Why we love the show Ted Lasso!

David Olsen, Ph.D, LCSW

What is it about the new show “Ted Lasso”, now in its second season, that is so captivating? Why are there so many amazing reviews from places like the New Yorker, or other periodicals or newspapers? And, why do I find myself watching it thinking I’m watching a comedy about English soccer, only to find myself tearing up unexpectedly, and wanting to talk with my wife about what in the world just happened?

If you are not familiar with the show, the gist of it is this: Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis from Saturday night live) is a second tier American college football coach who takes a position coaching an English premier league soccer team. What he doesn’t know is that the female owner of the team has hired him to “sink” the team as payback to her narcissistic divorced husband… What follows looks like a comedy. Ted doesn’t fully understand soccer, doesn’t know the correct terms (the field is called the pitch) and certainly doesn’t understand English soccer culture trying to coach in the English Premier soccer league.

How does a show like this, with its many wonderfully comic moments, elicit so many complicated emotions from its audience?

  1. Ted, despite his often bumbling ways, is an optimist who somehow always sees the good in people and wants to attempt to bring out the best in them. Even those who want to write him off, like some of the British journalists who think he’s ignorant, come away liking him and don’t understand what happened in their conversation with him.
  2. Ted somehow always practices compassion and kindness toward each person he encounters, even when they are negative toward him and even cruel. What an amazing contrast to our culture of tribalism, negativity, and interpersonal distance. He models what seems so lost in our American culture. Even people who initially don’t like him, find themselves touched in ways they can’t understand.
  3. As a coach, and as a person, he attempts to constantly bring people together and build community. Again, in contrast to our culture of “tribalism” where people divide into camps and take extreme positions, he consistently attempts to bring people together, and build community even with some very “narcissistic players” and players who don’t initially respect him.
  4. The show also understands the complexity of father son relationships. This includes both the blessing those relationships can provide while, at the same, demonstrating how the absence of a father’s blessing and love results in defense mechanisms and problems. Ted struggles with the pain of both being a father and his relationship with his own father.
  5. Finally, Ted manifests incredible vulnerability and humanness. The last episode we watched left us speechless while they played with the intense vulnerability of several of the main characters including Ted, who finally reveals his own “shadow” and intense pain, which he has attempted to keep everyone from seeing. It’s a powerfully human moment, and it’s his vulnerability, as Brené Brown often writes about, that is the source of his humanness, his compassion, and his profound relationship skills.

So why am I writing about the TV show “Ted Lasso” in a counseling center newsletter? Perhaps because the beauty of the show is that it displays what it really means to be human in the best sense of the word. The world would be a better place if we all were a little more like Ted. In the end, the process of psychotherapy, (some of the therapy scenes in the show are priceless) is to help us drop our defenses and get in touch with our vulnerabilities in the interest of being more human and more deeply relational. It is only when we can drop our defensive guard and become more vulnerable that we find true healing in relationship.