Lasso (2020). I get to say all the things I wanted to in the last article, but in a positive and more compelling manner.
Ted Lasso is a U.S. division two football coach who has been tapped to be the gaffer (head coach) of AFC Richmond in London, a fictional UK Premier League soccer team. [*to avoid any confusion whatsoever, I will henceforth be referring to all soccer as football*] This is ridiculous, of course, because the chances of an American coaching a Premier football club are exactly 0.00000%. Yet, here we are. Ted is fresh off his first national championship win in America and is suddenly, inexplicably qualified to win the head job of a proper football club across the pond. From the moment we meet Ted and his trusty sidekick Coach Beard (the delightful but hardly famous, yet vaguely recognizable, Brendan Hunt) it is clear that these two are…different. Coach Ted and Coach Beard are a couple of “golly-gee” kinda fellas, from their accents to their optimism. More so, they are nearly unwavering in their wholesome, honest, inspiring and exemplary (if peculiar) behaviour for the entire 10 episode season.
What Coach Ted is blissfully unaware of is the fact that he is being set up to fail. The new owner of the football club is Rebecca Welton, ex-wife or Ruppert Mannion, and she won the rights to the club in their very public, very expensive divorce. Mannion is a famously wealthy playboy/rascal in the press, but a massive prick behind the scenes. Rebecca, knowing that AFC Richmond is the only thing her bastard of an ex-husband ever loved, is deviously set to exact her revenge by destroying his precious legacy. It took me a couple episodes to realize how captivated I was with the story and archetypal characters, the locker room shenanigans and tensions, the cunning, scheming and planning. Then it struck me: I’ve seen this before! (sort of). I don’t know about y’all, but I’ve flicked through the channels on a weekend afternoon and stumbled across Major League (1989) on more than a handful of occasions. Every. Single. Time. Shit! There goes the afternoon! That movie’s a ball of fun, even if it’s a little dated. Fast way of explaining the similarities and differences? You watch Major League because you like wine; you watch Ted Lasso because you love wine, and appreciate a $150 bottle when it’s gifted to you.
Ted does some of the sweetest, simplest, most adorable things and, my god, we could all use more lessons in this type of behaviour. Here is a show that isn’t calling out or correcting behaviour so much as it is illustrating and highlighting the day-to-day habits and actions of a good person, and the impact of those efforts on the people around them. Watch for the dart game at the pub, a crescendo of triumph that rivals anything on the pitch. Ted’s attitude towards life, challenge, and change, feels like a vaccine. It’s refreshing and confidence building to see someone with such self-control and dedication to the happiness he can create around him. Even when it’s silly or sappy, I really love Ted Lasso for that.
But Ted has demons of his own. Ted Lasso is about separation, both from country and from home (ie. Ted moving from Kansas to England, as well as Coach Beard and some of the players). It’s about trying to hang on and move on at the same time (Ted’s marriage; Rebecca’s divorce), each an impossible task because neither are fully committed to either concept. It’s about divorces and estrangements, the kinds that shatter and the kinds that disintegrate. This is where viewing for me got more gripping, more anxious, and almost unbearably emotional.
2020 was tough on everyone; I would never make a contrary statement. But for each person it was different and for me it was a separation that will soon end in a final divorce. Watching Jason Sudeikis (Ted Lasso) act devastated, broken and adrift, it seemed to target my heart in a way that no social media algorithm could ever hope to do. Ted’s stress, his shaking hands and his tears…well, I’ve been there before. And just as Ted quotes Walt Whitman – “Be curious, not judgemental” – I wondered how he was going to handle it all. I sat forward in my seat, hoping that he would continue to display that uncanny, desirable behaviour of decorum that elevates him above the average man. Maybe Ted Lasso could show me how I was to present myself to friends, family and the public at large so that I would be someone others admired for my resolve, my compassion, my desire to hang on and let go at the same time. Please, someone show me how to act! I’ve never been here before, and I’m desperate to do the right thing. Ted Lasso made me cry, and it felt validating.
Someone who worked on Ted Lasso obviously knows heartache and loss to the very cold of their bones. This goes right down to the soundtrack, which contains loads of great tunes, but a few stand-outs such as Saw You in a Dream (2019) by County Line Runner. CLR is the recording name of Adam Day, who wrote this song during his own divorce. What an attention to detail to capture each shifting mood perfectly. It’s an example of the evolved complexity of storytelling in Ted Lasso that just wasn’t there in Major League. Those writers never gave indication that the owner of the Cleveland Indians, Rachel Phelps, was reacting to her pain. They made her a cold bitch set on revenge, a self-serving sociopath who is simply rotten to the core. She is the villain of the movie, and isn’t developed in any way beyond her service to the plot, in which the team must ban together to save their jobs. That’s the old Hollywood structure when movies were very much right vs wrong and good vs evil. It’s different on Ted Lasso with club owner Rebecca Welton, layering thoughtful intricacies to add more realistic character behaviours. Rebecca is not a villain, she’s not evil and she’s not a bitch (well, not really). She’s hurt. She’s wounded from loss, suffering, and the end of a marriage while in her mid-forties. While it doesn’t excuse some of her behaviour or actions, it really illustrates how everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about. Google tells me that the actor who plays Rebecca, Hannah Waddingham, is just three weeks younger than I am. I suspect that divorce is hyper-sensitive at this age, more so than it is if you divorce in your early 20s or late 60s. And the darts of this show keep hitting my bullseye.
As the old Far Side cartoon goes, god sprinkled the world with jerks. But the key word is ‘sprinkled’. For the most part, people are good. People are trying. Most people are just seeing the world through their own lenses, and those spectacles are not always in harmony with our own. And why would they be? It’s 2021 and the world is a vast network of digital information streaming to us, for us, about us, in a sickening twirl of carnival ride amusement. Life isn’t a day at the park, it simply includes a day at the park – here or there – while mostly consisting of work, controversy and self evaluation. Once in a while, we get to go frolicking on an adventure that improves our now, and the need for improvement has never been greater than it is in 2021.
I’ve told you what I think about Ted Lasso. It’s a pretty good show, even if it’s not easy to find. Time for you to start that AppleTV+ free trial, I guess? I’ve also tried to explain how I feel about the show. It’s not because I watched a marriage fall apart, and therefore felt seen, or understood or validated, that I love Ted Lasso. It’s because I was watching Ted persevere in being his best self despite the nightmare of losing the love of his life. Even through that, Ted is able to build up the people around him. The show is – dare I say it? – wholesome. And it’s done in a way that doesn’t preach and therefor illicit scorn or contempt, so that’s the angle of perspective that’s going to get you to temporarily subscribe and press play. Once the show starts to mix in other characters – Keely, Jamie, Sam and Roy Kent (so totally my favourite! This guy kills me.) – the episodes cover a lot of ground, and tell dozens of really warm and fuzzy stories within. It would be nice to feel…nice for a change, wouldn’t it? As Dani Rojas keeps reminding everyone, “football is life!” (Haha, I just remembered how much that kid made me laugh – Dani Rojas! Dani Rojas! Dani Rojaaaaas!)
Just over a year ago when the first pandemic lockdown took hold and I began to write more articles, I tried to write about This Is Football (2019) but I just couldn’t capture or convey the majesty of that series the way I intended, so I scrapped the entire article. Bob Dylan always said, “When you start forcing something, it’s time to let it go.” I tried to capture and share an experience that was euphoric to me, but it didn’t work out. After that I wanted to protest the extreme prevalence of “cancel culture” until I finally learned that it’s just about accountability. Then, as sudden as sunshine after the rain, Ted Lasso appeared and delivered the emotions of both those failed article attempts in a much more elegant and articulate fashion. The show is warm, funny and contemplative once you adjust to Ted’s “aw, shucks” personality. There is a certain point in a long hug where the uncomfortable becomes sublime, and radiant love soaks you to the bone, and that’s Ted Lasso. So go get some comfort, a few good belly laughs, and have a look at what positivity and heart can do when one person radiates it to everyone around them. After all, football is life.
Season 2 of Ted Lasso begins streaming July 23rd on Apple TV.