On the Unique Joys and Upcoming Trials & Tribulations of Saint Ted Lasso

Like the buoyancy of its titular character, the exact vibe of Ted Lasso is hard to pin down.

 

 
 

It’s a family comedy with sex and swears, a deceptively simple drama about people trying real hard, dotted with very American jokes and thoroughly English sensibilities.

It’s the weird characters and team-microcosm-within-a-specific-organisation-within-a-specific-town of Parks and Rec, with the optimism and character growth/arcs of The Good Place, with a Schitt’s Creek tone, the earnestness of Friday Night Lights, the prattfalls and callbacks of early How I Met Your Mother, the multi-background character makeup and love-hate quickpatter of Brooklyn 99, a screwball comedy which addressed real traumas of My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the absurdity of Better Off Ted, (with whom it shares a few cast and crew), and the pop culture breadth and surprisingly wrenching interpersonal tangles of Gilmore Girls.

 
 

2. Keep the Pace, Keep the Faith

I hate the “this TV miniseries is really a long movie!” commentary. It’s often a weird way to try and ‘bolster’ the standing of a TV show, as though one is better than the other. Beside that, not only are the basic formats different, so is the structure. Episodic structure *means* something, even if (as is hardly always the case) the writer and director is the same for every episode.

Caveat given . . . Ted Lasso does almost play out as a long movie broken into chapters, particularly in its pacing, setup, and character arcs. This isn’t a Netflix “eh, we have unlimited space, may as well have a 60 minute episode with less time and money spent in the edit suite than a 42 minute tight little hummer” sort of show, but a show which wants to give us a thorough picture into who these characters are before it concentrates on what they’re doing. Personalities are flagged immediately with things like books, wardrobe, and opening lines. Relationships are quickly established with similar signposts and interactions: Rebecca trods on Higgins, who grimaces and bears it; Ted and Coach Beard swap knowledge and make silly bets; Keeley and Jamie interact on a fun but purely superficial level, all waxing and topless photos and image management.

But the pilot doesn’t just show three snippets and zoom into plot; even most 22-episode hour-longs get main series engine pieces turning over faster. The producer’s EXPOSIT ALL MAIN POINTS IN THE FIRST 10 MINUTES! note is nowhere to be found. Instead we see Ted and Beard trundling through the airport, sightseeing with their driver, setting up their office, wedging themselves into a teeny English-sized car, running practice and gushing over the sports drink mix ratio with Nathan. We see Rebecca redecorating her office, dealing with legalities, controlling a room full of journos, bringing up to Higgins how he facilitated her husband’s cheating and using it as leverage. It gives us Keeley and Ted discussing waxing and beatboxing, hanging a sign correctly crooked, having a meaningful exchange over nude photos. All before it tips off the main conflict by telling us what’s really up with Rebecca offering Ted the job, and what drove him to accept.

It’s not slow in a Prestige Drama sort of way, but it requires a bit of faith in the audience that they’ll hang in and long enough to find out ‘why the heck has this guy been hired?’ It also trusts you won’t bail when they set up an eye-rollingly obvious and atrocious love triangle, then averts it, which is an even more impressive trick.

Most comedy pilots, especially short-run series, would cut to Rebecca saying “Now I want him to run this club into the ground!” after the SportsCenter news update gives the rundown on Ted’s history, or maybe after the press conference. Instead the pilot takes its time bringing Ted to the locker room and doing all those things above first. To be fair, they’ve got an extra 8 minutes, and they use it all perfectly.

As for the triangle, they use language most sitcoms use to clearly set things one direction, which is a pretty standard, yet awful, direction . . . before making several very different, all superior, choices. But in the interim, they don’t signal you to stay, they trust you will. Much like Ted himself.

Ted Lasso evolves quickly, along with its characters. The opening episode feels very sports-bro-y, and one expects the only two female leads would keep in their own spheres and serve specific story functions. But not only do both Rebecca and Keeley develop to much more than their introductions would intimate, they get put together more and more often, first joking, then passing the Bechdel test, then creating lovely small scenes, and finally bringing to a head the most perfect sort of soap-operatic-high-stakes-interpersonal-conflict the show has.

3. Bring In New Players

As mentioned above, the season’s character arcs are more movie-like in how quickly people learn lessons about themselves, sex, vulnerability, etc. Like its character, Ted was likely to get only a single season to achieve the impossible, so it gave us no massive cliffhanger end, didn’t ‘save’ or drag out character development. Shoot your shot, act as though every day and episode may be your last, Ted Lasso.

But this means they’ll need a couple new characters for S2. They can’t bring Rebecca back to full villain or Keeley to full Manic Sexpot Dream Girlfriend. They’ll want a villain we can somewhat love/identify with/barrack for (as opposed to the delicious buffoon villains such as Rupert they can bring back in in small doses), and a more outrageous simple distraction such as Jamie Tart And His WAG, now that Jamie has developed a little further and Keeley is such a delightful, guiding-light character.

Which should be fine; in such an ensemble cast a new face or two is easier to integrate. Still, it’s always a risk to chemistry, especially if that person is going to have a bigger role, which I argue they’ll need to, likely as a main antagonist.

That Ted will be single means a love interest is likely, whether she’s the villain or not. They could bring back more minor characters (the street soccer girl, the pub mistress, the paparazzi) in bigger roles; they’ve shown great ability to use characters sparingly and grow them organically. But I reckon we get at least two new characters, one being a player, one other; maybe a truly villainous journo!

We need someone else for Ted to butt heads and ideologies with, who will try to utterly destroy him. Job’s wife and friends are sounding boards and commiserators, but without a true shit-stirring villain, there’s no story there. As mentioned somewhat in the show comparisons and again in the structural discussion, Ted Lasso operates with a more compact plot and specific seasonal endgame than many 22-episode sitcoms, it has one big self-contained story along which character journeys happen, so it needs that story driver.

 
 
 

A Balanced Attack and Defense

Ted stubs its toe on the turf occasionally, mostly by omission. For example, if there had been a little more around Jaime and Ted connecting before Jaime was returned to his team, the anger and betrayal (and Ted’ army man olive branch) would have had all the more impact; it seemed almost to be that they were trying to avoid specifics around transfer windows and so glossed over emotions around it, as well as plot. Ted As Father Figure was well set up in eps 2 and 3, but there was a bit of a lull there around the ejection until brought it around in the finale, which relied a bit heavily on our liking both Ted and Jamie separately, and having seen them growing as people along their own tracks, but not having done that work around the ejection weakened the impact a little. Still, that’s a tiny quibble in what is essentially a perfect season, a major triumph.

*salutes* Major Triumph

As it was coming in for a landing, several balls were in the air, and yet every road it took was the exact right one in hindsight. Sorry for mixing my metaphors, but if you’ve seen the season, I think you must agree.

For example, I thought for a moment when Jamie was running towards goal he was going to sky the goal, and there would be that tiny moment like in the final scene of Succession, where we would be unsure if he did it intentionally or not . . . and it would have absolutely worked! But the way they took it was still better and more true to the characters and season overall.

Stray Observations

– Thanks to Chas Fisher for the comments about why Jamie’s betrayal and following was slightly underserved, and Dale Mundt for watching along and giving comps on tone.

– In every scene, the tiny notes are done so well. Coach Beard is always perfectly reacting to back up Ted’s comments or jokes to others. When Nathan is given his surprise promotion, of course Rojas is out the door first, ever the enthusiast. Etc.

– A hella accomplished theatre performer, Hannah Waddingham also sings her own karaoke. More of her in comedies, please and thank you.

– As I noted on Twitter, the pop culture cuts are deep. 

The Sun to F. Scott Fitzgerald
Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Orson Scott Card
Jack Kerouac to Madeline L’Engle
Friday Night Lights to Footballers’ Wives
West Side Story to Oklahoma [deep cuts, too!]
Axe Body Spray to The Autobiography of Malcolm X
Spice Girls to Frozen

What’s your favourite? Mine, and possibly the best line written in all of television in 2020, is absolutely:

“Last time I saw eyes that cold they were going eye-to-eye with Roy Schneider.”
“Jaws?”
“Nah. All That Jazz.”

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