Finding the drive to write about movies has been hard for me lately. Between work and caring for my nearly two-year-old (!) son, I just have not really felt the urge to put fingers-to-keys in order to write about *checks notes* The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It. However, over the last few months, I’ve fallen head over heels in love. I know what you’re thinking. “TJ, you’re married and have a nearly two-year-old son! Think about your family!” To which I say, “I am! Also, mind your business and wait for the rest of this intro.” You see, I have fallen in love with a fake man, Ted Lasso, and all of his friends. I’ve fallen in love with him because I truly believe that he has made my life better, not only for myself, but, I hope, for those around me. This may seem incomprehensible, but, if you open up your hearts and minds a little bit, I would like to tell you the strange, but true, story of how a not real, mustachioed man with a folksy Kansan accent, who was born out of a ploy to get Americans to care about British football, has helped me become a better person by teaching me to be a goldfish, as well as to be curious, not judgmental, all while reminding me that I am not alone through any of it.
Ted Lasso: Origins
In the late stages of 2012, NBC Sports shelled out $250 million to acquire the right to televise English Premier League soccer in the United States, under a 3-year contract, starting with the 2013-2014 season. Soccer (or football in basically every country but the United States), although typically considered the most popular sport in the world, is a bit of a tougher sale in the States. With a professional league (Major League Soccer) whose revenue is still over four times less than the nearest American professional league (National Hockey League), whose revenue is itself well under that of the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Football League, it’s a sport that is, at best, a collective afterthought in this country. So, NBC Sports had to find a way to promote this sports league from a different continent, to a country who doesn’t even care about the teams within their own borders.
Enter Jason Sudeikis, who, in the fall of 2013, was fresh out of his ten-year run on Saturday Night Live. Sudeikis worked alongside the network to create the character Ted Lasso, a Kansan college (American) football coach brought across the pond to coach a Premier league football team, despite the fact he has never coached the sport before, and knows nothing about it. The idea was to capture current fans with an entertaining and recognizable face, and use that same entertaining and recognizable face to capture new fans who would likely be just as clueless about the sport as Lasso. The idea, seemingly, worked, as the two extended ads (one each in 2013 and 2014) have tens of millions of combined views, and NBC Sports is the continued home of Premier League soccer, many years since Lasso’s last appearance.
That is until the middle of 2020, when Sudeikis, alongside Joe Kelly and Brendan Hunt (the latter of whom plays Lasso’s assistant coach in both the original ads as well as in the series), worked with Scrubs creator Bill Lawrence to bring the character to life in a more extended manner, with his own streaming series on Apple TV+. Although the writers borrow the general concept , as well as many jokes from the original ads, the character of Ted had changed from a semi-foulmouthed and angrily confused man in the ads into a more modest man, who would rather use a folksy metaphor, over an aggressive scolding, to teach his players. The switch is what opened up the character, and the series, to be much more than just a inexplicable resurrection of many-year-old commercial character, but instead allowed it to be a conduit for optimism and kindness and learning, in the back half of 2020, could not have been more needed in America.
Lasso Lesson #1: Be A Goldfish
Lasso does not waste much time before beginning to impart his very specific brand of wisdom upon his new team, AFC Richmond, a team created specifically for the series. After Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) stumbles on defense during practice, allowing arrogant star Jaime Tartt (Phil Dunster) to score an easy goal, Lasso calls the struggling defenseman over to the sideline. The struggling Nigerian quickly apologizes, but then Ted quickly takes over. “Do you know what the happiest animal on earth is? A goldfish. Do you know why? Got a ten second memory. Be a goldfish, Sam.” It’s a simple idea that eventually gets a major callback in the season finale: when you make a mistake, forget it and move on. If it works for a goldfish, it can work for us, as well.
I think this is one of the biggest lessons that I needed to learn from this series, and one that, upon reflection of an admittedly small sample size, I believe has taken hold in a way I never could have imagined. In general, I do not give myself a lot of grace when I make mistakes. This has happened for as long as I can remember, in any real setting. It happened in school, when a B grade in a class might as well have been an F. It happened at work, where even a minor mistake where nobody was harmed in any way would result in me needing to go behind a closed door to rage at myself until I felt like my emotions were going to level out. It especially happens within my interpersonal relationships. Any time I feel like I have failed somebody that I love, I tend to tend to get into what I call a “spiral” of negativity. I would just hone in on the hurt I felt like I had caused (whether or not the hurt was truly felt by the perceived victim) and begin to loathe myself for causing harm to someone who found a way to love me. Then, I would become aware of how that negative feeling could impact others, and how it could upset them, and I would just keep getting more and more frustrated with myself until eventually I just leveled out, which could really take the rest of the day. This happens a lot with my wife, who is aware of these spirals and, blessedly, tries her best to get me through them, which, because my brain is Very Chill, would frustrate me because I feel like I should have never gotten so bad that I needed to have that level of support. So, yeah, in general, I could probably stand to give myself some room for grace and understanding.
Then, the weirdest thing happened while I was doing one of my very frequent rewatches of the show. As Ted explained the wonders of the goldfish to Sam, I thought back over the last several months, since I began to make Ted Lasso the basis for my entire personality, and realized something: I genuinely cannot remember the last time I had spiraled, which, in and of itself, is kind of a miracle, as I tend to hold grudges against myself for these sorts of things. But, I think this is more than just “I was a goldfish and forgot the spiral.” I believe, through explaining the wonders of this show and allowing them to wash over me, I’ve begun to give myself more grace. I’m sure that I have made mistakes, I’m human, that’s kinda our whole thing, but I can’t remember latching onto it and treating it as an example of how much of a failure that I am. I feel like over these last few months, I’ve been more comfortable about the person that I am than I have ever been in my life. I even asked my wife if this tracks with her memory, and she agreed that it does (she’s also an incredible woman who basically always forgot my failings, because she’s the best and I am extremely lucky to have her in my life, but I also believe that she is telling the truth that she doesn’t think I’ve spiraled lately). I truly believe that I have allowed myself to become a goldfish, at least in terms of forgiving myself.
I also believe that having a short memory can be applied to when people around us let us down, as well. Although the show never explicitly ties having a short memory and forgiving others, forgiveness has its moment in the sun during the back half of season one. I think this moment is particularly significant because the wronged character very explicitly says “I forgive you.” I feel like it is rare that this wording actually happens, in reality or in the media. An apology is usually met with a well meaning “it’s okay” or “don’t worry about it,” which can do the trick, but it does not have the weight of true forgiveness.
I don’t have as good an example here as I did for forgiving myself, mostly because I think the way I’ve treated myself throughout my life is probably harsher than the way has anyone has ever treated me, especially in recent memory. I would like to believe that I will have the strength of the wronged character in this show to become a goldfish, but that has yet to be tested. That said, my ability to forgive myself has allowed me to hope for and believe in the best in myself, two feelings I’m not particularly used to.
Lasso Lesson #2: Be Curious, Not Judgmental
Late in the season, Ted is at a business meeting with the team’s owner, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), who is blindsided to see that a minority owner has sold their shares to her ex-husband, and the team’s previous owner, Rupert (Anthony Head). Rupert is the show’s only true villain, with other “bad” characters getting enough backstory that you seem them as fully fleshed-out people, whereas Rupert is just a truly cruel man. He has purchased a new stake in the team solely to make Rebecca’s life harder, taunting her that any time that he is in the owner’s box during a game, and a reporter asks him how he thinks his ex-wife is doing, he will be “relentless” in his honesty. At this point, Ted takes over and begins to casually throw darts, causing Rupert to challenge him to a bet. If Rupert wins, he can choose the starting line-up for the final two games of the season. If Ted wins, Rupert has to stay away from the owner’s box. Rupert agrees, pulling out his own personal darts, at which point Ted realizes that he had forgotten that he’s actually left-handed, throwing an immediate bullseye.
Towards the end of the game, Rupert has a significant lead, and throws more cruelty towards Rebecca, spitting “I know she’s always been a bit randy, but I never thought she would f*** over an entire team.” Ted quickly responds that Rupert should have better manners while Ted is holding a dart, and then goes into a classic Ted monologue. He waxes poetic on a piece of graffiti he had seen one day while dropping his son off at school, that quoted Walt Whitman saying “Be curious, not judgmental.” He recalls how kids in his past could have learned this lesson, because then, instead of being cruel because they didn’t understand Ted, they could have asked questions and learned more about him, and then, maybe they would have treated him better. It’s easy to be judgmental and make a quick assumption about someone. It’s harder to think about what we don’t see, or, even harder to ask about it.
This is a lesson that I think can be a bit harder to take to heart, both in the real world, but especially in a world of social media, where anonymous folks are quick to react towards other anonymous folks, and that quick reaction is what is going to lead all of us to be more ready to be judgmental, rather than curious. This is something that we all fall prey to. We get frustrated with someone as we are driving to work. We get angry when service is slow at a restaurant, or when a customer service person doesn’t greet us with the level of joy that we typically anticipate. These are two examples that come to mind because they are two that I can struggle with sometimes, especially the traffic thing. It’s easy to have an immediate emotional reaction to something, and I think that is fine. But it’s about moving beyond that immediate emotional reaction and really trying to think about the person beyond the frustration we feel, and the service we expect of them. Because these are people, and, more often than not, these people are complete strangers to us, so assuming that we know everything about them is unwise. These people we are mad at could be dealing with any number of personal issues, The people could be new at their job, or maybe they are just learning how to drive. I’m not saying that this is always going to be the case. Sometimes people are just bad at driving, and other times people are just checked out from their jobs for no real reason (although you should probably still treat them like people, since, well, they’re people). But, automatically assuming the worst in people is going to get us nowhere in life. Any level of curiosity, even if we do not seek out the answers to that curiosity, is going to lead us to giving more people the benefit of the doubt, which is going to not only do yourself some good, because it might relieve some of your stress, but that relieved stress will reverberate and hopefully calm others. It is something that I am trying to apply, especially when I go into a customer service situation where I need to interact with someone else. I try to keep in the front of my mind that if things are not going the exact way that I would initially hope for, the reasoning might be something I can never truly understand, and I try to get that person the benefit of the doubt. Since then, I’ve been less stressed in those situations, and I hope that more relaxed state is felt by the employees as well.
I do think there is a fine line to being curious, though. I’m not suggesting that someone needs to be curious about why someone online thinks that their life is worth less than theirs, because of the color of their skin, their gender identity, their sexual orientation, their nation of origin, or anything along those lines. That’s not going to be good for your mental health, and there is a level of mutual curiosity that should be in play for bigger issues like this, and if they are not going to be curious about the person that you are, you should not have to do the entirety of the emotional labor that comes with some level of curiosity. Be curious, but take care of yourself along the way.
Lasso Lesson #3: Ain’t Nobody In This Room Alone
*SPOILER WARNING: I’m going to avoid going into any explicit detail that would ruin a plot point, but also, this is the one paragraph if you want to go into this show completely empty, you can skip. You don’t necessarily need show context to understand the point of this lesson. I’ll have a marking to let you know when you are safe to read again((
Late in the show’s first season, the team suffers a tough loss, and Ted faces a very sad locker room. He presents them with this speech:
Now this is a sad moment right here. For all of us. There ain’t nothing I can say standing in front of you right now that can take that way. But please do me this favor, will you? Lift your heads up, look around this locker room. Look at everybody else in here. And I want you to be grateful that you’re going through this sad moment with all these other folks. Because I promise you, there is something worse out there than being sad, and that is being alone and being sad. Ain’t nobody in this room alone. Sam, do you remember what animal has the shortest memory? [A goldfish]. That’s right. A goldfish. What do you think we should all do once we get done being sad and/or angry about this situation? [I think we should be goldfish] I agree. Let’s be sad now. Let’s be sad together. And then we can be a gosh-darn goldfish. Onward. Forward.-Ted Lasso
**You are now safe from spoilers!**
In a show filled with great speeches, this is the one that always sticks with me. It’s a simple idea, that going through a sad time is going to be made less sad by being with someone, whether or not they are fully experiencing the same sadness as you. This is not something that I think anybody needs to learn, because it’s pretty simple and something I think we have all experienced in some major way in our lives, but I think it’s a good reminder. We are going to go through hard times in our lives, because that is a part of life. Work is hard. We lose people that we are close to, whether through relocation or death. Life is hard at times. We can make it easier by allowing people into our lives.
This can happen in a few different ways. It can mean having the humility to admit when you are struggling with something and reaching out to someone who can do it better. Admitting you do not know everything, and that someone can do something better than you, can be hard at times, but it can make your life easier, while letting that person know that you appreciate them. (This is something that Ted does with Nate (Nick Mohammed), the team’s kit man who designs a play that the team utilizes, because Ted realizes that Nate clearly knows more about the sport that Ted likely ever will).
*Content warning for the next paragraph: Pregnancy loss**
But this idea of not being alone can really shine through when you are going through a rough time. As I have mentioned on this blog before, a few years ago, my wife and I suffered the loss of our first pregnancy. In that post, I spent time talking about how amazing my wife was in those weeks and months that followed the loss, and how that helped me get through my own difficulties with the loss. We weren’t alone, we were both going through that together, and I think we can both admit that we wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of the other. But, we also had our family and friends there for us in ways we could never really imagine. This held true again when we lost another pregnancy earlier this year. We had each other. We had our friends and family. This time, we had our 18-month-old son. We weren’t alone.
Nobody should have to be alone through a difficult time. Sometimes, you have that lack of loneliness built into your life, like I did with my wife and son. Sometimes, you have to do a little work to make sure that loneliness doesn’t happen. But if there is ever a time when you feel truly alone, I hope you seek out some form of companionship. There are always going to be people around who want you to feel loved, and will do everything within their abilities to make that love clear to you. Like I said, this was not a groundbreaking revelation that Ted Lasso delivered here. But it’s an important reminder, and a heartfelt one that this show delivers.
The thing about Ted Lasso (and Ted Lasso) is this barely begins to scratch the surface as to what makes it all so special. In order to write this, I re-watched the show (like I needed a reason) and took notes throughout, focusing in on how wonderful Ted is as both a man and a football coach. Those notes were comprised of over 1,500 words, well over half of which don’t even get alluded to in this post. And that doesn’t even include the other things that I think makes this show special that have almost nothing to do with Ted. In case you don’t believe me, you can watch the show to see how basically every character that is introduced is a fleshed out person and not a one-dimensional caricature of some needed trait. You’ll also see the show deftly handle difficult and emotional topics like divorce. You’ll also see something I can’t ever remember seeing before in any media, being a group of men who speak candidly about their relationships, including discussing how a woman’s sexual past should not define her, coupling that idea with the idea that men need to do more to not be controlled by their negative emotions. I really, truly believe that I cannot over-hype my feelings about this show because I am truly grateful I get to exist at the same time that it exists. I hope you open yourself up to it and can feel even half as strong about it as I do, because, even then, I believe this show can change you for the better.
Thanks for reading, love y’all.
Header image photo source: https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/ted-lasso-apple-tv-first-look-image_-jason-sudeikis.jpg?w=681&h=383&crop=1