COMMENTARY

The worst thing about "Ted Lasso" is Ted Lasso himself

The coach's brand of folksy optimism isn't just masking his pain, but perhaps also his ego-driven chauvinism

By Whitney Friedlander
Published July 31, 2021 3:30PM (EDT)
Jason Sudeikis in "Ted Lasso" (Apple TV+)
Jason Sudeikis in "Ted Lasso" (Apple TV+)

If magazine profiles, TV best-of lists, Twitter and my personal text chains are to be believed, Apple TV+'s uber-optimistic "Ted Lasso" was the beacon of light that helped just about every human being – especially those who are the most dead inside – survive the pandemic. 

A testament to the idea that "nice" TV still has a place in a landscape overrun with edgy antiheroes, true crime and superheroes, people are drawn to this story about an American football coach who comes to London to fix a ragtag team of football (i.e. soccer) players at an English Premier League called AFC Richmond.

A 2021 Emmy nominee success story, the first season recently received so many nominations from the TV Academy that it broke the record previously held by Fox's "Glee" to become the most-nominated freshman comedy series in the award's history ("Ted Lasso" got 20; "Glee" had 19). There's a Twitter account that cues a GIFs of star Jason Sudeikis' titular mustachioed lead dancing with snippets of popular music or soundtracks ("Better Call Saul" makes an appearance). Apple TV+, clearly knowing its audience, promoted the recently premiered second season via a partnership with Los Angeles coffee shop Go Get 'Em Tiger. For a few days, "Lasso"-loving Angelenos could score versions of the infamous pink box of biscuits that Ted mastered baking during the first season to warm over his initially icy boss, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham).

All of these are stunts that Ted Lasso, if he were real, would probably appreciate. Salon's own TV critic, Melanie McFarland, upon reviewing the second season, noted that the fish-out-of-water Kansan is a "man with a pathological need to be liked, which he feeds by persuading people to genuinely love him only after they figure out how to love themselves and those around them." 

The character is an overly optimistic Mr. Rogers on steroids crossed with a dash of Forrest Gump but who thinks he's "Friday Night Lights'" Coach Taylor. Last season, after he took a job coaching a sport he knew nothing about and moved halfway around the world with next to no questions asked, he put up a sign in the locker room that read "Believe" and (slowly, but surely) enveloped every person he met into his warm, folksy world. He makes malapropisms and awful puns (from this season: "I believe in communism . . . rom-communism!"), and his passion unites a team of salty, foul-mouthed jocks and their (lovable) hooligan fans from the neighborhood pub. (Romantic comedies "Jerry Maguire" and "When Harry Met Sally" are both referenced this season).

Fans of the show want you to know that Ted's true genius is that this is all so clearly an act. Ted, of course, is going through a divorce and is using this witticism and upbeat tempo to mask his grief over the end of that relationship as well as the fact that doing this job means leaving his young son behind in the United States. They'll point to an episode from last season, "Make Rebecca Great Again," where the team celebrates after an away match in Liverpool with some karaoke revelry. Rebecca sings "Let It Go" from the movie "Frozen," and Ted, who is avoiding finalizing his divorce papers, gets drunk and collapses in a heap outside the bar. The smack-you-over-the-head symbolism with that song choice aside, it's all very sad and we do feel for Ted. 

 . . . But also? Ted is the type of guy who both believes himself to be the face of chivalry and who doesn't appear to respect women who seem immune to his charms.  

Ted wasn't the only one going through a messy divorce last season. The whole reason why he was actually in London was because of a feud between Rebecca and her ex-husband Rupert (Anthony Head). At one point, in a stupendous act of machismo, Ted defends Rebecca's pride as he and Rupert square off over a game of darts. It's a modern-day version of Inigo Montoya versus the Dread Pirate Roberts, and Ted wins. Rupert is emasculated. Rebecca, who has spent a career being the only woman in a room full of men and who definitely knows how to manage herself – and who this season learns the term "boss ass bitch" – is perplexingly delighted that someone stood up for her instead of letting her handle the situation herself.

Ted LassoJason Sudeikis and Sarah Niles in "Ted Lasso" (Apple TV+)

Furthermore, this season introduces Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles), a sports psychologist who comes to work with Ted's team . . . and the personification of everything he's been avoiding about his own troubles. She can't be bought with his baked goods. She is immune to his charms, giant smile and hopeful eyes. She watches practices, and he becomes convinced that she's judging his rapport with his athletes. (Is she moving down the bleachers during practice to judge him? Or is he being paranoid and she's just doing her job and watching the players?) Frustrated that he can't crack Dr. Fieldstone, Ted resorts to giving her the belittling nickname "Doc" and is shocked that his players not only willing schedule meetings with her – but that they get results from her sessions.

Thinking about these motives too long becomes frustrating and makes Ted really not all that likeable. It's also perhaps something the writers of the show have zeroed in on and why the new season gives depth to non-Ted relationships on the show. 

We learned last season that Higgins, Jeremy Swift's long put-upon Director of Football Operations, has a charming home life full of the love and respect he didn't always get at work. We'll now learn how he met his wife and how much more happy and confident he seems on the job.

Also, during a famous scene in the first season, Juno Temple's influencer-turned team branding consultant Keeley Jones uses the tactics of a press conference to teach new paramour Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) why he has no say over what this "independent woman" does with her own time. This season, her convincing him that their relationship isn't going to work unless he expresses himself – and really just the fact that Goldstein and his nostril flaring get more screen time in general – are the reasons I stick with the series. Plus, an upcoming Christmas episode, which will debut in the dog days of summer, makes me wish for a cup of cocoa and fuzzy sweat pants.

I write all this as a dedicated fan of co-creator Bill Lawrence's work. I spent part of quarantine re-watching "Scrubs" and began following actress Busy Philipps on Instagram more because of her work on his "Cougar Town" than because of her work on the cult hit "Freaks and Geeks."

I just don't "believe" in Ted's optimism.

"Ted Lasso" streams new episodes on Fridays on Apple TV+.


Whitney Friedlander

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