The basic premise of “Ted Lasso,” the 20-time Emmy-nominated show from Apple TV, is that a white guy is given a job he is clearly unqualified for. On the surface, it shouldn’t work.
Lasso, played by Jason Sudeikis, is a modestly successful American college football coach hired to manage the dysfunctional English Premier League team AFC Richmond, even though he openly acknowledges to the press that “you could fill two internets with what I don’t know about [soccer].”
The team’s owner, Rebecca, hires Ted as part of a revenge scheme against her ex-husband, since the team is the only thing her ex actually loves. Rebecca thinks Ted is just the right foolish man to take his checks and run AFC Richmond into the ground.
If Ted Lasso were a different man, this could be yet another portrayal of male entitlement in the workplace. But with his cheerful decency and folksy Midwestern can-do attitude, Ted never ridicules the people he leads, credits junior employees both personally and to the press, and defers to his female boss’ decisions. He remains relentlessly hopeful in the face of losses and his own unfolding divorce.
As he tells his players, “I believe in believe.” And in Season 1, his skeptical players and even Rebecca start to believe in his leadership style, too.
It should not be noteworthy to see a white man in power be kind to his colleagues, but I found myself charmed nonetheless watching Ted deflate his haters’ cynicism and arrogance. Case in point: Ted introduces reporter Trent Crimm ― a critic he describes as like a robot vacuum, “wandering around looking for dirt” ― to a chauffeur who picked him up at the airport with the line, “Congrats, you both just met a cool person.”
It’s an example of how Ted, at his best, is good at seeking out and creating moments of positive connection between people he meets at work.
Here are other work moments and themes that have stuck with me so far:
Ted successfully leads by empowering others.
The sweet moments of “Ted Lasso” come watching the head coach notice and publicly credit people at AFC Richmond who lack power. One of the biggest beneficiaries is the kit man, Nate, who initially doesn’t even respond when Ted asks his name because he’s so used to people at the club never acknowledging him beyond what he does to maintain the equipment and locker room.
Over the course of the season, Nate learns to share his innovative ideas for the team without saying they “are really bad,” because Ted refuses to listen to Nate put himself down. Eventually, with Ted’s encouragement and continuous credit, Nate is promoted to assistant coach.
Before one game, Ted even cedes his time and pushes Nate to give the players a pep talk, based on Nate’s observations about their strengths and weaknesses from all his time on the sidelines and in the language of comedic roasting they will listen to. It’s a big moment of success for the guy who used to stumble and shrink when people asked him who he was or what he thought.
Keeley and Rebecca have mutual respect for each other from the beginning.
Interestingly, the two women in the world of AFC Richmond — the “famous for being almost famous” social media celebrity Keeley and team owner Rebecca ― could have been pitted against one another in the traditional on-screen roles to which career women characters are so often relegated: the young upstart with promise and the ice queen boss who prioritizes her job before her personal relationships. But thankfully, both women respect each other and take joy in one another’s company.
Keeley starts the first season as a player’s girlfriend and ends up, with Rebecca’s sponsorship, as AFC Richmond’s head of marketing. It’s Rebecca who notices how Keeley coordinated an endorsement deal for her ex-boyfriend and offers her a job. This occurs just after the two women share a bonding moment in the bathroom at a charity gala, and when Keeley protests that she doesn’t want to be offered the job just because the two shared that friendly moment, Rebecca shoots back, “Why not? Men give each other jobs in toilets all the time.”
And these lessons go both ways. Rebecca warns Keeley at the beginning of the series to hold the people close to her accountable, and it leads Keeley to break up with her player boyfriend who doesn’t respect her. But by the end of Season 1, it’s Keeley who is holding Rebecca accountable for lying to Ted about hiring a paparazzo to take would-be career-ruining photos of him and Keeley. When Rebecca tries to weasel out of telling Ted about her lie because “it doesn’t change anything,” Keeley firmly states: “It would change how I feel about you.”
The show is now a few episodes into the second season, and so far, Keeley and Rebecca have been able to navigate being friends in and outside of work. But I’m hoping Season 2 takes the time to complicate the power dynamics of what happens when the friend you double date with is also your boss. I would like to see more of how Keeley and Rebecca hold each other accountable when they are employee and employer, not just friends.
Ted’s work and life philosophy is to be curious, not judgmental.
In a high-stakes game of darts at a bar with Season 1’s most detestable villain, Rebecca’s casually cruel, cheating ex Rupert, Ted shares an insight into his life philosophy. It’s also a good work lesson in general.
After Rupert openly demeans Rebecca with a sexual remark and scoffs at Ted’s chances of winning the darts game, Ted recalls that he was always underestimated in his youth. He didn’t understand why, he tells Rupert, until he gained insight from seeing the Walt Whitman quote, “Be curious, not judgmental.”
“All them fellas that used to belittle me, not a single one of them were curious,” Ted explains. “They thought they had everything all figured out, so they judged everything, and they judged everyone. And I realized that their underestimating me, who I was had nothing to do with it. ‘Cause if they were curious, they would ask questions, like ‘Have you played a lot of darts, Ted?’ To which I would have answered, ‘Yes, sir.’”
Ted then nails the score needed to win the game and a wager that bans Rupert from the owner’s box at Richmond games. It’s a good lesson that choosing to ask questions over going straight to knee-jerk judgments can inform better decisions, and it aligns with how Ted treats problems on the job.
When hotshot player Jamie Tartt rebuffs his team-building exercises, Ted does not immediately punish Jamie. Instead, he goes to Jamie’s then-girlfriend Keeley in an effort to understand what motivates Jamie. And when Rebecca tries to avoid Ted, Ted starts baking biscuits he knows she likes as a means to find common ground.
“Ted Lasso” looks at the power and limits of optimism on the job.
While Season 1 of “Ted Lasso” can seem unattainably nice and wholesome at times, Season 2 explores the cracks in Ted’s pleasantries and makes him more relatable. What if his relentless positivity is a way to deflect from his own insecurities and avoid introspection about why his marriage failed? Ted acts as an amateur therapist to his team with all his motivational sayings, but this meets a hard limit when striker Dani Rojas accidentally kills the team’s dog mascot while taking a penalty kick in the Season 2 opener.
Throughout the show, Ted preaches the idea of being a goldfish, an animal with short-term memory, or as one player puts it, “to forget our mistakes and failures and just move on.” But Ted simply telling Dani to shake off the bad mojo and “have some fun” after the tragic accident does not get through to the emotionally devastated Dani or solve his ensuing inability to perform.
And why would it? At that point, Ted’s lesson comes across as toxic positivity, or the idea that people should focus only on positive emotions and the positive aspects of life. You hear this when people share unhelpful phrases like “This too shall pass” or “Everything will be fine.”
Ultimately, it’s Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, an actual sports psychologist, who is able to help Dani with her superior cultural competency and ability to speak his language.
It is here that we see Ted Lasso frown and be jealous, and the show begins to look at Ted’s own shortcomings. Fieldstone is not charmed by Ted’s aggressively cheerful way of getting to know people, and notes that she sees how he tries to disarm people. I’m excited to see more of what happens when Ted’s defenses are challenged and when positivity without helpful context is not always the answer. It makes Ted Lasso’s world feel more like ours.