Watching the Apple TV smash hit comedy “Ted Lasso,” I was reminded a bit of the Pixar movie “Inside Out.” As I enjoyed the all-too-brief 10-episode first season, I started to see each of the people in the orbit of this fictional English football club as individual representations of very recognizable human emotions.
There’s the surly, aging midfielder and former star Roy Kent in all his rageful glory. There’s preening, prideful young gun striker Jamie Tartt, who sings his own name to the tune of “Baby Shark” and yells “ME! ME!” as part of his goal celebrations (which he tellingly always celebrates alone, without teammates). There are two meek, self-effacing, unconfident characters in kit man Nate Shelly and comms director slash director of football operations Leslie (“It’s my mom’s name, I’m what’s called a ‘feminine junior'”) Higgins. There’s the wounded and guarded new owner of AFC Richmond, Rebecca Welton, whose animating drive through most of the episodes of this first season is revenge against her ex-husband. There’s the sexually enlightened WAG (short for “wives and girlfriends,” a sort of catch-all term for football players’ female companions) and aspiring model/influencer Keely Jones, whose cheeriness and lack of filter catches most people she interacts with off-guard. There’s ebullient Mexican striker Dani Rojas, who plays, works, rests, and even gets injured with full excitement and joy. There’s the silent, cerebral Coach Beard (first name hilariously unknown), who has never coached a day of soccer before stepping foot in London, but quickly absorbs every aspect of the beautiful game (and is also, fittingly, a chess master).
And at the center of it all, there’s Ted. Beautiful, imperfect, forgiving, lovely Ted. Jason Sudeikis’s Ted Lasso is at the beginning of an awards-season sweep of best comedic actor awards, and rightly so: By the end of the first episode, it’s apparent that this character is a towering figure in televised comedy. The unlikely new manager of a Premier League football club is a fully formed vehicle for the funny version of practically every human emotion. He’s the beating heart of one of the best first seasons of a TV comedy I’ve ever seen. He’s instantly recognizable as a memorable character in the same way as Michael Scott/Brent David from “The Office,” Lucy Ricardo from “I Love Lucy,” or, well, practically any member of the “Cheers” ensemble.
Indeed, I also thought about “Cheers” as I watched “Ted Lasso,” for a number of reasons. “Cheers” walked a fine line between showing progression and development in some of its characters and retaining the comedic archetypes that kept the engine of the show humming along all those years. Same in “Lasso,” where even as I saw characters growing and learning and connecting, nobody changed so much that the strongest joke lines broke down. The main difference, to my mind, between shows like “Cheers” or “The Office” and “Lasso” is while so much of the comedy in the first two shows comes from people “busting each other’s balls,” a higher-than-expected proportion of the comedy in “Lasso” comes from Ted’s nearly indefatigable positivity. Whether he’s spouting ridiculously folksy metaphors to inspire his players or telling antagonistic reporters how he loves their writing over way-too-spicy Indian food, the best moments in the show circle around people being lifted up, sometimes against their wishes.
Just to be clear, this isn’t the type of show that will keep you guessing about what happens next. Much of the story is fairly predictable BECAUSE these characters stick so well to their strongly defined archetypes, but it’s all executed so well that I didn’t mind one bit. I will say that the ending, which I won’t come anywhere near spoiling here, wasn’t entirely predictable, but sets the show up well for its second season. No matter what happens to anyone in the show, though, there’s always a silver lining, and that silver lining is usually supplied by the philosopher-king of the club, Ted himself (at one point he shouts out Socrates over tea, and it feels right).
I’ve always been more of a pessimist than an optimist. I’ve always been a natural worrier, in some way convinced that it’s my worrying that helps keep life outcomes on a more positive tilt (yes, I know that’s a sign of a mental illness). I’m tough on myself, sometimes to the point of paralysis (yes, I know that’s also a sign of mental illness). But when it comes to other people, I’ve usually been very forgiving, very uplifting, very complimentary. I appreciate the people around me and want the best for them. And in that way, I relate to Ted Lasso and appreciate his approach to life. Even as he deals with his own personal turmoil, he never loses sight of his love for others.
People like him don’t always win others over as easily in real life as he does in the show, but that’s part of the appeal of fiction, right? We can take joy in his victories and unlikely friendships and really root for him, because even when there are setbacks, in the world of Ted Lasso, nothing is ever too much to overcome, nothing bad is worth lingering on for long. It feels good to watch this show, and I’d recommend it to literally anyone who enjoys the general concept of laughter. The second season can’t come soon enough.