Ted Lasso: great coach, bad ex-husband

By trying to manipulate and control his ex-wife, the star of "Ted Lasso" becomes a giant red flag

By Alison Stine

Staff Writer

Published April 20, 2023 5:18PM (EDT)

Jason Sudeikis in "Ted Lasso" (Apple TV+)
Jason Sudeikis in "Ted Lasso" (Apple TV+)

Thousands of people in the audience — and later, many more people watching the video on the internet — were shocked in April 2022 when Olivia Wilde was served legal papers on stage as she presented at the CinemaCon convention. The manilla envelope slid across the stage to the actor and "Don't Worry Darling" director in the middle of her speech contained papers pertaining to the custody arrangements of her children with actor Jason Sudeikis. Flustered and derailed, she opened it, believing the envelope contained a script. It did not.

The owner of a process service told NPR that the way these custody papers were served was "more public than anything he has ever seen." 

You will like Ted, or you will be painted as the villain.

Reached for comment, representatives for Sudeikis said in a statement at the time, "Mr. Sudeikis had no prior knowledge of the time or place that the envelope would have been delivered as this would solely be up to the process service company involved and he would never condone her being served in such an inappropriate manner." Later, in legal documents, Wilde said that with the very public serving, ex Sudeikis "clearly intended to threaten me and catch me off guard. He could have served me discreetly, but instead he chose to serve me in the most aggressive manner possible."

At least Ted Lasso, the character Sudeikis is most famous for playing, would never. Or, would he? Ted, the fish-out-of-water American football coach across the pond in England, won audiences, soccer players and his bosses over with his self-deprecating charm. But as Season 3 of the Apple TV hit plays on, that charm is starting to crack, to show the darkness beneath the surface of the character, especially when it comes to women. Ted may be a good coach — though that too is called nervously into question this season — but as an ex-husband? He's terrible and narcissistic, bordering on dangerous. 

From the beginning, Ted has been a kind of an aw-shucks white knight when it comes to women, defender of young Keeley's honor. He covers up the naked pictures of her in the locker room, a moralizing stance she didn't ask him to take. 

Kill them with kindness is the Ted Lasso way. Wear them down is his way with women.

Several of the older, wiser women characters smartly resist his charms at first. He will win them over! Or, exhaust them until they submit. He bakes homemade biscuits for his boss Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) every morning — certainly delicious but just assuming someone would want your baked goods every single day is quite presumptuous, and blazingly ignores things like allergies and food issues. He pressures therapist Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles) to talk about her personal life and tries to get her to break down her professional barriers, which are there for a reason. But he will charm, bribe, or worm his way in. You will like Ted, or you will be painted as the villain. 

As Whitney Friedlander writes in Salon, "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." Kill them with kindness is the Ted Lasso way. Wear them down is his way with women. In recent episode "Sunflowers," Ted has texted Rebecca 12 times (plus sent three gifs) in one night with no response, like an angry ex-boyfriend. And he looks at her accusingly, jaw tense, when he reminds her about his unanswered messages. Her phone fell into a canal in Amsterdam, but she takes the barrage of texts from Ted in stride and apologizes for it. He must do this a lot.  

Ted LassoEllie Taylor and Jason Sudeikis in "Ted Lasso" (Apple TV+)Ted is at his worst when it comes to his ex-wife, Michelle (Andrea Anders). The couple's marriage broke up in the first season, ostensibly because Ted couldn't open up emotionally to her. Michelle is a nervous character. She always looks to be on the verge of tears. She's also a quiet one. Ted's side is the side that will be taken in this breakup. He struggles with opening up because he's so traumatized by his childhood.

But it's hard for this not to feel manipulative. Ted's flaws are not his fault and he takes no responsibility for them. He's the blameless narcissist who is always the victim. He's just trying to be nice. We're supposed to feel sorry for him and we're supposed to stay with him. When Michelle doesn't, she's got to be the bad guy in his mind. And so the show has her do a very bad guy thing: date the marriage therapist she and Ted saw together. See, that's why Ted doesn't trust therapy! It's not his fault, you know (nothing is). 

You don't get to talk back to Ted Lasso. You don't get to counter the narrative in his and the show's mind that he's a really good guy.

Dating a former patient is a huge ethical issue, of course, yet the therapist is the one who should share most of the blame here. But Ted puts women on pedestals and tears them down. Whatever happens or has happened, it will be Michelle's fault. He confronts her, saying the relationship "really ticks him off," and his anger arises from the fact that he didn't get to talk to his ex-wife before she started her new relationship, didn't get veto power over his ex's new life. 

The show has her simply sit there and take it, listen tearily as usual to his grandstanding speech. You don't get to talk back to Ted Lasso. You don't get to counter the narrative in his and the show's mind that he's a really good guy. But is he? Ted and Michelle are divorced. He has no say in who she dates after him. She doesn't need permission from him to start over, to have a new relationship.

But her only response? "Of course." Michelle is the least-developed character on the show, and now she's become voiceless, deflated (wasting's Anders' talent). She exists only to confirm his white knight narrative about himself. Ted tells her he loves her then, and he has repeatedly and recently, which is also way out of line. Perhaps worse of all, he uses their young son Henry (Gus Turner) as a go-between, a huge no-no for divorced parents. He tells Henry to pass on his love for Michelle, to give her a big hug from him, still controlling his ex from afar. 

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Is this all wish fulfillment for Sudeikis, in the midst of his own custody battle and his ex's very public relationship? Is the beloved show turning into a vanity project? What has this character become except a giant red flag? So-called nice guys can finish you, and this season of "Ted Lasso" has, perhaps unknowingly, become a playbook on how not to be divorced.  

By Alison Stine

Alison Stine is a former staff writer at Salon. She is the author of the novels "Trashlands" and "Road Out of Winter," winner of the 2021 Philip K. Dick Award. A recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), she has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, and others.

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