Ted Lasso and the Hope That Doesn’t Kill You

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I am one of the last people to binge watch “Ted Lasso,” so I’d already heard plenty before viewing it. If anything, it was having to sign on to one more app (Apple TV) that took me so long. They count on you forgetting that you’re paying $4.95 a month to so many places. Television is that complicated.

Jason Sudeikis surprised me. I am not young enough to have watched all of his work, so my impressions from SNL and a few movies cause me to mentally typecast him as a funnyman in slapstick comedies. I was disarmed in the very first show by its genuine humanity. In case you haven’t seen it, (being perhaps a person of a certain age whose grandchildren have to operate the television for you), Ted Lasso is a small college coach from the US who is hired to come to the UK and coach a soccer team. Apple TVs website puts it this way:

Winner of 7 Emmy® Awards, including Outstanding Comedy Series. Jason Sudeikis is an American football coach hired to manage a British soccer team. What he lacks in knowledge, he makes up for with optimism, determination…and biscuits.

The fact that he knows nothing about soccer is the point. The team is owned by a recently divorced woman (Hannah Waddingham as Rebecca Welton) who got the team as a settlement and sets out to destroy it because her philandering ex loved it above all of his possessions. Thus, the story begins. But it evolves, with the help of a superb cast and writing, into a winning tale of an archetypal hero, assisted by his ever loyal sidekick and assistant, (Brendan Hunt as Coach Beard), fighting impossible oddss, a wonderful cast of oddball personalities and nefarious motivations to keep his team, virtue and courage intact.

Clearly Sudeikis has struck a powerful longing in this funny, painful and gritty sports comedy. The language and sexuality will be daunting for Pharisees, Puritans and old school fundamentalists (Hipster fundamentalist preachers, of course, those who don’t wear socks while preaching and still spike their hair, what’s left of it, will recite it for safe illustrations).

Ted Lasso is a descendant of the moral and quirky humanity of shows as old as “The Andy Griffith Show” and the Peanuts characters of Charles Schultz. On the “Andy Griffith Show,” for example, did it ever occur to us what a damaged group of characters inhabit mythical Mayberry? There is not a single “normal” family on it. Andy is a widower raising a son with the help of a spinster aunt, there are dysfunctional bachelors (Barney, Gomer and Goober), and the only intact marriages are those of Otis the town drunk and the henpecked mayor.

 As a sports movie genre, it is heir of a long line of movies and shows about lovable losers and heroic overcoming amid world-weary souls like Roy and Pops in “The Natural” and Tom Berenger in Major League, up against the forces of darkness despite their own failings.

It’s a show with a clear good guy. The hero is against the odds. And, not unlike the long tradition of the fairy tales and mythology, the hero has fallen. He must find his way back. Ted’s family is separated, his marriage broken, and he is thrown into a foreign land where his affectionate nickname is a euphemism for masturbation. F bombs are everywhere, and everyone around him is compromised, cynical, injured, or emotionally damaged.

It will only be a matter of time before someone writes a book called The Gospel According to Ted Lasso or The Year of Living Like Roy Kent (“Oy!).. And by the time all the monetizing has been wrung out of it, it still is a show worth thinking about. These damaged, hurting, jaded characters, scattered around a perpetually hopeful displaced American Midwesterner, keep hoping despite themselves. Even the town can’t quite believe that Ted could be for real, and there is an episode called “The Hope that Kills You.”

Hope is indeed a powerful force, and dangerous when placed on objects or people that cannot bear it. Ted seems up to the task. He copes with his own unfolding humanity and pain even as he pulls those around him into the light and their better angels.

Sometimes in this life you have to fake it hopefully. That is, it’s hard to find hope without stretching past the present reality. I don’t see much of this in our current moment. We seem to be ruder, more distrustful of one another, certainly hopeless toward government, the Other Party, church, the law, rules, schools, and science. No one edits much anymore. Before a thought is considered, it’s a tweet, and then it’s off to the races. There’s quite a bit of “we’re not going to take it anymore,” and not much, “Come, let us reason together….”

Ted Lasso struck that longing in me for something other than this moment. I want to pull some of my anger back and shut it down, channel it into something more than crushing my opponent and taking their place. I want to believe that forgiveness really can work in place of perpetual revenge. I want to hope that as flawed as democracy is that somehow, we can make it (and us) live up to that deep intuition of the founders. There’s plenty of evidence to the contrary, of course.

That’s a lot for Ted to carry. It’s only a show. But unlike a lot of shows, I actually want to watch it again. Sometimes, it’s believing in something improbable that is necessary for us to survive one another.

A cross-originating religion like Christianity claims to be, it seems to me, is audacious enough to not cash in their hope for something less. And if writers and producers are paying attention, there is an audience longing for more inspiration that is not cheesy or dishonest to the human condition. I hope so.

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