Good riddance, Ted Lasso: how the ‘nice’ comedy became utterly dreadful television | Television

They say bad things come in threes and this week television delivered, with the end of two excellent shows – Succession, Barry – and a 76-minute episode of Ted Lasso. Today, it’s the finale of the Apple TV show that began 10 years ago as a series of US commercials for Premier League football. It was developed into a perfectly average comedy about an American coach taking on a failing English football team, and steadily became as messy and saccharine as treacle. The end of Ted Lasso has been a long time coming, and I’m not talking about the ridiculous running time.

When it started in 2020, everyone agreed: Ted Lasso was nice. It was the least surprising “surprise” hit of the pandemic; the sweet show about a rube with a charming moustache and a head full of aphorisms, who didn’t know how to drink sparkling water or if Wales was a country, said fun things like “fellas!” and “holy smokes!”, and arrived right on time to save us from the terrifying tedium of lockdowns. It was, as one headline put it, “a warm hug of nice”.

It was clear early on that Ted Lasso was not a stickler for reality, which suited us just fine. The quixotic American who knows nothing about football, but is awarded the coaching position at AFC Richmond on the flimsiest of pretexts: Rebecca, the club owner, secretly wants him to drive the team into the ground to punish her ex-husband. The first season ends with – spoiler – relegation, despite Ted’s efforts, but by then everyone is OK with that because he’s a good guy.

See Ted Lasso’s origins in a commercial for NBC’s early Premier League coverage for the US audience.

Whether or not the unrelenting positivity of the show was to be admired, enjoyed, endured or ridiculed depended on who you spoke to. But as the episodes crept from 30 minutes to 40, then 70 minutes over three seasons, Ted Lasso became gratingly, ruthlessly, cynically, about demonstrating its niceness and not much else. Characters no longer spoke like human beings, instead delivering painfully earnest missives about not sharing nudes of your partner, or not settling in relationships. I have never seen a show so singularly – and boringly – focused on reminding its audience to be decent.

Characters veered into incongruous demonstrations of whimsy or cruelty, or wit, none of which rang true to their personalities but served whatever the script needed. Conflict, typically a driver of plot, went out of the window. We got episodes dedicated to solving bad fathers, homophobia and racism, while genuine plot developments happened off-screen. Such as Nate quitting his job at West Ham, so he could wind up back at Richmond, losing his villain status as quickly as he acquired it. Or the revelation that Ted’s folksy charms are not an inherent quality, but a learned defence mechanism – abandoned as quickly as his therapist was written out of the show. Or the team covering up the logo of a problematic sponsor on their jerseys, an act of protest that leads to seemingly no consequence. At the same time, the series had space for a lot of meaningless rubbish: we watched a player get a haircut, Coach Beard on a night out, and Roy and Keeley figure out why his young niece has mysteriously bad breath (it was the antihistamine she takes for a cat allergy.) At one point, we watched a drill where, in an attempt to encourage cooperation on the pitch, the players are linked by string tied to their penises.

Keeley (Juno Temple) and AFC Richmond owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) in season three.
Keeley (Juno Temple) and AFC Richmond owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) in season three. Photograph: Colin Hutton/Apple TV+

The jokes were frequently as laboured as a football player attempting to run with string round his penis. For example, finding out that Ted Lasso has a mean alter ego called, wait for it, Led Tasso. The funniest lines struggled to land because they were routinely smothered by a barrage of scattershot jokes, delivered in desperate pursuit of laughs. See Ted’s assessment of himself: “I look like Ned Flanders doing cosplay as Ned Flanders. When I talk, it sounds like Dr Phil hasn’t gone through puberty yet.” Or Rebecca on a potential love interest: “His favourite film is Ratatouille. That’s worrying, right?” Mildly amusing, until Keeley’s barrage of a reply: “Who fucking cares what his favourite movie is? Also Ratatouille is a goddamn masterpiece. Ironically, it’s about snobbery and about how good art can come from anywhere. Stop your dithering and go fuck your cartoon rat.”

Watching the messy endurance test that was the third season, my mind often drifted to a small, terse exchange in the first season that, by the end, seemed exceptionally cutting. The nebbish Nate lays into player Colin with some criticism which, this being Ted Lasso, signals his descent into evil: “You’re like a painting at a Holiday Inn. You don’t inspire. You don’t move people. You’re there. You cover a bloodstain. You do the job.”

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Ted Lasso was unobtrusive television, something that could be listened to while staring at news about vaccine rollouts or case numbers, or ignored in favour of Instagram. It was not meant to carry the attention of the world. It is Superstore. It is The Good Place. It is Wednesday. It is The Big Bang Theory. It is a middling show that was somehow nominated for 40 Emmys and won 11, plus a Peabody (for being a “counter to the enduring prevalence of toxic masculinity”) and even an invitation to the White House. By the end, it didn’t inspire. It didn’t move. It was there. It did the job.

2023-05-31 11:34:00