Lasso: Feels Good and Good For You - B. J. Fischer
It is safe to say that my taste in art runs toward the dark. In my 20s, I surprised those around me by reading The Prince over Christmas break. Another year, I solidified my credentials by watching Apocalypse Now on Christmas Eve.
People around me find this amusing, shocking, worrying, and/or diagnosable.
I can explain. The appeal of comfort—like that of a Big Mac—cannot be denied. But comfort alone is not subsistence for a vibrant life. Sometimes, we need to be uncomfortable. Not to mention that, after a Christmas season of Hallmark Classics and It’s a Wonderful Life, I was looking to cleanse my palette.
Which I why I was so surprised recently to discover something that I didn’t think could exist: art that makes me feel good without resorting to being banal, sappy or one-dimensional.
The surprise was delivered by Ted Lasso, the story of an American football coach (the hut, hut kind) who is hired to coach an English football team (the nil-nil kind). Unbeknownst to him, he is a poison pill, hired by owner Rebecca Welton to wreck the franchise as an act of revenge on her ex-husband.
From this admittedly preposterous premise springs a story that both feels good and is good for you. That it arrives like a morning sun over the wreckage of our times demonstrates why we still need art—light and dark.
To wit: May 24, Toledo, Ohio. A woman storms into a Wendy’s restaurant.
The police report says that “without provocation she grabbed two Frosty’s from the counter and threw them at the employees and knocked/threw several items from the register area. Including the cookie display which hit and injured a pregnant female employee.”
The causus belli? There was no cheese on her chicken sandwich.
From Jerry Springer to quotidian.
Lasso shows us another way.
When he arrives in Britain, the locals greet him with outright (and understandable) hostility. The media mocks him, local fans chant “wanker” in his direction and his own locker room reviles him. This is not anonymous Twitter chatter—these affronts are delivered face-to-face, even as Ted walks the streets of town.
Lasso refuses to lower himself. He treats his critics with courtesy and positivity. He takes “ussies” with fans who verbally abuse him. He invites his pub critics to attend practice.
Even more telling is how Lasso reacts to a far more noxious personal situation. His marriage is falling apart and there is a child. Any of us can identify with this feeling--when a relationship is dying for reasons that can be felt but not understood. Next to grief, this inexorable decay might be the most universal emotional pain we experience, and we have a Newtonian tendency to respond in destructive ways.
Lasso feels this pain—deeply. Yet, he does something that we don’t see much anymore: he accepts an unpleasant reality with dignity and grace. He doesn’t lash out at the boy. Or neglect him. He treats his ex-wife with the love he clearly feels—even when she dates their marriage counselor. As she keeps her distance, he doesn’t undermine the Mother to anyone.
Ted brings a fresh perspective to another key issue: personal growth. We (men especially) are uncomfortable with growing, because it implies that we are currently incomplete and therefore weak.
Early in his tenure, Lasso tells a sneering press corps that his job is to “help these guys be the best version of themselves on and off the pitch. This, at the end, is the most important thing.” Every team has posters and murals that mouth similar sentiments. But few match them with action.
When Lasso faces an egotistical, man-child brat of a star player, he seeks to understand the young man’s struggles with a demanding, alcoholic, dysfunctional father, and the unrelenting pressure to perform. When Lasso sees the “kit-man” Nate being mocked and denigrated in the locker room, he gives him a voice. He encourages Sam—the shy Nigerian defender—to stand up for his views on the exploitation of his country.
It makes us feel good. Growth is hope, only because it is possible. We all feel things slipping away. But our ability to grow is within our control and isn’t contingent on winning or losing.
For its part, the entertainment industry has long viewed making us feel good as its superpower. They even had a term for it: The Hollywood Ending. The Death Star is destroyed. It snows and the General’s Inn is saved. Juror 8 wins the day. George Bailey has friends. Roy Hobbs hits the homer. The Hollywood Ending is the emotional equivalent of a Hawaiian-Punch-sugar-high: powerful, short-lived, and unhealthy.
In Ted Lasso, Lasso’s team doesn’t win, gets relegated and then loses the Premiership title on the last day. Ted’s wife doesn’t come back to him with a running hug on a sun swept tarmac. His troubled star player succeeds on another team. Nate, the elevated Kit Man, turns spitefully against Ted. Yet, we have an ongoing feeling of peace and progress.
And when Lasso does get that cinematic running hug, it’s from his son on their lawn in Kansas and only after Ted has made a real choice—sacrificing the success he has built in England to be at home with his son.
He wins even though he doesn’t get to have everything. Imagine that.
One of the reasons it is difficult for Ted to leave England is the relationships he has with his players. Here, we see the nourishment of community—a remedy for the pain of always feeling alone, a disease of our times. (A pastor friend of mine talks about the “idolatry of self-sufficiency.”) Maybe we are so sad and angry all the time because we have chosen to worship an idea that can only forsake us.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Lasso offers a lively case for the proposition that not only do we owe something to the people around us (an idea as outmoded as silent films), but also that we benefit from being part of a supportive community. We need people and they need us—a silky knot of self-interest and service.
Lasso makes this case in an interesting way, because he builds his community in a locker room—where teams are commonly referred to as “families.”
It’s a facile idea. Families are often dysfunctional—I give you the Windsor’s. And you don’t trade or cut a family member. Most times, the idea of a locker room “family” is intended to collectivize the individuals , not to promote personal growth and well-being.
Lasso shows a different way, gradually transforming his locker room into a true community. Better than a family, it’s a community and a culture…a congregation. This finally comes home in the final episode. In the beginning of the show there was a “Believe” sign in the locker room that Ted eventually tore up. In the finale, we see that every player has kept a shred of the sign and together they re-assemble the puzzle.
Even as broad as that story point might be, we are reminded that we don’t have to be alone. Like every part of this show, it’s a happy ending that was there all along.
None of this would not be possible without an overriding determination to talk to the audience like grownups. We can engage with vulnerability and paradox.
Artists don’t have to wallow in what can, undoubtedly, be a cruel and unjust world. They also don’t have to create fantasy escapes.
Today, we need stories of perseverance. We should embrace the paradoxes. Two things can be true. Stories of failings and forgiveness. Strength and weakness. Pleasure and pain.
There are no quick fixes and there aren’t going to be any miracle rescues. We should seek agency, not comfort.
In the words of Olaf Olafsson in The Sacrament: “You can redeem the human spirit as easily as you can relegate it.”
B. J. Fischer's short fiction has appeared in the Black Fox Literary Journal, The Write Launch, the San Antonio Review, Artist's Studio, PIF Magazine, The View From Here, the Linden Avenue Literary Journal, and Blue Lake Review. My essays have appeared in The Fiddleback, Ardor, The (Toledo) Blade, the Bygone Bureau, Punchnel's, Thought Catalog, Impose Magazine, the Minneapolis Review of Baseball, midmajority.com, and Ontologica.