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Dear Middle-Aged White Men,
If you’re in the market for a New Year’s resolution, I have a suggestion: more Ted Lasso. I don’t mean the Apple TV+ series, though of course we all want more of that. (Happily, season two is coming.) I mean, more Ted Lasso of the soul.
We’re in a long-overdue time of reckoning, and I know you wouldn’t have it any other way. I also know, however, that some of you are feeling bruised, blamed for wrongs you personally have not and would not commit. But this past fall, an unlikely soccer coach with a really unlikely mustache began showing you – showing us all – a way forward.
Television, novels, films: They’re art, and so they’re artifice. But they’re also instruction manuals. They show us choices and their consequences. Our recent generation of television gave us a bumper crop of anti-heroes: a mob boss who ignored his conscience and betrayed people he loved. A meth-cooking science teacher whose desperation morphed into greed. And yes, a (fictionally) successful businessman who made others do his bidding and then publicly, dismissively fired them. They showed us the danger in feeling less-than, the mayhem that occurs when pent-up resentments overtake responsibilities. It was entertaining, until a real-life bully in the White House began causing real harm to real people.
But then, in the nick of time, a modern hero arrived: Lasso (Jason Sudeikis, in the role of his life), an upbeat, generous believer in goodness. A true team player, a baker of shortbread, a ringer at darts. An exemplar of non-toxic masculinity.
For those of you who haven’t seen Ted Lasso: It began as a series of NBC Sports promos, which used the Lasso character to introduce new fans to soccer. Then Sudeikis and showrunners Bill Lawrence, Joe Kelly and Brendan Hunt fleshed out the concept to a 10-episode sitcom. Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), new owner of London’s struggling Premier League soccer team AFC Richmond, hires Lasso, a corn-fed Kansas City American football coach – hoping, secretly, that he’ll drive the club into the ground, which would cause her ex-husband, who loves the team, to suffer. Instead, Lasso infects everyone with his unflinching optimism. Miraculously, the series’ low-key amiability and shaggy humour keeps nudging any potential hokeyness aside.
Some series benefit from being released weekly – from making people wait, allowing buzz to build – and Ted Lasso is one of them. (The Undoing was another, although that one got worse as it went along.) Ted Lasso got better and better. Or maybe we, like the players, owners and fans of AFC Richmond, just took a few weeks to understand what was happening here. Lasso’s good-naturedness chipped away at our resistance until finally we gave in, and just let it make us happy. Watching an episode was like rolling around on the floor with a good dog.
We needed those weeks between episodes to process, to blink in surprise at, what we were seeing. Here was a man who believed in building people up, in bringing outsiders in. Lasso is a character Jimmy Stewart or William Holden would have played. He wants his star scorer, Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) to learn to pass, because he believes each of us is better when we’re all better. He gives Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), his team’s angry, aging captain, a copy of Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Wrinkle in Time, to show him that leaders don’t berate. He looks at Nate (Nick Mohammed), the team’s shy, silent kit man, and at Higgins (Jeremy Swift), Rebecca’s browbeaten assistant, and instead of asking, “How are you useful to me?” he asks, “What else are you?” He values marriage and fatherhood, but he also trades his happiness for his wife’s.
Lasso is a man in that kind of deep echoing biological sense, a protector who isn’t cruel, a leader who shares power. If he’s bigger than you, that makes him more careful. After he sees a player’s father berating him, he writes the player an encouraging note. When he learns someone betrayed him, he forgives them on the spot. His tag line is, “I appreciate you,” and he means it. He’s the living, breathing embodiment of that moment when Joe Biden, at a campaign function, bent down to talk to teenager Brayden Harrington about his stuttering – unplanned, unhesitating, unselfconscious kindness.
U.S. television series and films are built around the idea of redemption, but interestingly, Lasso doesn’t need it – he offers it. It’s not a retro, Father-Knows-Best smugness; it’s a messy, goofy, contemporary version of maleness. He single-handedly sort of rehabilitates the image of the 45-year-old white man, and I say sort of because I feel like that’s as far as he would want me to go.
My dear gentlemen, you might not think you want or need a role model. You might think I’m out of line, that your resolutions are none of my concern. You might want to write me an angry e-mail and call me a wanker, which is what whole stadia of unconvinced Richmond supporters chant at Lasso. But that’s okay. You don’t have to agree with me. I’m just putting it out there. Take your time, have a look on your own terms. Ted Lasso is here for you whenever.