Review: Ted Lasso
Key plotlines will be discussed here, so SPOILER ALERT
Some may remember the Ted Lasso skits intended to advertise NBC’s coverage of the English Premier League around 2013. I don’t – that was before my time. My introduction was through the new show’s ads on YouTube.
A minor gripe
I have to say they made me cringe – “The first rule of Fight Club” is well past its use by date for one, and the idea of an American coach with no previous exposure to football coaching an EPL team was ridiculous (and honestly still is).
I feel like this is a common story for most people who have watched Ted Lasso – my expectations were very, very low going in. Honestly, this probably warrants some minor criticism. Yes, a foreign coach is novel and is definitely a focal point of the story. However, this made the show seem one-dimensional on first impressions, which it is most definitely not! I understand that it’s tough to reveal too much without giving away key storylines. It’s also tough to try and fit different aspects of the story into a 2-3 minute marketing campaign. I think it would have at least been worth a try to add something more than ‘foreign coach’ and the ‘clueless Yank’ trope into the initial marketing.
More than a coach
Thankfully, the show does go beyond all the novelty of a foreign coach, and becomes a very gripping narrative to follow. The strength of the show lies in its characters; Ted principally, but with valuable growth from the others as the show progresses.
Very early in the piece, we realise that Ted is far from the folksy Midwestern dullard he’s sometimes made out to be – he’s erudite, personable and mind-numbingly positive.
Bill Lawrence, Jason Sudeikis and the cast are quick to demonstrate how this departs from the traditional approach of a coach in the cutthroat English Premier League. Ted’s interactions with Ollie (his driver from the airport) and Nathan (AFC Richmond’s kit man) illustrate that he doesn’t see people as mere extras in his story, but rather as individuals with value and the ability to contribute. (I touched on this notion of living a narrative just the other day; see here if you haven’t read the post yet).
It’s this approach of getting to know the person beneath the visage that allows Ted to unlock the potential of those around him, both on the field and interpersonally. Most notably, we see the fruits of this approach in the character transformations of captain Roy Kent, team owner Rebecca Welton, and kit man-cum-assistant coach Nathan Shelley.
Characters to root for
A key strength of the show is the very authentic cast of main characters (I touched on this briefly earlier). There aren’t any strengths or flaws blown out to ridiculous proportions. It’s this that allows us to believe there’s no character too difficult for Ted’s approach to reach. And as such, viewers hope for a character transformation in even the toughest nuts to crack.
Optimism with a dose of realism
In addition to the authenticity of the characters, there’s no commitment to a fairytale on the part of the writers. Ted’s marriage still breaks down, he’s unable to repair his relationship with star loanee Jamie Tartt, and the team is still relegated at season’s end.
I think this helps place Ted’s character in context. Yes, he’s optimistic. Yes, he cares about the person, rather than focusing solely on the results. But does Ted ignore reality with his approach? Initially, it seems so. But with time, input from others and mounting pressure around his job temper his optimism to a less extreme point. The message is clear – we shouldn’t use optimism to dodge reality, but rather to navigate reality.
As with my previous review of Knives Out, I’d like to address a couple of things that could be considered flaws with Ted Lasso.
The first thing is the genre of the show. I think that while Ted Lasso is officially classified as a comedy, it probably doesn’t fit into that category as cleanly as other shows might. The attention to detail in character development and examination of relationships perhaps causes the show to lean more towards the drama side of things.
I think the ambiguity in genre seems to seep through to the way the show is written. Supporting characters like Leslie Higgins, Dani Rojas, and the majority of the AFC Richmond fanbase are almost cartoonish in the way they are written, particularly early on in the series. It’s not a huge issue, but I feel like it detracts a little from the quality of the show. The strength of the show is in its characters and their relationships – it would be better to focus on this first and the jokes second. I think the humour will come more naturally in this way.
There is one main issue I have with the plot (and it’s fairly central) – Rebecca’s motive for hiring Ted. She mentions that she wants to destroy the club because it’s the only thing her (cheating) ex-husband cared about. My question: why? Surely starting to win with a mid-table side would be harder for him to take? Considering his 33 fruitless years running the club?
However, it’s possible this only seems like a plot issue because of the genre issue I mentioned earlier (i.e. that the show comes off as more of a humorous drama than an out-and-out comedy).
Other reviewers have noticed the timeliness of a message like Ted’s; I’ll comment on it too. With the world we live in today, a show to lift the spirits is just what the doctor ordered.
Furthermore, the show demonstrates that it’s definitely possible to create something that’s both entertaining and positive – a rarity in modern television and film. Hopefully the success of Ted Lasso inspires future writers to pursue the same.
All in all, I think Ted Lasso is a brilliant show – well worth the watch!