I have, for some time been thinking about writing a blog about the series, Ted Lasso.
Ted Lasso is about football, but it’s not.
Ted Lasso is about revenge, but it’s not.
Ted Lasso is about competition, but not just that.
I’m sure many of you have watched the three-season drama commissioned and streamed by Apple TV+ in the past two years but there will be those of you who haven’t – I don’t intend to give away any of the ‘spoilers’ people get so upset about, but I might do. If I do, I’m sorry, it’s all in aid of exploring the lessons and learning from the series.
The premise for the show is an elaborate revenge. Fuelled by anger over a recent divorce from her serially-philandering husband Rupert, Rebecca Welton (played by the fabulous Hannah Waddingham) gains ownership of AFC Richmond, the only thing Rupert has truly loved, and she plans to destroy it. To this end, she immediately sacks the old-school, 80s style manager George and replaces him with Ted Lasso, whose side has just won the American Football play-offs. That’s American Football NOT football, or soccer as they call it across The Pond.
We see Ted saying goodbye to his son and ex-wife in the States and alongside Coach Beard they set about understanding ‘the beautiful game’ on the plane. Or trying to understand it.
At the much-anticipated press conference at AFC Richmond, Ted speaks about the players ‘giving their all in all four quarters’ and that ‘they’ll be positive win or lose’. After journalists correct him about the two halves and the fact that teams can draw as well as win or lose, AFC Richmond are made in laughing stock in the press and on TV – the programme blends real life with Jeff Stelling featuring in football punditry alongside fictional characters and the obvious stereotypes surrounding the game.
The stereotypes abound when we meet the team themselves – many of whom bear a striking ‘passing’ resemblance (BIG WINK) to some players past and present:
- Roy Kent is the midfield playing Captain who’s coming up for retirement, permanently grumpy and frustrated that he can’t keep up with the young players, especially the golden boy of the team Jamie Tartt. Roy is wise but intolerant.
- Jamie Tartt is the definition of the playboy – based on historical stars like George Best, Charlie Nicholas and to an extent David Beckham – he’s always dressed in the latest fashion, street wear and has a mane of long hair held back by a headband – his socks rolled down…Jamie seems shallow and arrogant.
- Danny Rojas is the Mexican maestro, emotional, handsome, fast and dramatic. “Football is Life” is his main catchphrase and nis naivete is matched by his enthusiasm.
- Isaac McAdoo is the Team Captain who takes over from Roy Kent, he’s stoic and solid, serious and quick to flare but there’s a softer side inside *just* under the surface but it must remain hidden at all times.
- Colin Hughes is the token Welsh player who harbours a secret. A brilliant player, goal scorer and expert in assists, he conceals his homosexuality and lives a double-life between the dressing room and his private life.
- Sam Obisanya is a player of Nigerian descent, an incredibly talented young player constantly seeking the seldom-offered approval of his traditional father, a father constantly pushing for excellence but rarely acknowledging it in his son.
Aside from the players the cast of other characters build the drama with some incredible performances and actors.
- Ted himself is a man with a seemingly positive and assertive outlook who seems to have a third-eye / sixth-sense insight into peoples’ inner thoughts. He does have his own struggles which gradually make themselves known.
- Coach Beard – whose name we only discover in the final episode – is an enigmatic character with dark and alternative desires, insights into tactics and strategy that will support Ted’s leadership alongside Roy Kent.
- Rebecca Welton is a strong leader, an assertive woman at the helm of the ship that is AFC Richmond. Although she has been around football clubs for years, she has no experience of the management / ownership of them. She’s an outlier in a macho world and takes to the task with skills and a little well-covered fear. She embodies Reshma Saujani’s call to be Brave not Perfect and grabs the club by the balls, so to speak.
- Keely Jones is involved in PR, she works alongside Rebecca and is also an ex-partner of Jamie Tartt – a relationship that overshadows their friendship and her dealings with Roy Kent. She sets up her own agency and becomes a friend and confidante to Rebecca. She’s another strong female character and provides a youthful insight and enthusiasm to some of the challenging aspects of football club management.
- Nathan Shelley is the ‘kit man’ who has some excellent insights into the team, despite working in the background, his presence becomes felt during the course of the season, with his muttered asides providing Ted with a great set of insights into the game he’s unfamiliar with. Nathan also becomes a persona-non-grata after a deceit.
- Trent Crimm, initially a cynical reporter with ‘The Independent’ who slowly begins to BELIEVE as he is given access behind-the-scenes to write ‘The Richmond Way’
All human life is depicted in Ted Lasso – so what do they cover and what can we learn from it?
Masculinity: Roy Kent is your typical old-school sports star. Stoic, the old-hand, solid and dependable…but what happens when he starts to lose his spark and finds himself overshadowed on the pitch AND by the songs from the terrace?
His power and bravado are challenged when Jamie Tartt really starts to show his skill and character…after a slow realisation we see the master passing his knowledge on grudgingly at first but then eventually with joy and friendship. Roy develops as a leader and a coach through his compromise – instead of trying to remain top-dog and end up destroying his legacy, Roy sees his role as one of guide and mentor. COMPROMISE IS NOT WEAKNESS.
Male Health: During a particularly stressful time for Ted Lasso himself, we see the world through his eyes, his breathing and his fingers as he experiences a panic-attacks for the first time. Initially confused and crushed by his ‘failure’ Ted sees a psychologist on a regular basis ‘for a chat’…what we see is Ted opening up, displaying his feelings and vulnerability and accepting help. ACCEPTING HELP IS A STRENGTH.
Support: The Diamond Dogs are the collection of locker-room and coaching staff who come together at times of challenge and crisis for one or more of its members.
- A problem with a relationship?
- A crisis of confidence?
- A ‘wicked’ problem?
- An emotional strain?
With an echo to David Bowie’s famous album and a reference to the AFC Richmond greyhound, one of the team will enter the Coach’s office and howl and bark…’Diamond Dogs Assemble?’ someone will ask and the call is answered. Blinds are drawn, doors are closed and the person with the issue opens up – what is on his mind, what help does he need? – and the Diamond Dogs work through the moral, ethical, emotional challenges and help to come up with a solution or a way forward.
MEN: SHARE YOUR PROBLEMS. TALK.
Morality: Keely finds one of her personal and intimate videos is leaked onto the internet. Although a PR agent by now, this leak exposes her (literally) and sends her into a meltdown. What should she do? Who has leaked it? Who was it for? Who owns intimate images when they are sent to someone within a relationship? What are the moral questions around intimate images and films?
We are party to discussions in the locker-room around victim-blaming, judgement, ownership of explicit images, the choices we make as individuals and as people within a team. PRIVACY AND SECRECY ARE NOT THE SAME.
Powerful Women: Rebecca starts her journey into football management with fury in her heart and revenge on her mind – she wants to crush the club and hurt her ex-husband. At the end of season one she realises that success for AFC Richmond and by extension Ted Lasso and herself, would be an even more powerful message for Rupert: besting him at his own game, so she pursues the ‘impossible dream’.
As she develops, Ted’s skills are developed, Keeley’s skills and successes are amplified, her personal life stabilises, she attracts more plaudits, and she emerges from the shadow of her cheating and manipulative former husband. She confronts the childishness greed and selfishness of the football club owners forming a Global Super League and draws a line in the sand against money over everything. LEADERSHIP IS A MORAL TASK.
Sexuality: In Ted Lasso we see a few instances where sexualities are revealed or challenged and it’s done in different ways. In the Amsterdam episode, the team sits in their hotel around some snacks in order to decide what they are going to do on their night out in one of the most liberal cities in the world – one which does not sleep. They discuss, coffee shops, the Red Light District, cinema, clubs, drinking…and the team are all chipping in, voting, many challenging the ‘lads lads lads’ attitude of some and trying to reach consensus.
Colin slips out and goes to a gay bar, followed by Trent Crimm the embedded reporter. Is Trent looking for a scoop, some gossip? Trent sees a kindred spirit and he and Colin discuss sexuality, the difficulty of being themselves in masculine environments and how to keep sane and calm amongst the threat of exposure.
During the last season Keeley has a relationship with a women – the key funder for her PR Venture – and whilst liberating and exciting at first, she finds she has been drawn into a controlling relationship where her affection is bought with love-bombing and overwhelm, while not giving Keeley time to take steps back to analyse what’s going on. It’s an interesting insight into power imbalance and coercive control as well as Keeley exploring her sexuality.
Again ,a challenging topic is covered with sensitivity and from a broad range of viewpoints. OWNING YOUR SEXUALITY CAN TAKE BRAVERY; PEOPLE CHANGE.
Forgiveness: Nathan Shelley is seen by Ted early on as someone who has tactical skill as an observer and almost immediately promotes him to Assistant Coach from Kit-Man. Nathan relishes in his new role but also has the obvious signs of imposter-syndrome as he constantly questions whether he is meant to be in that position, repeatedly shocked when Ted or Coach Beard asks him for his opinion.Nathan starts to revel in his role at AFC Richmond and, as he often does, Rupert – now owner of West Ham – sees an opportunity to destabilise and upset AFC Richmond and therefore Rebecca, his ex-wife. Nathan is lured as a ‘wunderkind’ to West Ham as the First Team Manager by Rupert and while flattered he soon realises that Rupert is playing a manipulative game with him at the centre. We see Nathan’s moral compass tested over a night with two companions arranged by Rupert and Nathan refuses to become involved as he has a girlfriend. Saying ‘no’ to an abusive narcissist is the one thing that is guaranteed to help us see their true colours and so it is with Rupert. Nathan is suddenly not the next best thing to sliced bread, but is ostracised by Rupert and ousted from the club. Ted Lasso sees what has happened and offers an olive-branch to Nathan, who returns to the coaching staff as AFC Richmond. We see forgiveness, acceptance of mistakes and the chance to make a fresh start from Ted away from the destructive machismo and manipulation of Rupert. FORGIVENESS IS A ROUTE TO PEACE.
To sum-up, throughout the seasons of Ted Lasso we are introduced to a plethora of characters, many of whom are stereotypes and we’re invited to watch as their experiences unfold in front of us. Ted Lasso is sometimes schmaltzy and predictable, but more often than not, the stereotypes are challenged, the characters are given points-of-decision that enable character and empathy to shine through.
Empathy not selfishness.
Kindness not cruelty.
Growth not limitation.
Embracing not rejecting.
Acceptance not exclusion.
I urge you to watch Ted Lasso, then re-watch it. It will enrich your life, you will laugh, you will cry, you will learn and hopefully, you’ll see that even in the dark times, there are people around us who can help us – sometimes we just have to ask.
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