this shouldn’t be shocking news if you know me (or read this blog), but i watch a lot of tv. despite this, i’m not used to it not being very good! most of the time, when a show that i am watching ‘live’ (more, as it comes out) starts to be a bit crap (e.g. brooklyn 99 some time around series 6 of that show), i stop watching it. usually, i revisit it about a year or so later to see if it is still shit- and usually, it is. this fate does not befall many shows i watch, as i have only the best taste. i actually watch a lot of traditionally ‘bad’ shows (i think everyone should!), but those are bad from the start, so the situation does not apply. i can usually sense when a beshittening, as i am titling it, is about to occur, but i have been faced with an outlier: a show so simple to make bad, due to the fact that it was previously exceptional. that show- ted lasso.
people have always disliked that show, and i get it. to be honest, i am more inclined than most to be part of that group. however, as a (tentatively, somewhat, any kind-of qualifier can go here) ‘lifelong’ (in heavy quotation marks) football fan, fictional shows about football are very rare. i have watched a smorgasbord of the ‘all or nothing’ oeuvre, or shows very similar to that, in my time, but have never been able to find fictional sports shows that aren’t about sports i sort of understand but not really. ted lasso scratched that itch for me.
was it a bit cliché? less so than you’d think- the finale was an excellent subversion of expectations, and set up an interesting premise for the second season of the show (more on that later!) was its quintessentially-american unfettered optimism at times, a teensy bit annoying? yes! at its heart though, it was a nice show, about bad things happening to nice people, and those nice people dealing with their circumstances. the references to actual football weren’t grating either- it felt like both actual football fans and british people were in the writer’s room, ensuring that it didn’t come off as ‘uncanny valley’-esque as some other shows that try to blend american writers/producers with an english setting (looking at you, sex education!)
i was late to the bandwagon, watching it when a few episodes of season 2 released. i loved the first season! i watched it all in a weekend, which is a bad forewarning of second season syndrome for me: this term is, aptly, a term used in football (specifically, the premier league) to describe a promoted team’s inclination to suck in the second season that they are in the top-flight of english football. i watched the first few episodes a couple of days later, and wondered why i wasn’t enjoying it as much. it picked up for me later in the season, but the cracks were beginning to show. both the coach beard and christmas episodes were not my cup of tea at all, sticking out like a caricatured sore thumb from the rest of the show.
the second season starts off with being absurd from the get-go (the whole show is a bit absurd, that’s the premise!), but that can be forgiven a bit in my eyes, since they needed a genuine reason to bring jamie tartt (one of the best parts of the show) back to the club. my main problem with it, though, was that it completely dropped the actual sporting part of sports drama, and delved too deeply into the ‘drama’ part of its genre.
focusing on the characters in the show isn’t necessarily a bad thing- mad men did this towards its end, and that lifted the show into the upper echelon of tv for me. the difference (there are many, but) between mad men and ted lasso, though, is that mad men’s premise started off with us having a deep look into all of the cast’s lives, and their inner mechanations and how it all culminates into affecting the workplace. ted lasso’s brilliance came from the fact that it was about being a team in the premier league- it was its USP, and yet the writers in season 2 gave that up to become a more mishmashed soap opera/sports drama/sitcom, doing all of them to an extent, but none of these excellently.
remember how, earlier i praised the show for being seamlessly transatlantic? you can tell that the writer’s room got distinctly americanised, coming off the success of the previous season. a team fighting its way to promotion in the championship makes for even better sports-drama fare, and yet, this wasn’t capitalised on! all we got was a couple of matches where something semi-important happens, and then, out of nowhere- oops we’re promoted back! as most football fans can tell you, being promoted out of the championship is actually Very Hard, but the writers (either through ignorance, or dismissing the notion entirely) ignored this to give us 43 minutes of a guy, off his tits, going around london. which isn’t interesting, or fun to watch!
the fact that the episode length has ballooned from typical half-hour sitcom lengths, to sometimes hour-plus affairs, doesn’t do the show any favours. season three, at the time of writing, has two episodes over an hour, and all of the episodes are more than 45 minutes long! this is not needed!!!
while on the topic of season 3, the writers seem to have continued the bad trends from the last season, and dialed them up to one million. none of the main characters talk to each other anymore! remember keeley and ted, and how they were shown to be kindred spirits, and enjoy each other’s company? that doesn’t exist anymore! we see almost nothing of roy kent’s home life, instead relegated to simply being a Presence at the club. the worst offender of this is the episode, ‘sunflowers’. everyone goes off to have a billion subplots, none of them particularly interesting, and all… kind of weird? keeley and jack (before the last episode, my favourite part of the series!) were nowhere to be seen, either.
this is a controversial take, but keeley and roy breaking up, and then keeley getting together with jack was actually a Good Decision. it provided some new territory for the writers to tread, and it was actually a nice relationship to see. for some reason though, jason sudeikis and his band of merry men decided to make both keeley- in an episode where she discusses ‘love-bombing’ with rebecca: in fact, this scene was so bad, it made me switch the episode off, and not return to it until the next day- and jack, who has magically become a very annoying and ethically dicey human being in the span of a week- Bad. i was rooting for them! and now they just suck.
i’m not going to discuss the most recent episode’s cringeworthy ‘discussion’ (if you can call it that, more like a bad assembly delivered by someone with no charisma), because it has been done to death. in short, it is Not Good. i wanted to discuss something else that really irked me, and why my moaning is mainly about the writing, and not the (at times) schlocky acting.
coach beard shows a picture of (very!) famous footballer, johan cruyff, to the players. coach beard is obviously meant to be a peripheral for the uninitiated in football, to explain total football, and who johan cruyff is. this is following from the funniest joke in the whole season in the last episode, where ted gets fake high and just reinvents total football in a sequence that is actually hilarious if you know about total football. obviously, most people don’t! which is fine. actually, it isn’t- cruyff was a genius, and more people should know about him! nonetheless, due to the audience mainly being clueless americans, this has to be explained to them. i don’t have a massive problem with this, since this is just due to the nature of the audience. my problem is, though, when this photo of cruyff is displayed, one of the footballers says, and i quote, “that’s tim robinson from i think you should leave”. yes. this is said, by a footballer. firstly, they don’t look alike! secondly, all top-flight footballers know who johan cruyff is, and most will probably know about total football as a system, which makes the whole scene narratively inane. thirdly, you really expect me to believe that a footballer watches a niche netflix original sketch show? and makes the reference immediately? and!! has his fellow footballers and coaches understand the reference? i Refuse to Accept That.
the footballers are somehow meant to be both clueless, uninitiated in the art of being ‘woke’ (god i hate that word, but i am using it in its original sense) plebeians- which i think invites some racist and classist stereotypes to a couple of the players, but that’s another problem entirely- and also, intellectuals, oozing with cultural capital, and able to make witty quips when needed. why?
some of the problem, i think, comes from the fact that the head writers cannot resist making every single character in the show like them. quite a few of the main writers are actually in the show! a few are main characters! so of course they, as mostly uninformed people who are very culturally informed, are going to make jokes that would be funny to them, instead of ones that… make sense in the context of the show, or are actually funny. there’s probably a sociological reason for this, like white men always aiming to eventually assimilate their creations into a facsimile of themselves, due to the power they wield in society. to be honest with you, i just think that they got a bit too big for their boots, and have tried to do too much with the show.
the first season of ted lasso will, unfortunately, remain nothing more than lightning in a bottle, followed by two mediocre seasons of television that squander its premise. i shall continue watching, and see if the show, somehow, manages to turn it back around and make it good again. i don’t have much faith in this, though. if i am proven wrong, please shove me into a pillory, and throw some artisanal tomatoes at me, to ensure i pay my penance.