Sunday, July 25, 2021

TV Watch: Ted Lasso (for the folks who haven't seen it, and maybe those who have)

The pandemic has caused some major shifts to my television viewing.  I was not a binge watcher, and basically didn't follow all that much television until I was locked in my house for the better part of two years.  

I've recently watched the 10 episodes of Ted Lasso's first season three times through.  Kind of... all in a row.  This is not a thing I do.  You're lucky if I don't bail on a show after three episodes.  Season 2 has debuted on Friday, July 23rd.  I'm making my recommendation, so take it or leave it.  Also, the show was just nominated for a boat-load of Emmy's, so.  Someone other than me thought this was done well.

I, myself, had heard about Ted Lasso coming to Apple TV+ here and there, and then saw people yelling "I love Ted Lasso!" on social media, but, let's be honest.  People go nuts for shows all the time that are... not good.  None of us are to be trusted when recommending shows, especially unsolicited.  Hell, in the geek-o-sphere, I think we double-down on terrible shows, but that's a post for another day.  

Not everyone has Apple TV+, and as I'm not an Apple-device guy, and I have way too many streaming services now (plus cable), and thus I wasn't looking for a new service to add to the line-up, no matter how much I liked a show.

Well, Dug and K were here for a week in June and we used their account to watch some of Central Park (recommended), and then Jamie and I checked out Ted Lasso.  Which, you know, when things are rec'd at me, I tend to resist, but whatever.  But because I generally believe in paying for services rendered, and because AppleTV+ turned out to be about the price of a Starbucks large coffee, I went ahead and pulled the trigger.

The set up:  American NCAA football coach Ted Lasso goes to England to coach "football" aka: "American soccer".

My impression of the show was:  1980's-style mix-up, giving star Jason Sudeikis a platform to do a fish-out-of-water hillbilly schtick in England while proper British people stand around, appalled.

I also guess you're concerned about a show that's about sports, especially soccer.  

While the show is absolutely about soccer, keep in mind:  the main character doesn't know anything about soccer either.  Also, the show is absolutely not about soccer.

And while it is about a pair of Americans navigating England and having more than a few lessons in language, taste, etc...  It's not about fish out of water, either.  Or Americans showing these stuffy Brits how to party.  

Instead, the conflict is what happens when an unstoppable force of positivity runs up against the immovable object of this cynical old world in which we live.  But it's also not Pollyanna-ish, not a broad NBC comedy where characters learn the same lessons week in and out.  This is a show by and for adults (not that kids couldn't watch it minus some language, but) and the slow change and growth people have as they're lives are turned upside down.  And it's fucking funny.

And, yes, if you have reasonable questions about the set-up, if this show is "grounded", they're addressed, in story and in character.  

What should be a one note premise, instead, unfolds in two of the more notable character arcs I've seen for a character outside of Mad Men as both Ted himself and Rebecca - the team owner (played by the phenomenal Hannah Waddingham) deal with the circumstances that got everyone to this point.  

Other characters include a star player who's still playing past his prime, and looking at the obnoxious jackass who is now the darling of the fanbase.  The jack-ass's girlfriend, a sort of D-level celebrity who's famous for being famous but has some unplumbed depths.  And both the team support man, Nate the Great, and Ted's pal, confidant and assistant Coach, Coach Beard.  And, the long-suffering yes-man inherited when the new owner took over the team.

Ted, himself, is prone to sounding like a southerner spitting out folksy sayings, but Sudeikis smartly found a path with the character to make him both multidimensional and terribly human.   While I love Chris Traeger's optimism on Parks and Rec, no one on that show is ever intended to be a real person.  Weirdly, Ted Lasso is unnerving to the folks around him because he is a person among something like real people, and he *means* what he says.  And, Hannah Waddingham and excellent writing take what could have been a one note harridan of a boss, scheming and shaking her fists at Ted Lasso in Loony Tunes fashion, and, instead, make Rebecca a deeply sympathetic character as the show progresses.*

The redeeming features of Ted Lasso are many.  It's got a sports theme that gives it inherent drama, but drama that's not life-or-death.  It continues on serially rather than episodically - giving it a chance for characters to not just learn a lesson of the week, but to witness gradual changes and continuity.  It's absolutely hysterical, working like a workplace comedy in that these people otherwise have no real reason to know each other and may not like each other.  The cast and writers are talented as hell.  

A lot has been written about how the show was a needed balm in our less-than-ideal times.  I don't disagree.  But I think the show would shine in any year, whether we were all sitting around being told not to go out again or not.   We're just particularly aware of how much a show like this, that offers an alternative to our usual programming, was a very lucky thing to show up at this time.  If nothing else, many of us were simply ready for something that was going to insist on celebrating the light even as it acknowledges the dark.

So, you know, I did my best not to spoil it.  It's out there.  You're welcome to it.  

*Waddingham has been working in England for years, but you're going to wonder a bit about how she hasn't been a known star in the states prior to this show.   I finally placed her as a vaguely familiar face from her stint as Jax-Ur from the Sci-Fi Channel's KryptonGame of Thrones fans will know her as the Shame Nun.   But, yeah, she's got the goods.

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