Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Giving Ted Lasso a Whirl

Yes, I know I’m a bit slow on the uptake, but I just finished watching the second season of the hit TV series, Ted Lasso. I suppose that if I really want to give the full picture of the Lasso saga, I should renew my subscription to Apple TV+ and go from there.

 But the truth is that maybe I’ve seen enough. The third and final season definitely had its detractors, and by now I’ve got a pretty good idea of the quirks and quibbles of AFC Richmond, the British premier league football club (that’s soccer to us Americans). The joke, of course, is that Ted Lasso, the lovable coach of an American football team somewhere in the Midwest, has been hired—despite having zero experience with the sport—to lead an English soccer team. This happens mostly because the team’s new owner, Rebecca Welton, is trying to get back at her philandering former spouse, who dotes on Richmond beyond all things.

 But wouldn’t you know it?  Ted (vividly portrayed by show creator Jason Sudeikis) is such a dang nice, dang optimistic fellow that he shakes off all the insults coming his way. Though he’s constantly being ridiculed by the locals as a “wanker” (the show is great on helping us enlarge our British slang vocabulary.), he boosts the players’ confidence in themselves and pumps up team spirit, to the point where even Rebecca is on his side.

 One of the show’s most likable qualities is its awareness of cultural differences. Not only do we see the clash of British and American viewpoints but the team is also a lively mix of nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. The Richmond roster includes players from all over Europe and Africa. Some of the most memorable include an enthusiastic young hombre from Mexico, a sweet-natured Nigerian who has a torrid secret romance with Rebecca in season 2, and a clever young Brit of Pakistani (I think) descent who is promoted by Lasso from kit man to assistant coach, but loses his shy affability along the way. And the English characters speak in such a range of local dialects that Henry Higgins would have a field day: while watching this series I discovered the absolute importance of turning on subtitles so that I didn’t lose half the dialogue.

 I must admit, though, that Ted Lasso  becomes less fun as it moves along. Since this is a cable show intended for on-demand viewing, episodes can be of varying lengths, and they seem to stretch longer and longer as the series progresses. And they also get more earnest, with every major character—including the amiable Ted—seeming to be hit by a big emotional challenge that must be explored. (In season two, a therapist becomes an important character . . . and Ted finally reveals the immense family trauma that scars his past.)  Then there’s someone’s hideously overbearing father, and several someones’ serious romantic woes. Frankly, it’s a relief when the story shifts to the endearingly normal—if slightly goofy—Director of Football Operations, one Leslie Higgins (Jeremy Swift), who is self-effacing without being neurotic.

 The comparison is not exact, but I’m reminded of the last years of the great M*A*S*H. That was the era when popular network TV series ran for years, and M*A*S*H (1972-1983) lasted much longer than the Korean War it portrayed. By the end, every character’s rough edges had been smoothed down, and every jerk had been redeemed. The cast of misfit doctors and nurses had evolved into one big happy family. And what’s the fun in that?



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