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My theory about Ted Lasso is simple: The Obama presidency gave us Walter White and Don Draper. The Trump presidency has given us Ted Lasso.
We felt enough safety and security during the Obama years to explore the depths of depravity through Breaking Bad and Mad Men. Obama’s stability and decency gave us the freedom to safely watch Walter White devolve into the drug lord Heisenberg. His declaration, “I am the one who knocks,” a mash up of John 14:6 and Revelation 3:20, announced that show runner Vince Gilligan’s intention of turning Mr. Chips into Scarface had been realized. Yet Don Draper may have been more dangerous than Walter White. Walter White looked and acted evil. Don Draper was something else altogether. Nothing about him was authentic—he actually was Dick Whitman, an orphan raised in a brothel. But as Don Draper on Madison Avenue he was attractive, charming, and highly likable, all while showing no impulse control and selling the consumerist illusions that destroy our souls. Walter White was the devil we see, Don Draper the devil we ought to live in fear of.
Enter Donald Trump, another consumerist illusion, suffering from an even bigger case of vacuous narcissism than Don Draper. Trump was safe when he was confined to The Apprentice. But he leapt from reality TV to the White House, and became “The World’s Most Dangerous Man.” What hope do we have in the wake of that? And who needs fictional depravity when we see it played out daily on the national stage? Now is the time for Ted Lasso.
I will do my best to avoid plot spoilers, but want to give the general idea. A successful Division II American football coach from Kansas is hired to coach AFC Richmond, an English Premier League Football (soccer) club. Ted Lasso knows next to nothing about soccer. There hasn’t been a fish this out of water since Jed Clampett loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly Hills. Ted Lasso is kind, sincere, honest, hopeful, funny, optimistic, loving, gentle, wise, and, above all, just plain good. He’s thrown into a bee hive of cynicism, and has to navigate his way around a duplicitous owner, prima donna players, angry fans, and hounding media. Will Lasso change them or will they change Lasso? Can he possible succeed in this situation (and what is success, anyway)? My contention is that Lasso’s innate goodness makes him the anti-Trump, the Trump antidote, exactly what we need, a man for this season.
Lasso installs two things in the Richmond locker room when he arrives. The first is an autographed copy of John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. Wooden, the great UCLA basketball coach whose plain-spoken wisdom has earned the admiration of millions, defined success as “peace of mind that is the direct result of knowing you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.” Lasso, who also has a plain-spoken charm to him (for example, he tells his son scones are muffins that suck all the spit out of your mouth), says, “For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.” That sounds great in Division II college football. Will it work in a professional league with the world’s best players who are paid to win? It’s not going to be comfortable. After all, as Lasso says, “Takin’ on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse. If you’re comfortable while you’re doin’ it, you’re probably doin’ it wrong.”
The second item Lasso hangs in the locker room is a corny “BELIEVE” poster. That simple statement of faith shines like a beacon in a world gone mad. Do we dare believe? After the coronavirus, George Floyd, and January 6? Or is the conventional British soccer wisdom, “It’s the hope that kills you” a better way?
Lasso says the lack of hope is what does us in. “I believe in hope,” he says. “I believe in belief.”
Season Two of Lasso debuted on Apple TV on Friday. The show is worth Apple TV’s modest subscription price. It’s simply the best thing on TV. Season One was an absolute joy. I wish right now I was sitting in the quaint British pub in Lasso with Mae and Baz and Paul and Jeremy and the gang. I’d raise a pint to Season Two.