The Evolution of Ted Lasso and the Limits of Positivity
By Ryan O’Toole
Photo: New York Times — Source
Ted Lasso is the most pleasant sitcom of the last decade, if not of all time. And the 7 Emmys it won for its first season prove that the world needed Ted Lasso’s brand of positivity and humor.
Ted Lasso just wrapped up its second, and far more emotional season that the writers are calling the Empire Strikes Back entry in the series. And it's easy to see why. Season two introduces more emotional elements and transforms the outward conflict — turning around a losing team — of its first season into more internal struggles — interrogating personal trauma and the relationships between the characters.
Ted Lasso started out as an NBC commercial advertising their coverage of the Premier League. The basic premise of those initial TV spots is the same as the show and features Jason Sudeikis as a college football coach who is then hired to coach an English Premier team, with the obvious joke being that they are two different “footballs.” The early TV spots highlighted the cultural differences between each sport but also the countries, riffing on the lack of helmets, the confusing offside rule, the sovereignty of Wales, and the nickname wanker.
Photo: Deadline — Source
Ted Lasso’s goofy personality is there from the start, full of naivete and American optimism. A lot of this cultural commentary is at the core of the first season as well, but the show becomes great when it introduces its characters. The show takes the basic premise of Major League and transposes it to the Premier League. Rebecca Welton, played by Hannah Waddingham, is the new owner of AFC Richmond, and to spite her ex-husband, she wants to run the team into the ground. To self sabotage her team, she hires Ted Lasso, someone who knows nothing about football.
When he first arrives, he finds a disconnected team who immediately clashes with his folksy, midwestern positivity. The team features sports movie archetypes, the narcissistic young star, the gruff veteran, and the overwhelmed rookie. Even the staff around Ted Lasso are familiar personalities found in workplace sitcoms, his mysterious and unknowable assistant coach, the aforementioned cold owner, and the mousy assistant. It’s not doing anything truly groundbreaking with its plot and characters at first. The pilot is operating entirely in an area of comfortability and familiarity, but Ted Lasso’s true magic comes when his kindness starts melting away at these characters’ harsh exteriors and revealing their inner kindness as well. He is able to break through with his team and create some great moments of television.
The show starts with Ted Lasso as a loveable goofball with a heart of gold, but it later reveals that hidden inside everyone is a heart of gold. Ted Lasso is the anti-It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, replacing the cynicism of the characters’ narcissism with kindness and optimism. It allows every character to have great moments and their own arcs. It is a truly great assemblage of loveable characters. Jason Sudeikis is unsurprisingly great, nailing his unbridled joy and witty turns of phrase, but Ted Lasso’s magic is in its ensemble, featuring Emmy winning turns from Hannah Waddingham and Brett Goldstein, and great performances from the rest of the cast.
Photo: The Emmys — Source
Ted Lasso is a warm hug of a show that seemed unassuming at first, but was able to capture lightning in a bottle for its first season. It is a short, ten episode season that is a cohesive, tightly crafted arc. Through sheer optimism and kindness, Ted Lasso brings everyone together and solves their problems. But then what is there left to solve in season 2?
And this is where the Empire Strikes Back comparison really comes into focus. The problems that were solved in the first season resurface or the solutions have become problems themselves. The second season transitioned into a celebration of Ted’s positivity into an exploration into how far American optimism can really go. On its own, it isn’t enough to solve everything. Even for Ted, it became clear his sunny disposition is less indicative of his problem-free life, but rather a defense mechanism for not dealing with his own issues.
The second season also introduced Dr. Sharon, a sports psychiatrist who acts as the yin to Ted’s yang. She is more equipped to handle deeper emotional problems and starts to help the team out in her own way. Sharon and Ted butt heads initially, unable to engage with one another, both unable to be vulnerable in front of the other. Eventually, each is able to soften the other, through Sarah’s intellect and Ted’s positivity, showing the interconnectedness of their two personalities and strategies and how one alone isn’t always enough.
Photo: New York Times — Source
The other major change in Ted Lasso season 2 is the depiction of the dark side of the positive traits in the first season. Ted’s cheery attitude is revealed to be more of a coping mechanism than anything, but the biggest arc belongs to Nate. A sheepish kit manager turned assistant coach in the first season. Ted’s mission was to give Nate more confidence and assert himself. A major arc across the first season and start of the second season, we saw Nate grow out of his shell and become more self-assured. However, this newfound confidence festered and mutated into a egotistical personality. He constantly scrolled through social media, craving the attention and credit he believed he deserved. The unconditional support and showering of love Ted showed him in the first season was impossible to replicate, especially as he was finally dealing with his own trauma, unintentionally causing Nate’s downward spiral.
Season 2 of Ted Lasso is dealing with a lot more serious issues than the first season, fleshing out its characters and their relationships. It’s an unprecedented turn for a sitcom to shift its perspective on its main character and openly question everything about its first season. But I guess it makes sense. Ted Lasso, both the show and the character, has always been evolving and adapting, starting as a NBC commercial and ending on a deep exploration into the limits of positivity. And I have no idea what to expect for season 3, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Ted Lasso completely reinvents itself again.