The comedy Ted Lasso is about a relentlessly decent American coach who restores failing English football team, AFC Richmond, to health. The Apple TV series aims to be a culture-cleanser, too, for the endless parade of bad, and just plain shitty men, in headlines and on TV, offering an emotional antidote to the corresponding feelings of rage and despair the spectrum of corruption engenders.
Ted Lasso, played by Jason Sudeikis, is a spin on the much-maligned Not All Men trope, a discursive dead-end that defends the status quo from bearing the brunt of anger for patriarchy’s twin powers of misogyny and racism. In supremely affable Ted, the hashtag comes alive, thus giving preternaturally decent white men the hope of a future as TV heroes again.
The series is conspicuously aware that its hook is a Hail Mary play – white guy wins by championing kindness and connection over dominance and brutality within the hellfire of misogyny that is professional men’s sports.
“No Future…” bleats Johnny Rotten in the premiere episode. The God Save the Queen lyric, which is about as old as Lasso himself, could easily sum up the prospects of any series aiming to put white guys back on the field as top-scorer (that pitch, like Richmond AFC’s, feels cursed). But the show, which premiered in summer 2020 at the tail end of Trump and in the fresh hell of the pandemic, intuits the primitive appeal inherent in restoring the idea that progress is possible. It also taps into still pervasive myths about what good (mostly white) men can achieve, mostly by showing up. There’s an air of Nice Dad’s here, everything is under control now, but for cortisol-soaked viewers, it’s no doubt a relief that Dad is in a good mood.
Ted’s raison d’etre in season one is to save AFC Richmond from ruin, a more monumental task than it appears. “Football is life” in the world of the series, which casts the team in the symbolic role of the greater culture, an entity that wins or fails on its ability to function as a group. Anger threatens that health. The club’s icy owner, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) wants “to burn [the team] to the ground” to spite her ex-husband, a rich-guy creep of the classic mold.
Her desire echoes another hashtag-inflected response to the current moments overwhelming corruptions. Burn it all down is a popular reaction on social media (the series is highly attuned to Twitter discourse, mentioning it often).
Arson isn’t Ted’s way, however. Pain isn’t fuel for destructive fires. It’s a wellspring for insights that only vulnerability brings. “We are broke,” he says. “We need to change.” Instead of hanging on to the past, to anger, Ted “lets it go” and digs in, building back patriarchy’s code word –masculinity — with healthier models of care and connection. He wants to help “young men be better versions of themselves.”
Season one has both the sensation of novelty and familiarity. Others have pointed to the similarities between Ted and The Simpson’s whistling punchline, Ned Flanders, who share meaningful DNA, compelling the audience to consider how we’ve made good guys the butt of the joke, even as we hold them liable for the culture that bullied them, too. Ted, the character began as a branding exercise for NBC Sports, which adds to the new-look man vibe.
Season two kicks up the familiar factor. Though the series turns its gaze from Ted and gives greater attention to the lives of its secondary characters, they are mostly Ted’s offspring: morally coherent, scrupulously self-aware, good as gold. The episodes are built on and around pop culture references, movie allusions and singalongs. This is shared history you’re meant to enjoy.
Team AFC Richmond isn’t angry anymore — no one’s talking about burning anything down — but it isn’t exactly thriving. For all the letting go talk, season two clings to an emotional attachment to the past. There’s even a suggestion that Ted’s chipper persona is a coping skill for … daddy issues.
If Ted Lasso’s Not All Men-inflected good-guy magic represents a stretch it is a reach skyward that a trauma-weary population finds cathartic, like a sun salutation after months spent in the fetal position. But feelgood or not, it can’t quite quell the lingering suspicion that it might be a tad premature for the nice guys to rally to defend the team and use their considerable status – their still resonant mythologies—to throw water on a righteous fire.