Ted Lasso: Examining Audience Expectation and Perception

This past Sunday, the breakout show, Ted Lasso, from Apple TV+’s subscription streaming service, won several awards at the 2021 Emmy Awards show cementing its status as both a critical darling and fan favorite series. Surprisingly, its title as a “fan favorite” show came into question a few weeks ago when there was some backlash against the trajectory of several storylines, plots, and character developments. Except that really isn’t accurate either. In reality, a handful of people did not enjoy certain elements of the second season in comparison to their enjoyment of the first and expressed their discontent (as is entirely their right to do so) on their own social media feeds. In response to this, several media outlets, peddlers, and grifters who need discourse, disagreement, and discontentment to make themselves relevant by any measure in order to mine an ever shrinking income source created articles, posts, and videos that discussed this small fraction of comments giving them, and the writers, a far larger sense of significance than they’ve earned or are due. Of course, as is usually the case, there were some coherent points made amid the noise, and those are the focus of this post. Again, there will be SPOILERS, so if you have any plans to watch Ted Lasso fresh and unburdened with knowledge, should probably jump off at this point and come back later. We good? Great.

One of the major, and most cited, points of contention for this group of dissenters was that Season 2 of Ted Lasso lacked any central plot or thesis unlike Season 1, and, instead, seemed to focus on random character moments. However, this was a misunderstanding of what plot and story is, or could be, and a lack of connection between what the writers/show was doing and what some audience want. There is a certain expectation of what conflict and character development should be for Western, particularly American, audiences. In S1, these expectations were essentially met. There was a clear conflict (win or be relegated to the lower league), obvious villains or antagonists (Rebecca, Jaime, Rebecca’s ex), and an apparent resolution and ending to the narrative being told (Rebecca comes around to loving the team and its potential, AFC Richmond lost and was relegated). The audience had characters to cheer on and others to boo. It didn’t matter if some of those shifted throughout the season because the roles were still clear and the narrative churned forward toward some climax.

Okay, but how could anyone not like these scrappy faces? And we’re still missing many fan favorites!

Season 2 is not as easy to fit into such boxes, an obvious intention from the writers/creators, and one that I think works greatly for what the show is trying to do. There are no obvious villains this season, and even the few antagonists we’ve come across have had no greater impact like they did in the first season. This time around the story and conflict are driven by the characters’ choices and the consequences, both for good or ill, of those choices. Ted’s major arc this season seems to be unpacking the trauma of his father’s departure in his young life and the scars he has carried from that loss into the present. This mental health issue is exacerbated by his own conflicted feelings of his marriage ending and sense of potentially abandoning his own son as he once felt. It also adds more depth to Ted’s belief in being a good father figure more than a good coach to his team. Roy is dealing with his sense of self and purpose after leaving the career he spent most of his life preparing for and being a part of. He is essentially answering the question of who Roy Kent is when Roy Kent is no longer a footballer. Jaime Tart’s story arc, unsurprisingly, is a mixture of the previous two with him dealing with the trauma and effects of having an abusive, absentee father and trying to figure out what kind of player and man Jaime Tart really is and should be. As well, we have begun to get development for most of the major secondary characters from Coach Beard (Will we ever know his name?!) to Isaac (Best clippers in England.) to Sam (The Nigerian has game!) to even the boys from the pub (Baz, Jeremy, and Paul really delivered an oddly emotional moment for any true fan of virtually any sport).

This is most apparent with the story that has been building around Nate. His is genuinely the one story I am most excited and anxious about. I have no clue where it is fully headed or if Nate will break bad or fall on the side of the angels by season’s end. Both are a legitimate possibility based on what we’ve seen onscreen, and both would be oddly satisfying yet a bit disappointing somehow since it would ultimately carry the singular possible “what if”. Honestly though that is a testament to the writing and acting and care that has been taken from all parties involved in creating this show.

An yet this nuanced path to storytelling seems to be the crux of contention for most. Without the clear cut villains and big problem to tackle, many have found themselves lost as to the draw of the show. After all, even if AFC Richmond win the “whole fucking thing” and get promoted back to the Premiere League, that really hasn’t resolved or ended the central conflicts of the various characters since their issues this season all seem to be dealing with their insecurities and psychosis and growing and regressing from facing these internal struggles. Not exactly the most riveting of television, but definitely among the most poignant and honest. The show about the “fish out of water” cheerful, American coach leading the underdog team to victory has become a treatise concerning many people from differing walks of life simply learning how to live and attempt to be better versions than their past selves. And frankly, the show is all the better for it.

But seriously, if you have somehow avoided this gem of a show, go watch it. The hype somehow does not do it justice.

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