What came first, the sweetness of Ted Lasso or the context that made it a cultural touchstone? Well, the show did simply arrive in August last year and got some good reviews. Not everyone was smitten. I was wary of it: a show that originated in a promo campaign for a U.S. sports channel, featuring a fictional American football coach sent to work in English soccer, a game he knew nothing about.
Then, in a pandemic period that also included a particularly nasty U.S. presidential election campaign, Ted Lasso became a phenomenon. Turns out people craved kindness, optimism and generosity of spirt. The show was a safe harbour in a sea of worry, anger and spite.
The second season of Ted Lasso (streams AppleTV+ from Friday, episodes weekly) furthers the triumph. Although made under pandemic conditions in Britain, everything looks a little more polished. That tells you AppleTV+ had no idea it had an era-defining series on its hands last year.
Ted (Jason Sudeikis) is still pretty much a neophyte soccer coach, but succeeds through ingrained kindness and a deep empathy that sometimes manifests as outright goofiness. His team, AFC Richmond, was relegated last season and now, in a lower division, faces the challenge of returning to the top tier. As we meet Ted again, the team’s having an endless series of tied games, not wins.
Player Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernandez), whose mantra is “Football is life,” is in a crisis. Owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) has warmed to her role, to Ted and is now dating chaps. Grumpy warhorse Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein, who also writes on the show) has retired; his girlfriend, Keeley (Juno Temple), is happily doing PR for the team; and the selfish, bullying striker Jamie (Phil Dunster) has moved to another team.
So, where’s the engine driving the show? Clues about that appear when Ted hires a sports psychologist, Dr. Sharon (Sarah Niles), to help Dani. See, it looks like Dr. Sharon is the only one who sees Ted for what he is. Meanwhile Ted strides forward, acting as sympathetic best friend to Rebecca and Keeley, and doing strange sports-world things such as telling two feuding players to “get together and woman up.” For emphasis he concludes, “Y’all been manning up for a while, and look where that’s got you.” There’s a theme – Ted’s feminine side keeps emerging.
Part of the show’s cleverness is how it uses soccer as a metaphor for life. Dani’s “Football is life” assertions are not entirely played for laughs. In soccer, you get points for a tied game; you don’t always have to win. The failure that comes with a team being relegated isn’t a disaster, it’s a chance to learn from failure. And perhaps the most meaningful journey on Ted Lasso is that of Roy Kent, whose foul-mouthed fierceness gives way to a charming disposition that allows him to connect with kids and with women. The point being that soccer is not a macho-man’s game; it’s played by kids, women and people of all ages and backgrounds. It is essentially benign.
As is Ted himself, trying to save this soccer club but, also as a model to us all in malignant times, bringing a little tenderness and saving the sanity of millions of viewers. If anything can draw you away from the Olympics for a while, it’s Ted.
Also airing and streaming this weekend – Music Box’s Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage (streams HBO/Crave from Friday) is a serious and chilling look at the disastrous faux-Woodstock musical festival held in 1999. Staged on an old air force base miles from Woodstock, it featured such acts as Kid Rock, Korn, Limp Bizkit and Metallica (also several Canadian acts). It descended into chaos, three people died and there were dozens of sexual assaults. It ended with a riot and the burning of a nearby fairground. The doc looks at the event as a specific emanation of the late 1990s, filled with “the dark rage of young white males” as the director Garrett Price has said. A fascinating doc and terrifying, not nostalgic.
Finally, note that a new season of The Movies That Made Us arrives (streams Netflix from Friday). The popular series asks the casts and creators of key movies about their experiences and asks them to reveal unknown facts. The four movies in this batch of episodes are Jurassic Park (1993); Pretty Woman (1990); Back to the Future (1985); and Forrest Gump (1994).
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