Television

‘Ted Lasso’ is better than it has any business being

It isn't groundbreaking, and it won't cause a Game of Thrones level sensation. It probably won't win any awards. But it's maybe the most earnest show I've seen in quite some time, and perhaps the perfect show for the current state of the world.

Note: Blaine and Adam discussed the show on last week’s Taking It Down, so they’ll be some crossover here. Also, I’ve finished the show so SPOILER ALERT, do not read ahead if you don’t want to know what happens.

Ted Lasso is a television show based on a commercial for English soccer in the United States, produced streaming platform by a company famous for computers and phones. It should not work. At all. It should maybe generate a couple of laughs, but flame out in the shallow end.

It might be the best show I’ve watched this year.

It isn’t groundbreaking, and it won’t cause a Game of Thrones level sensation. It probably won’t win any awards. But it’s maybe the most earnest show I’ve seen in quite some time, and perhaps the perfect show for the current state of the world.

The show’s premise is quite simple: AFC Richmond is an English Football club in the Premier League, whose best years are behind them. Rebecca Welton has inherited the team in a divorce from her playboy husband, and she plans to run his beloved club into the ground as revenge for his adultery. To accomplish this, she’s hired an American Football coach, Ted Lasso, played wonderfully by Jason Sudeikis.

Lasso is a happy-go-lucky guy who has not a damn clue about the inner workings of the game of soccer, but damned if he ain’t gonna give it his best shot. With him comes his faithful assistant, Coach Beard, who is the grounded Yin to Lasso’s goofy Yang.

If there’s a major theme to this show, it’s growth. Over the course of 10 episodes, each main character experiences trials and tribulations they must overcome, be they personal or team-related.

Lasso not only has to learn a new sport and how to reach his new team and get them to buy-in to his ways; but we learn that he is in a crumbling marriage, and has to learn to let his wife go and accept divorce in order for them to find happiness.

Rebecca has to grow past her spite for her ex-husband, and not take it out on innocent people around her. We learn in one episode from an old friend that the “real” Rebecca is silly and happy, not the cold-hearted, revenge-obsessed person who uses others.

Keely Jones is a model who has entered her 30s, and is coming to terms with her age and the fact her party girl lifestyle and looks can only take her so far. She breaks off her relationship with young star Jamie Tartt, develops a friendship with Rebecca (my favorite relationship on the show), and even gets a job as the team’s PR person. She also develops a relationship with Roy Kent, the team’s veteran leader and star of title-winning teams from yesteryear. Kent is also coming to grips with his age and new role on the team, and Keely’s influence opens up his personality as the season rolls on.

Even the supporting characters face growth. Tartt, the antagonist for much of the season, must learn to play the team game in order to truly open up his potential. Rebecca’s assistant Higgins has to learn how to reckon with his role in Rebecca’s ex-husband’s unfaithfulness, and how to stand up to Rebecca’s sinister plot. Nathan, the young equipment manager, has to learn how to open up, eventually earning a role as an assistant under Lasso.

My measure of any show’s worth is how much I anticipate the next episode. I started the show out of boredom, when about 5 episodes had been released. I plowed through them all the first night, because the show does such a wonderful job of hooking you in, and perfectly pacing the story. Each episode presents its own problem while also advancing the overall story.

Early on, Rebecca arranges for paparazzi to catch a photo of Lasso and Keely together, framing it as scandalous despite Lasso being there to ask her advice on how to deal with Jamie. This pays off later on, when Keely discovers the plot and confronts Rebecca, giving her the ultimatum of telling Lasso before Keely tells him herself. Rebecca, after some difficulty finding the strength, tells Lasso… and he forgives her, reasoning that divorce makes people do crazy things, recalling his panic attack from earlier in the season relating to his impending divorce and how Rebecca helped him through it, and how Lasso ended up spending the night with her friend Flo.

Lasso’s “aw shucks” midwestern personality has every chance to be grating and abrasive, but the writers play it perfectly by grounding Lasso just enough, giving him enough insight to know the limits of his style. His persistence shines in the little details: he bakes cookies, or biscuits as the Brits call them, for Rebecca every morning; he gifts each member of the squad a different book; he throws Sam, a young Nigerian player, a birthday party to help him with his homesickness; he even takes on Rebecca’s ex, Rupert, in a game of darts to defend her honor and keep Rubert away.

That scene was played perfectly by Sudeikis, too. After challenging Rubert, the slimy millionaire reveals he “forgot” he has his own dart set, setting up the hustle. However, Lasso, after taking a few right-handed warmup shots, hits him the a golden line: “Ooops, almost forgot I was left-handed.” We’re shown the aftermath, a Lasso win, which means Rupert isn’t allowed to attend games anymore.

The finale is pitch perfect television, with all of the season-long strings coming together in one big knot. On the pitch, Richmond is facing relegation, meaning if they lose they’ll drop down to the second division, not only a black eye for the club from a pride standpoint, but resulting in the loss of millions in revenue. Lasso has to figure out a way to earn the result that keeps them up in the Premier League. Kent has to come to grips with his aging body, putting it all on the line, injuring himself making a great play to deny Jamie (now back at Man City, their opponents for the finale, naturally) a goal, and perhaps realizing it may be the injury that puts an end to his career. The local fans, who earlier told Lasso that “it’s the hope that kills you” — which is a goddamned perfect summation of sports fandom — have to learn to accept the Lasso Way, and all of his bright-eyed optimism.

But what makes that finale perfect is Jamie Tartt, little shithead he his, finally growing his game and making the extra pass Lasso had begged him to make during their entire time together. The result is heartbreaking: Richmond had tied the game late, a result that coupled with results from other games around the league would earn Richmond the point needed to stay in the PL. But Tartt starts a break in the game’s waning seconds, and as he approaches goal makes that extra pass, earning a goal for City and ultimately the game, sending Richmond down to the second division.

Lasso accepts his fate: he will be fired for failing to keep the team up, and as such he resigns. However, Rebecca refuses, finalizing her growth, and tells Lasso that not only is he staying on as manager, but they together will fight to earn their way back to the PL, and win the whole thing, setting us up perfectly for a second season.

I’m fascinated to see where the show goes from here. We know the stakes on the field, but where will the personal conflict come from? Rebecca has seemingly gotten past her spite, at least in the form of tanking the team. Keely and Roy have accepted their age and place in the world. Lasso has accepted his own divorce and is warming up to life in England (save for tea). As long as the show keeps it’s light-hearted yet fulfilling approach, it’s bound to be a success.

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