The Good Guy
Over the last few months, I have regularly encountered recommendations, whether from friends or articles and reviews I’ve read, to watch the television show Ted Lasso. It will restore your faith in humanity, I heard. It’s the perfect antidote to this soul-sucking pandemic, I heard. It will make you smile and laugh and feel good in the midst of all that is bad in the world, I heard. I heard a great many things, very few of them bad. So, yesterday, my wife and I finally decided to see what all the fuss was about. We had planned on watching one episode but by the time we turned the TV off, we had plowed through half a season.
Ted Lasso (played by Jason Sudeikis) is an average American college football coach from Kansas who, through a combination of events and circumstances, ends up being hired to coach a (real) football team in England. He knows nothing about this brand of football and even less about England. He comes across as a kind of aw-shucks, naive, over-optimistic, smiley, moustached, middle-aged, dad-bod American who is thrust into a story much more complex and cynical than he realizes. He has been set up to fail, his hire little more than an exercise in attempted revenge by a team owner determined to burn her philandering ex-husband’s beloved football team to the ground.
But Ted Lasso doesn’t really do cynicism. He is warm-hearted and generous, kind and inquisitive. He doesn’t take himself too seriously. He jokes around relentlessly and mawkishly with the staff and the players. He makes
cookies biscuits for the team owner. He asks the trainer kit-boy what his name is and allows him to design plays. He throws a team birthday party for a lonely Nigerian player who is far from home. He takes the super-critical journalist along on a team visit to a local elementary school and later buys him dinner. He fumbles along hilariously with vocabulary he doesn’t understand (upon discovering that football players call “cleats” “boots,” and that the “trunk” of a car is also referred to as a “boot,” he ponders the peculiarity of describing a football player as putting their “boots” in the “boot” after practice). He takes verbal abuse from the fans and the players in stride and keeps right on smiling. He assumes the best in people, not the worst. He inexplicably thinks that his job as a coach is not to win more games than he loses but to believe in his players and help them become the best versions of themselves that they can.
Ted Lasso is, in other words, a relic, a fossil from some long gone age before world-weary cynicism, studious irony, and dark, brooding themes became the passports to acceptable forms of film and television. Ted Lasso is the antithesis of Walter White. He is an embarrassingly good guy who, strangely enough, makes you want to be a bit better. He does not, like so many of us, use thinly-veiled pessimism and self-protective sarcasm as imaginary and largely ineffective shields against the harsh vicissitudes of life. He is an open book. He’s goofy, hopelessly out of his element, innocent, over-sincere. He doesn’t seem to care that he is the butt of the joke. He seems unaware that he is a pawn in someone else’s game. He doesn’t seem to realize that he’s supposed to take everything quite a bit more seriously. If he knows that most people expect him to fail and are ready to mock him when he does, it seems to bother him not a whit. He is all of the things that many of us go to great lengths to demonstrate that we are not.
Ted Lasso probably is just the character we need for this cultural moment for a whole bunch of reasons, many of which have been commented on elsewhere and I won’t belabour here. But for me, one of the most endearing things about him is encapsulated in one of the first few episodes. When one of the player’s girlfriends informs him that he is trending on Twitter and for all the wrong reasons, he shrugs, smiles, and informs her that while he doesn’t tweet, “he does beatbox.” This is followed by a predictably awful and hilarious demonstration. The girl looks at him incredulously, smiles, and says “I never know what to do when a grown man beatboxes in front of me.”
And this is it, I think. We don’t know how to react to someone who cares so little about what other people think of him. We don’t know what to do with a guy who has no felt need to boost his image or to agonize over how he is being portrayed. We don’t know what to do with a guy whose goodness is not a performance but is simply who who he is. We have no categories for someone who seems not to care about the endless online performance that is life in the twenty-first century, who simply smiles, offers a kind word, a joke, a hug, a
cookie biscuit. We just smile and shake our heads at this fool who insists upon dancing like a lunatic with these players that he loves as people. And we perhaps wonder why we don’t have the courage to be more like him.