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Wednesday, December 29, 2021

December 29, 2021: Year in Review: Ted Lasso

[It’s been another year, that’s for sure. So for my annual Year in Review series, I wanted to highlight a handful of things that have made me happy this year—and, yes, to complicate and analyze them, because I yam what I yam. I’d love to hear your year highlights and takeaways as well!]

On one obvious and one more subtle way the megahit show challenges our current narratives.

I was late to the party when it came to watching Apple TV’s super-smash show Ted Lasso, and so am likewise late when it comes to writing about the show (at least in this space, but I didn’t even share many of my thoughts about it on Twitter, which really puts me behind the times; even Ted himself has a Twitter presence!). Indeed, with season 2’s dozen episodes dropping weekly this past summer and fall, it felt at times like every pop culture and journalistic outlet and website, and even every individual writer about such texts and topics, was responding to Ted, often with compellingly unique angles and takes on a show that rewards such multi-layered attention to be sure. (Seriously, I could spend hours finding additional worthwhile articles and conversations to hyperlink in this first paragraph; I look forward to the inevitable, competing collections of Ted Lasso essays that will certainly be published in the not-too-distant future.)

So what on earth could I have to say about the show that hasn’t already been said (and said and said and said), you might ask? Or, more exactly, why am I dedicating one of this week’s five posts to such well-trodden ground? My answer to the second question, and perhaps to the first as well, is two-fold. For one thing, Ted was a hugely important part of my year, and for a reason that, well-covered as it might be, remains well worth highlighting: Ted’s deceptively simple optimism. As someone who has thought and written a great deal about critical optimism, I would say that I have found very few contemporary cultural works that really embrace and model that perspective, but Ted Lasso most definitely does. There’s been a lot of talk about how the second season’s various twists and revelations challenge or undercut Ted’s and the show’s optimism, but I would argue that’s because we mostly define optimism as the blandly and superficially cheery variety, rather than the hard-won, critical type that Ted has clearly worked to model and still is at Season 2’s end.

(NOTE: Serious Season 2 SPOILERS in this parargraph.) That’s why Ted meant so much to me this year, and why I knew I wanted to include it in this week’s series. But I do also have a take on one of the most complex and controversial Season 2 plotlines: the shocking evolution of fan-favorite Nate from beloved Season 1 underdog to bullying Season 2 villain. I’ve written a good bit in this space about one of the most central trends and tropes in 21st century TV (and cultural) storytelling: the anti-hero. Hell, one of the most acclaimed 21st century shows is entirely focused on how a nice guy becomes such an anti-hero. Yet whatever individual viewers think about the Walter Whites and Dexter Morgans of the world (and I’m not much of a fan), they are clearly the protagonists of their respective shows, and so there’s at least some degree of built-in empathy in how we watch their anti-heroic exploits. Whereas Nate the Great seemed like a straightforwardly heroic character in Season 1, and then gradually in Season 2 that rug was pulled out from under us and he was revealed to be at best an anti-hero (and perhaps again a villain, although eye of the beholder and all). That’s a really interesting way to both use and yet challenge a familiar TV trope, one more reason why Ted Lasso is worth continuing to watch and write about!

Next review post tomorrow,


PS. What do you think? 2021 stories you’d highlight?

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