Ted Lasso

The other day I saw a list of recommended Apple TV+ shows, and on the list was a show called Ted Lasso. It looked like something I would never have the slightest interest in, so I moved on.

Short version of this post: I was wrong; it turns out to be a remarkable and lovely show.

Long version:

The description of the show that turned me off was that it was about this American football coach who goes to coach a UK professional football(/soccer) team despite having no knowledge of or experience with soccer. (I’m going to call it soccer in this post for clarity.) That description makes the show sound like a typical cringe-inducing show where an ignorant and boorish but undeservedly self-confident American goes to the UK and behaves badly. I’ve seen more than enough of that kind of thing. And I’m not interested in sports.

And in various contexts the show is billed as a sitcom, and in general I do not get along with sitcoms. Partly that’s because I feel like most of them are mainly about awful people being awful to each other, but partly it’s just something about the format. (Please don’t take this as an opportunity to recommend your favorite sitcoms. I’ve watched a lot of sitcoms, including many that my friends love, and they almost never work for me.)

But not long after I saw that description, I saw posts from a couple of friends saying how much they loved Ted Lasso. And I figured it would be an easy way for me to check an item off my checklist: I could watch a half-hour episode and not enjoy it and then check it off of my TV-to-take-a-look-at list and move on.

So I gave it a try—

—and it turned out to be like nothing I’ve ever seen on TV before. In a good way.

Because the protagonist is pretty much the opposite of what I expected. He is unrelentingly kind and gentle and sweet and earnest, and over and over again he wins over the cynical people who initially assume he can’t be for real.

It’s almost like if you had Mr. Rogers coaching a soccer team. Ted isn’t quite at Mr. Rogers levels of saintliness, but there’s some of that vibe there, at least for me.

And it gradually occurred to me that the show isn’t really a sitcom. For one thing, there’s no laughtrack. But it also doesn’t seem to me to have the rhythms of a sitcom—the line/response/comeback thing. And some pretty serious stuff comes up. And the show made me cry repeatedly—sometimes from sad things, sometimes at how lovely various moments were. It also made me laugh (which most sitcoms don’t), but the humor, too, is mostly sweet and quirky, not at all the humor-of-embarrassment and humor-of-entertaining-insults kinds of things I’m used to seeing on sitcoms. I would say it’s more like a half-hour dramedy than a sitcom.

The show is, of course, not perfect.

For example, it’s way too focused on cis white straight men for my tastes. The main character is a white American man; about four (depending on who you count) of the main supporting cast members are white men; a bunch of the secondary supporting cast are white men. Of the main supporting cast members who aren’t white men, there are two white British women (who become much more central as the season goes on, in a good way), one man of South Asian descent, a Nigerian man, and a Mexican man. I wasn’t keeping close track, but I would guess that fewer than half of the episodes pass the Bechdel-Wallace test.

And race is never an issue, and most of the characters of color don’t have much character arc.

And there are occasional annoying stereotype jokes (though far fewer than on most sitcoms), and one character praises JK Rowling once, and so on.

And there’s no definite queer content. There’s one line, late in the season, in which a character implies pretty strongly that they’re bi; but they might be joking.

And yet … in the opening sequence of the series, the straight male protagonist says to his straight male best friend/colleague something like “If we see each other in our dreams, let’s goof around a little.” Much later in the season, Ted unironically suggests that various of the men (himself included) should start calling each other pet names like “honey” and “dear.” Even though this is a show ostensibly focused on a male professional sports team, it mostly has a remarkable lack of toxic masculinity; there’s an affection and emotional vulnerability among some of these (presumably straight) men that I rarely even see in real life, much less in fiction. (I have seen that kind of straight-male-closeness on TV before, but only very rarely.)

There are some sad parts. There are some parts where people lose their tempers and yell at each other. There are a couple of characters who are repeatedly needlessly cruel to other characters. (For one, that’s part of a character arc; for another, it’s part of how awful they are.) There are some gendered insults (that are common and casual in the UK but not so much in the US).

But overall, I found this show both incredibly sweet and incredibly refreshing.

I’ve now watched all ten episodes of season 1, and am looking forward to seasons 2 and 3.

Thank you to the friends (and friends-of-friends) who recommended it!

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