May 2, 2021


The Strange Bipartisan Appeal of Ted Lasso (JOANNA WEISS, 05/02/2021, Politico)

It's ironic that so many people have hung the American self-image on a show with its roots in a mildly condescending joke about ugly Americans. The Ted Lasso character originated in a pair of cheeky NBC Sports promotional videos from 2013 and 2014, when the network had bought broadcast rights to Premiere League games. The Ted in those old spots is cocky and clueless, parading around the soccer pitch in short shorts and aviator glasses. The joke is that he tries to impose an American way of doing things on the Brits, without a hint of self-awareness: When his players start calling him "wanker," he assumes it's a sign of respect.

The Apple TV+ series came six years later, a passion project of Sudeikis, who partnered with Bill Lawrence, the creator of the upbeat sitcoms "Scrubs" and "Cougartown." And while some dialogue from the original NBC promotional spots is lifted almost word-for-word--jokes about how Ted doesn't realize British football can end in a tie, and can't grasp the concept of "offsides"--the mood and meaning are completely different. The character has taken a subtle but important shift: Now his naïve optimism represents, not self-centeredness, but openheartedness. This version of Ted fully acknowledges that he knows nothing about the game the rest of the world calls football. He understands what it means to be called a wanker, but he accepts the jab as part of a coach's job. And there's a poignancy to his situation: He has accepted the job because he promised his unhappy wife that he would give her space--a whole ocean apart, if it helps.

The characters around Ted, meanwhile, start off as cynical and combative as anyone on social media these days: an aging football star, bitter that his best days are behind him; an arrogant franchise player who won't share glory with his teammates; a billionaire team owner who is consumed with fury at her philandering ex-husband. (The show's conceit is that, unbeknownst to Ted, she has hired him to run the team into the ground.) Ted knows how hard it will be to get through to them. But he tries anyway, with relentless positivity and an American can-do attitude that some viewers have taken as a statement of purpose. In a Slate review headlined "Ted Lasso Makes America Good Again," Willa Paskin wrote that "the show vends a soothing vision of a red state-coded American as a kindly, gentle internationalist, as well as a world in which American soft power still works and does good."

Posted by at May 2, 2021 12:00 AM