The first season of Ted Lasso came at a time where the uncertainty of life was at its peak. Everyone was shattered by the loss and the resulting chaos – scrambling to find hope in those situations. Ted's charm seemed like an antidote for that misery, so did his infectious optimism. The kind of good-willed optimism that is hard to shake off just like the etched memory of his cheek-to-cheek smile. His character was disarmingly nice, sweet, and caring – the qualities that are unlike those that one would generally associate with a football field.
While such team-building narratives are often seen through a lens of ruggedness and rigidity, what Ted Lasso offers is openness, warmth & compassion. Instead of showcasing the arduous process that one goes through as a commitment to the sport, this show focuses on the emotional canvas. By showing each of its sportsmen being vulnerable, it subverts the conventions of manhood associated with such a setting – where the players are traditionally not considered to take any such emotions into consideration – where they are expected to put on a strong armor and neither confront nor reveal what is going inside their mind – where arrogance is not just justified but also rewarded.
Ted Lasso deviated from such a conventional outlook and thus, seemed like a breath of fresh air. In the first season, we witness the journey of its mustachioed protagonist from the US coming to England, adjusting with people who don't accept him from the get-go and slowly winning them over with more than just his cheerful smile. Be it helping Nathan find his voice & confidence by believing in his strengths or support Rebecca through her episodes of vulnerability, Ted makes a case for being a selfless supporting pillar for others.
The process was not linear – it consisted of many pitfalls. Regardless, what reigned was Ted's good-natured amiability. The change-of-hearts narrative was not sprinkled with the usual corniness of slice-of-life narratives but was presented with a chain of moments that were earned by their emotional ingenuity. What made the season so special was the way Ted was able to infuse this niceness into those around him – the way he set a precedent to being a better, more compassionate human being. He made his no-strings-attached-niceness infectious and irresistible.
While the first season showed us Ted's qualities and gave a few glimpses of his own mental struggles, the second season digs deeper into its possible roots. It gets under Ted's skin, deconstructing his niceness which he sometimes uses as a front to hide from his trauma, and is becoming harmful to him in the long run. Ted's initial reluctance to see the team's allotted therapist stems from fear – a fear of being emotionally exposed – a fear of reliving the painful past. This is inevitably reflected in the present as a flight response in any situation of confrontation with himself and others. However, over the course of time, he confronts his past and opens up to the team therapist about his internal anguish.
The sessions make him ponder, make him look within himself to see whether his people-pleasing is a survival technique he has adopted over the years. The season shows him frustrated and angry, at himself – trying to reconcile with the memories and make sense of his panic attacks. Through this arc, the writing makes a case for expressing our emotions for better mental health. The show portrays emotional expression as a human need, in a world that is becoming increasingly inhuman.
The second season presents different narratives revolving around the tumultuous relationships with the patriarch. With Ted, it has more to do with his father's sudden, unfortunate death – which makes him look only at the brighter side – which is not a healthy way to attain mental stability. With Nathan, we see the toxic patriarch causing him anguish – making him fall into a pit of insecurity – as a man who still craves approval from his father – who looks at him as the ideal, as the authority figure that results in a lack of any sense of individuality or confidence.
With Jamie, it has to do with craving his father's approval, someone who would always try to control his son's life in any way possible – to make him feel smaller and weaker. Jamie's desire to stand out is derived from the anger his father directed at him – which makes him seek out validation in any form imaginable. This season takes a deeper dive into the emotional roots of parental trauma with empathy and a non-judgemental approach.
The show deconstructs masculine stereotypes while focusing on the weaker parts of its characters. Along with warmth, we encounter their vulnerability. Take Roy Kent's character as an example, who takes an interesting turn from just being a template of an angry young man to finding his sensitive side. He grows into a person resigned to a life of mundanity after retirement, where the lack of football does not sit well with him since the sport is what he is passionate about.
This season navigates his relation with this sport, with his partner Keeley, with his niece, and also with Jamie Tartt. Each of these conveys his remarkable growth to go beyond being just a reactionary man with bursts of anger. Similar efforts to evolve as an individual reflect recurrently throughout this season. Instead of trying to get his own winning moment, he cheers Keeley during her accomplishments. Instead of letting anger or ego guild him, he considers every other option to react. He reflects on his mistakes and naive assumptions as a way to build connections. The way writing shows his discovery into finding these sweet spots within himself is remarkably nuanced.
Even his past nemesis – Jamie Tartt's character is well-developed – exploring his inclination towards being a pop culture phenomenon – struggling to carve his place in a team that rejects him due to his past antics – slowly learning humility to become a better person and a better player. The characters' roundedness comes from their attempt to understand themselves better and to grow as individuals. And the show shines by showing the warmer shades of manhood without condescension and with much-needed appreciation.