LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – In this media age, you quickly learn that bad news travels faster than good. False stories embed more deeply than true. And "viral" is not always synonymous with "meaningful."
But some things endure. Goodness resonates. We gravitate to it, huddling around it like a fire at times, especially in difficult and contentious times.
The Olympics are getting ready to start. The NBA Finals are over. College football will be firing up soon. But perhaps the biggest "sports" story this week to a great many people is the debut of the second season of Apple’s "Ted Lasso."
A fictional soccer coach provided the breath of fresh air that 2020 needed, and a record-tying 20 Emmy nominations for its cast, crew and creators, when it debuted last year. A second season began streaming today on AppleTV+. (And it continues to deliver. No new-season spoilers here.)
I’ve read a great deal of commentary on why Lasso’s essential goodness and enthusiasm resonate, particularly in the pandemic climate of a year ago. And I agree with all of them.
But for me, there are a couple more reasons than Ted Lasso being a show where, for the most part, the protagonist is always looking for ways to make the people around him better, and happier.
I grew up watching The Andy Griffith Show. To watch it today is to see the flaws, but its first six seasons are, for me, the gold standard of situation comedy. That it remains in syndication today, 61 years after it first aired, is testament to that.
Ted Lasso isn’t Andy Griffith. (You wouldn’t want to watch it with young kids.) But it borrows one key element from that show. My friend, Louisville attorney Dave Barber, once remarked that he was always struck by how many of those Andy Griffith episodes were built around elaborate efforts to not hurt a character’s feelings, or to boost someone’s self-esteem.
I am struck by the Lasso character’s efforts to respect the feelings of others, and even to elevate them. Eating spicy Indian food beyond his ability to tolerate it just to make the cook feel good. Making and delivering daily biscuits to the boss. His kindness and advocacy for the kit manager. Arranging birthday gifts for a young international player.
Around Lasso, in many ways, is darkness. A boss bent on betrayal. A team headed for relegation. A star player with a massive ego ("the prince prick of all pricks" in the estimation of a teammate). And that teammate, an aging superstar angry at his decline. Lasso chooses, however, to seek out the light, finding allies and winning over enemies, including some in the press.
That the United States in 2020 (and 2021) would respond in such a favorable way to a character who does that gives me hope that we are not the degenerate nation of internet haters and flamers that we often seem to be.
The other reason I appreciate Lasso is that I have known him, not the character, but people who could’ve played the part without acting lessons. Many of them were high school teachers who showed up every day and cracked jokes and smiled and jumped into classes with great enthusiasm whether they felt it or not.
I see shades of him in coaches I cover – though nobody in real life can be that positive all of the time. There’s a time for intensity, too. But if you’re, say, a Bellarmine basketball player listening to coach Scott Davenport get on you during a timeout, the fact that he threw you a candy bar with an inspirational note wrapped around it at bed check the night before lets you know where he’s coming from.
Lasso’s goodness is tempered with troubles, sadness over a pending divorce, a panic attack in public, and mounting losses on the pitch.
Because of those things, it’s believable when he demonstrates compassion and grace at a level rarely seen in today’s entertainment offerings.
A pivotal moment for the character in the first season is during a game of darts against the team’s former owner, and a nemesis of Lasso’s current boss. The odds look long. He needs two 20s and a bullseye to pull the game out.
And in the midst of achieving just that, Lasso delivers a soliloquy that no doubt resonates with many.
"You know, Rupert, guys have underestimated me my entire life," he says. "And for years, I never understood why. It used to really bother me. But then one day, I was driving my little boy to school and I saw this quote by Walt Whitman, and it was painted on the wall there. It said, 'Be curious, not judgmental.' I like that."
Then he threw his first 20.
"So I get back in my car and I'm driving to work, and all of a sudden it hits me," he continues. "All them fellas that used to belittle me, not a single one of them were curious. You know, they thought they had everything all figured out. So they judged everything, and they judged everyone. And I realized that they're underestimating me -- who I was had nothing to do with it. 'Cause if they were curious, they would've asked questions. You know? Like, 'Have you played a lot of darts, Ted?'"
He throws, and hits another 20.
"To which I would've answered, 'Yes, sir. Every Sunday afternoon at a sports bar with my father, from age 10 until I was 16 when he passed away.' Barbeque sauce."
He throws a bullseye, and the crowd in the bar cheers.
Nice guys don’t always finish first, and the series hasn’t suggested that. In fact, it has plenty of wisdom to share on the topic of losing. There are hard talks. Lasso promises his aging star that he won’t bench him, then he has to do just that.
And I am here, for all of it. For Walt Whitman. For the good guy winning once in a while.
Because when America cheers on Ted Lasso, it means to me that not everything has become dark and contentious and selfish. There is still something in a significant number of people that sees something worthwhile in putting someone else first and working to make people happy.
I wouldn’t have guessed it.
But I'm glad to see it, and glad that Ted Lasso has hit a bullseye with so many viewers.
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