Ted Lasso is Wonderfully Terrible & Terribly Wonderful: A Cynic's Take

I really don't want to be the person to burst everyone's bubble, but Ted Lasso is bad. Not that the show itself is not well-written or acted– it is, in fact, impeccably produced– but it is simply so out of touch with reality as to be irresponsible. It is the most-unmoored-from-reality show on television and any streaming network, and that includes animated shows about the Marvel Cinematic Universe where T'Challa goes to space or where a septuagenarian mad scientist hops into a different dimension with his dim-witted grandson.

And perhaps worst of all, it purports to exist in our reality when it is very obviously in some sort of fantasyland. The worldview of the show, while refreshing and a balm in these troubled times is so opposite of what the world actually is right now. It's the equivalent of setting a show in 1916 Belgium and just pretending everything is fine in the surrounding world. The show itself even hints that Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) himself may, in fact, be incredibly disturbed and hiding his deep pain in his unfettered optimism and folksiness.

ted lasso
Image: Screencap

Are you upset? Am I slaughtering your sacred cow? Your comfort food television programming? The streaming equivalent of a weighted blanket and some melatonin gummies? First of all, I'm sorry. I don't want to take this show to task, but it needs to be taken down so many pegs after its 20 Emmy nominations and everyone constantly praising it on Twitter and Instagram. But this show made me angry over and over again because I saw Ted Lasso being kind and hood and optimistic and then getting rewarded while I observe all the good, decent people of the world actually getting shat upon by the powers that be. I hate to say it, but y'all need to be more cynical, and I'll prove it to you by the end of this article.

Ted Lasso's Worldview Is Wrong

First, we need to address Ted as a person. There is simply not another person, fictional or real, who is more out of sync with the zeitgeist than Ted Lasso. The optimism, the "we don't worry about the score or our record" attitude, the folksy optimism: it's very clear Ted hasn't been living through the last five or six years. I understand it's supposed to be escapist television and not everything should be about COVID or Boris Johnson or Donald Trump or the rise of creeping fascism worldwide amid growing economic inequality and climate change, but it just pretends none of them exist.

That is dangerous. We can all retreat into Ted Lasso's homemade shortbread cookies and it's ok for us to all do that sometimes, but we are the worse off for it. It is pure denial, which is what I'm sure Dr. Sharon (Sarah Niles) would diagnose Ted with.

Also, Ted would not be successful with his overall approach to coaching. Throughout season one, Ted is able to win people over, one by one, with his thoughtfulness, kindness, and optimism. Let's be brutally real here: those people do not prosper in our society. Those people get screwed over, repeatedly and frequently.

It's not that being kind or optimistic is bad. In fact, I see so much of myself in Ted Lasso that it disturbs me as someone who tries to be incredibly thoughtful and generous to others. But we don't live in a world where Ted Lasso prospers. We live in Game of Thrones where Ned Starks of the world end season one with their head on a pike, where deceit, ambition, and most of all the malevolent, self-serving use of power just because they can wins the day. Actually, that gives people in power far too much credit for being competent: we live in Veep where mendacity, incompetence, and mediocrity are rewarded. Kindness can go get fucked.

Am I wrong about this? In a world where people won't even get a vaccine or wear a mask because "mAh fReeDumS!" and so hundreds of thousands of people will die (and we'll probably have to delay the release of Dune and James Bond again) how is being a Ted Lasso winning these people over? We don't live in a society where kindness wins the day. We live in a society where a vocal, privileged, selfish minority of people are ruining it for everyone and they don't give a fuuuuuuuuck about Ted Lasso.

Bo Burnham, on the other hand, actually sums up better how the world works in a silly three-minute song featuring a Marxist sock puppet. That is the zeitgeist of 2020-2021. Ted Lasso is the Xanax and Zoloft cocktail you take to just get through the day.  I appreciate the efforts of the Ted Lassos out there. Hell, I am one of the Ted Lassos out there. But at the end of the day, that guy gets screwed over. And we shouldn't pretend otherwise, or that it is an operational worldview. You show kindness because the alternative is to be shitty and because there's already enough shittiness in the world, not because you believe that doing so is going to change people's minds or encourage them to be better, too.

Ted Lasso is Personified White Male Privilege

Let's also be super clear about something (and it's something the show has actually been decent at pointing out) is that Ted would not survive this world — losing record, the team being relegated — if he were anything but a white man. He is the epitome of failing upward: the more he loses, the more celebrated he gets.

The show wants us to forget wins and losses and focus on how people are faring and that's nice, but this is not how the world works. At some point, people expect results. This is even more true for women and people of color, especially when they are judged by different standards than their white male counterparts.

The show even addresses this in how Rebecca is treated differently among her exclusively male counterpart club owners (looking at you, Rob McElhenney and Ryan Reynolds). And Nate is very obviously treated differently than Lasso and Coach Beard. In this most recent episode, we even see the press picking apart new captain Isaac in a way they never would've criticized Roy.

And yet all it takes to win over even the most cynical journalist of them all, Trent Crimm of The Independent, is to eat some spicy Indian food? What sort of upper-middle-class white dude secret handshake is this?

And we also need to briefly address the fact that Ted Lasso airs on Apple TV+, perhaps the bougie-est and whitest streaming network out there. (Don't worry, Peacock, we haven't forgotten about you. You're in the running, but you're still in second place here. Waiting on those Taylor Sheridan Yellowstone spinoffs to see if you can claim the crown!)

For a show that really wants to be populist, it certainly isn't and is, in fact, more about the glorification of the rich. Apple TV+ as a service is also mostly watched by people who bought an iPhone or iPad and forgot to cancel the free subscription after three months. That is the quintessence of white privilege. Or they just really like Ted Lasso, Mythic Quest, and For All Mankind. Which is fine.

Ted Lasso is Winning Me Over

Ok, I admit it. Ted Lasso is winning me over. As much as our current bordering-on-apocalypse world is bad, I also enjoy watching the show. It is, in fact, a very good show. That doesn't change the fact that it is out of touch and horribly bougie, but so are most things about football clubs and the English Premier League. Ted Lasso is in major denial about the heartache he's going through, and using his optimism to mask a deep well of horrible depression. And while Ted is looking out for everyone else, no one is looking out for Ted.

But what finally won me over was when Sam taped up his jersey to cover Dubai Air, the club's sponsor, because of the actions of its sister corporation in destroying communities in Nigeria where they were drilling for oil. Finally– something that actually speaks to what's happening in the world today. And the team acts in solidarity with him in standing up to a major sponsor, whose owner happens to be a close personal friend or Rebecca the club owner.

And then? Nothing happens. There's no fallout. No one gets in trouble. Suddenly, Dubai Air is gone from ads in the stadium and on the club's jerseys. And no one cares. Going back to the main point of this jeremiad, this is not how the world works. Wish it did, because anything we can do to put our thumbs in the eye of fossil fuel industries who are polluting our planet, we absolutely should. It would be nice to explore the consequences of those idealistic actions, but Ted Lasso is just not that show. Instead, it spent the next two episodes going through the most ridiculous tropes of treacly Christmas specials and romantic comedies. Sigh.

On Cynicism

If you're still reading, thank you. You give me hope in humanity more than Ted Lasso ever could. And I want to admit something to you: this entire article is a ruse. It is constructed knowing how much people love Ted Lasso knowing that poking folks with a contrary opinion and slaughtering a sacred cow would make people mad.

If instead, I'd spent 1500 words talking about how great Reservations Dogs is, that article will get a tiny fraction of the attention of me tearing down a beloved show. Because the world is cynical. It's easy to get people's ire up. It's hard to be sincere and thoughtful– which is why at the end of the day I actually have huge respect for Ted Lasso.

And most people will not read this far– they will hate-tweet the article, leave a comment about how wrong this is, without actually engaging in its arguments. And this is the ultimate quod erat demonstrandum of my premise: Ted Lasso, for all its goodness, is simply not a representation of our world and our society. And this entire bloodletting has been an exercise in cynicism.

I wish it weren't so. And I'm not telling you in any way that you are a bad person for liking Ted Lasso, or gatekeeping. Like what you like. Ted Lasso is a good show and actually worthy of most of the praise that it gets.

Be a good person. Be more like Ted Lasso. I'll still be tuning in every week, but waiting for the other shoe to drop on poor Ted and when we actually figure out the depths of his psychosis.

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Andy WilsonAbout Andy Wilson

A mild mannered digital strategist working for an environmental nonprofit in Austin, TX roaming the interwebs fighting his nemeses by day, and by night consuming all manner of media. You can find him either on his couch or at the nearest Alamo Drafthouse catching the latest. Don't follow him on Twitter @CitizenAndy.
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