Decoding the philosophy behind Ted Lasso: Apple TV show reaffirms the good ol' virtue of 'doing the right thing'

Ted Lasso is a rare piece of work that constantly tells us how ‘goodness’ can help us overcome our life’s most daunting challenges, but it does not do so without mentioning how much work it takes.

Tatsam Mukherjee October 11, 2021 12:20:07 IST
Decoding the philosophy behind Ted Lasso: Apple TV show reaffirms the good ol' virtue of 'doing the right thing'

Still from Ted Lasso

*Spoilers ahead*

Each time Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) enters a room, he knows exactly what the world sees. A moustache that probably belongs to an earlier generation, a mid-western twang delivering obscure pop culture references faster than you can think, and an unusually upbeat outlook in a world that is increasingly cynical. Especially the cut-throat world of professional football in England, Lasso knows he is laughed at for sauntering in like Don Quixote.

The first few gags are also typically on the British vs American cultures, where Lasso dishes on tea (as against coffee), and the ritual of ‘cookies’ that he bakes for his boss Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), which she insists are 'biscuits.' It is all awfully trope-y in the start, especially how Lasso keeps getting called a ‘wanker’ by local football fans of AFC Richmond, who believe he is going to sink the club.

But as we find out, all this is also meticulously designed to loop us in, disarm us, only so that the makers can pull the rug from under our feet. And that is something the Ted Lasso showrunners seem to have become experts in. Take for instance, Nate’s (Nick Mohammed) arc at the end of Season 2, which sets up a monumental clash in the next season. Ted is a walking/talking motivational poster, and while Sudeikis aces the superficial mannerisms, he also nails the heart.

Ted Lasso is a rare piece of work that constantly tells us how ‘goodness’ can help us overcome our life’s most daunting challenges, but it does not do so without mentioning how much work it takes.

It flirts with being unapologetically naive about its belief in people’s virtues, while also taking a scalpel to the human condition. Using familiar tropes, the show makes us complacent into thinking that we know where it is headed, only to flip our expectations. It uses its apparently one-note, punchline characters (including its protagonist) as trojans to get to larger truths.

 And this trick becomes apparent in the seventh episode of Season 1, when we see Ted having a panic attack for the first time. Ted’s boss, Rebecca, whose bitter divorce kickstarts the show, extends a helping hand to Ted, who is also going through a divorce. Just to set the scene here, Rebecca actually hires Ted for his seeming 'incompetence,' so she can destroy something her ex-husband truly treasured: the football club. However, Ted’s unconventional methods not only win over Rebecca, but they share this moment of death-like sadness together. She puts her hand on his shoulder to say that the panic attack will pass, and also becomes a living, breathing proof that things do eventually become ‘okay’ on the other side.

Decoding the philosophy behind Ted Lasso Apple TV show reaffirms the good ol virtue of doing the right thing

Nick Mohammed, Sarah Niles, Jeremy Swift, Jason Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt in a still from Ted Lasso | Apple TV+

 To Ted Lasso’s credit, the protagonist is surrounded by a superlative cast. All of them seem to be a certain type: the reliable friend for all seasons (Coach Beard), the WAG-turned-PR executive for the club (Keeley), the bratty footballing superstar (Jamie), the foul-mouthed elderly statesman on the football pitch (Roy), the soft-spoken and accommodating Director of communications at the club (Leslie), and a super-smart team psychologist (Sharon Fieldstone or ‘Doc’). They all appear to be little more than one-note in their introduction to us but over time, all of their hearts thaw because of Ted’s beguiling outlook on life.

In Jamie’s case, there is a stunning scene inside the locker room where his father humiliates him, and it condenses all of Jamie’s childhood horrors and doubts. The scene ends on a sentimental note, when Roy charges towards Jamie, and gives him a nice, tight hug. It is a finish that is impossible not to fall for, given how at the exact moment George Harrison’s 'Beware of Darkness' delivers the killer punch. Most of these ancillary characters get their own space to shine in the leisurely-paced second season with 12 episodes, one of which sees Coach Beard having the most surreal evening on the streets of London and ending with him breaking into a few moves.

 However, let us focus on the character that arguably walked away with the second season: Nate Shelley (Nick Mohammed). He started off as what might appear as a meek, under-confident person-of-colour character, often playing a version of a fool in such shows. Nate is bullied by the players, and even told off by Ted in one scene. A show that is essentially about standing up for the ‘little guy,' the design around Nate’s gradual descent into the abyss is outstandingly crafted. Mohammed himself, took to Twitter, on the night of the finale, to share some thoughts on how the writers crafted the arc as a supervillain origin story.

Some of the details (like how the season begins and ends with Nate’s close-up is something to relish), but I want to talk about his confrontation with Ted. Seething with (to some extent, reasonable) betrayal, Nate spits out some hurtful things. In a show whose first season was criticised for having ‘no villains,' many probably hoped Nate would come around and hug Ted after the final match. Instead, we hear him tell Ted about how he does not ‘belong,' which is a striking thing for a POC character to say, someone who has probably heard these things his entire life. As Nate becomes the antagonist for the third season (he is now the manager of West Ham United, which was bought by Rebecca’s ex-husband), it is a fascinating choice by the writer’s room to see such a sunny show be exposed to such unhinged darkness. However warped, it is still about a ‘little guy’ standing up for himself.

 Ted Lasso has been showered with a lot of adjectives since it dropped in the midst of the first lockdown: ‘wholesome’, ‘feel-good’, 'schmaltzy’, ‘sincere.' Maybe it is also time to acknowledge what a wicked smart show it is. It knows exactly what it looks like; it knows exactly what you expect from a show looking like this. It flaunts its boomer moustache, and tells us about the good ol’ times when people believed in doing the right thing. It also embraces today’s discourse with a track around mental health (especially for sportspersons). It is truly satisfying to see the cracks in all these characters. That is how the light probably got into all of them. Except Nate.

Ted Lasso Season 2 is streaming on Apple TV+.

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