Believe: Thoughts on Ted Lasso (season 1)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

Being late to a much-loved and eagerly-talked about streaming phenom is a double-edged sword.

Yes, you are all but guaranteed that committing to the show will be worth your time since so many people have waxed lyrical and at ardent length about it, and it’s impossible to think that you won’t love it just as much.

But therein lies the rub; you may not like it as much, buoyed by the word-of-mouth hype to such a deliriously expectant that the show simply fails to match your unfairly sky high expectations.

The goods news is that when it comes to Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso, a garrulous fish out of reserved water show with equal amounts heart and grit, all that anticipatory thrill is not going to be wasted.

Not one little bit.

For Ted Lasso is exactly as advertised – a buoyantly uplifting confection of hope and unconditional love and belonging that really does feel like a warm hug in dramatically-infused sitcom form and which is precisely what many of us need, battered and bruised to a considerable degree as we are by the seemingly endless privations of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What makes it even more appealing is that it fills this deliciously enveloping sense of community and healing with some brutally honest home truths about the hard slog of being alive, all while making the point, and it’s one we need to hear right now, that there’s nothing so terrible that can’t have its searing pain eased by having those you love and care about, and who love you back, around you.

That becomes most clear in the final episode of season 1, “The Hope That Kills You” where hoped-for eventualities simply don’t play out as wished and the UK football team at the heart of the story, AFC Richmond, have to grapple with the crushing weight of profound sadness and crushing disappointment.

Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis, who also co-developed the show), a sparklingly optimistic man whose exuberant approach to life and coaching the game of football (aka soccer which has never played before) initially befuddles and confounds his more careful and emotionally reined in English colleagues, doesn’t pretend that the fairytale finish they all expected hasn’t taken a dark and terrible turn.

Emblematic of a show that doesn’t pretend life can be tamed in all its awfulness by a sunnily upbeat perspective, while also preaching how much of a difference that can make even so, he nods in the direction of the terrible cloud of loss and grief in which they are no immersed despite their best efforts and says that while things are sad, that it is good that they are going through it together.

If that all sounds a bit too trite and “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” for anyone’s good, Ted Lasso is written so well, and with such a beguiling mix of absurdist, good-natured humour and stark emotional truthfulness that this pivotal moment near the end of big and eventful season actually ends up feel workably, life-changingly honest.

The real genius of Ted Lasso is that it balances an hilariously comedic look at the world with some genuinely, charming and heartfelt takes on life that feel earned because the show allows its characters to experience real pain and difficulties throughout.

The issues every single one of the main characters, all of whom are realised in gloriously affecting 3D form, are palpably real and achingly poignant and Ted Lasso does not once pretend that everything can be resolved with a sitcom-convenient twist of the plot.

That’s not to say that good things don’t happen and they don’t happen in magically wonderful, spirit-soaring ways, but when they take place, all those good and great things sit within the context of people who are down in the trenches of life and who are grappling with some very tough moments that will take more than a deftly placed scene to fix.

So, it is that we see Ted, who is over in the UK from his home in Kansas City with his taciturn coaching colleague and stalwart friend Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) who is the perfect grounded complement to Ted’s mostly endlessly upbeat take on life, AFC Richmond’s owner, newly-divorced and catastrophically angry Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) and gruff, ageing, swearing-prone team captain Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) all have to deal with some pretty serious personal issues.

There’s no sugar coating of their problems, just as there isn’t for other characters like Keeley Jones (Juno Temple) and player-on-the-rise Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), all of whom are presented as fully-rounded individuals who have good points and bad, strengths and vulnerabilities, and all of whom, to some extent or another (for most of them it’s an all the way in extent that warms your hope-starved heart), become part of the family that Lasso creates.

It is this idea of a found family that resonates right throughout all ten episodes of this superbly-crafted, damn near flawless first season.

Everyone is drawn into this circle of Ted’s, some quickly like Keeley and Nathan aka Nate Shelley, a kit assistant who knows a lot more about football that anyone acknowledges except Ted, and others more slowly like Rebecca, Roy and Director of Football Operations, Leslie Higgins (Jeremy Swift) and watching them slowly discover the richness of belonging to a group of people who have your back and know your world intimately and well, is a real joy.

It’s impossible not to love Ted (and everyone else in the show for that matter), but it’s simply because he is the original Bluebird of Happiness; it’s because he is a very real, vulnerable person with just as much weight on his shoulders as the next person, who chooses every day to see the best in people and expect the best from life.

He’s not some blinkered, dew-eyed optimist who never takes off his rose-coloured glasses; he knows life can be bleak, and desperately sad and awful beyond measure, but that it can be also be transcendentally wonderful and vigorously, powerfully alive, and he chooses to focus on that and to encourage those around him to do the same.

It’s the groundedness of his jaunty outlook on life and his optimistic exercise of the often spirit-sapping business of living that makes Ted Lasso feel so utterly, absorbingly, happily engrossing and uplifting – life can be terrible and drag you down with it, but with the right outlook and people you love around you, it also be pretty damn fantastic and it’s that mix of the grindingly real and the expectantly hopeful that makes you fall in love with it so much, that you find yourself coming alive in wholly unexpected ways.

You may even find yourself, and this is a miracle for those of us not into sports, cheering on a whole of football players and the support staff around them, to do great and wonderful things and to be giddily happy when they do.

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