What Lies Beneath Ted Lasso
Elizabeth Nelson wrote the best, most accurate take on Ted Lasso (the character) that I have ever read:
Unceasing optimism defines Ted Lasso. But roller-coaster mood storms, manic reveries, and seemingly deliberate head games also define Ted Lasso, the players’ coach, and make him one of the best and most-layered characters of the peak TV era. He’s a man who presents himself as two-dimensional, but who might actually be playing three-dimensional chess. We delight in his antics, marinate in his charm offensive, and celebrate his offbeat approach to winning the whole fucking thing. But at all times, there’s a slight worry, one that crops up in the back of our minds, about what he might be willing to do to make it happen.
People love the show’s positivity, but it also has a dark side that actually makes it good. There’s something just a little off about Ted Lasso, and that’s what makes him interesting.
While Ted wins over a bunch of potential enemies in England, his wife back in Iowa can’t stand his relentless positivity. Maybe you couldn’t either, if you were married to him.
Ted excels at darts because he spent every Sunday in a sports bar with his dad between the ages of ten and sixteen, when his father passed away. I don’t think it is normal to bring your underage son to a bar every single week. That isn’t exactly a normal childhood. Furthermore, losing a father at sixteen may have caused some emotional trauma that Ted buries deep, causing him to overcompensate with cheery paternalism in almost every interaction.
Most importantly, Ted fails. He failed at his marriage, he is trying and largely failing to be a good father, and he failed to produce a winning record for his team, or even keep them in the Premier League. As appealing as Ted is to the TV audience, what he is doing is not working—or not working yet—in the world of his story.
What made Season 1 great was the surprising complexity of what appeared to be a dumb, one-joke sitcom based on a commercial that hardly anybody remembered. Season 2 starts to air tomorrow. I hope the writers didn’t forget about the dark undercurrents that made their show about a nice guy work so well.