- Creators: Jason Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt, and Joe Kelly
VP Content Ratings
- Sex & Nudity
- Star Rating
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely[b] on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Running time per episode: 24-49 min.
Note, the following will contain a few spoilers, necessary for this exploration of Scripture and art.
It might seem strange to suggest using the Beatitudes of Christ in exploring this much lauded cable TV series about an American college football coach taking charge of an English soccer club in the Premier League. However, as I watched this fish out of water story unfold, snatches of the Beatitudes kept rising up in my mind. The more I saw of the main character Ted Lasso, the more I realized that he can be seen as an example of what Christ would call “the blessed man,” even though the script writers never use religious language and seldom refer to the Bible or God. Some reviewers have used the term “nice” to apply to Ted, but I believe that “blessed” is a better adjective.
Developed by Jason Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt, and Joe Kelly, the series follows Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis), an American college football coach who is hired to coach the AFC Richmond, an English soccer team by its owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham). She has won ownership of the team in her bitter divorce suit from her womanizing husband Rupert (Anthony Head) and is eager to humiliate him by destroying the only thing he loved, this football team. Thus, the plot is similar to Mel Brooks’ delightful play The Producers. To make sure that her team has a failing season, she fires the old coach and replaces him with what she thinks will be a sure loser, an American who knows almost nothing about soccer. We wonder about Ted at first—is he the clueless rube he seems to be upon first encounter? Why would he come only with his loyal assistant coach Beard (Brendan Hunt, also a co-creator of the series) some 4400 miles from his wife and child to accept a job for which he seems so unqualified?
Thus, the first episode sets up the other nine. Everybody—team members and townsfolk—are dead-set against the new coach. Ted’s folksy, optimistic approach, even when insulted to his face, is to be his reaction to hostility throughout the series. At the end of this episode Ted talks on the telephone with his wife and young son, revealing that he had accepted the position to allow his doubting wife “space” for evaluating their relationship.
For a deeper understanding of the Beatitudes, I urge you to look with me at the J.B. Phillips translation in order to see their incarnation in Ted.
“How happy are the humble-minded, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!”
No one is more humble-minded than Ted, who never tries to exalt himself at the expense of someone else. Compare him to the club’s young striker Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), the man seen by all as the only ace of the team, so full of himself that he consistently refuses to pass the ball to his teammates, lest one of them score a point rather than himself.
“How happy are those who know what sorrow means for they will be given courage and comfort!”
Like all great comedies, this series has many poignant moments, especially in the fifth episode when Ted’s wife Michelle, and young son, Henry, visit him. The latter hopes that this will heal their rift, but when Michelle cries and reveals that she no longer feels toward him the same way as before, we see that his love is large enough, his care for her happiness rather than his own, great enough that he can let her go. They part on good terms with Ted wishing her well. Later we will see this takes a psychological toll on him, suggesting that Ted is now what Henry Nouwen might call a “wounded healer.”
“Happy are those who claim nothing, for the whole earth will belong to them!”
Ted never refers to his success back in the States when he coached his college football team to a championship trophy. He is able to connect with another “meek of the earth,” the team’s bullied kit manager Nathan Shelley (Nick Mohammed) and lift him up when he discovers the young man’s knowledge of soccer. He reveals to a reporter that Nathan is the one who came up with the new plays for the team, rather than take credit for them himself..
“Happy are those who are hungry and thirsty for goodness, for they will be fully satisfied!”
Ted is, most of the time, able to put aside his own ego as he deals with his tormentors. He seeks the goodness in others, even in Jamie, as we will note below. Realizing that the underperforming young Nigerian player Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) is terribly homesick, he arranges a surprise birthday player for him, even though the team has just lost their game. He does not approve of the bullying of Nathan, but he arouses Roy to openly champion the victim, and, as you will read below, he comes to the aid of Rebecca when her ex-husband schemes to harrass her.
“Happy are the merciful, for they will have mercy shown to them!”
Time after time Ted forgives his tormentors, starting with Jamie. He praises the young man for his abilities and gently seeks to lead him out of his self-centeredness. It will be a long struggle, but worth the effort. Most of all, Ted forgives Rebecca when she is so transformed by his gentle ways that she confesses her scheme.
“Happy are the utterly sincere, for they will see God!”
Ted is revealed to be as smart and confident as TV detective Columbo. I love the pub scene in which he bests the over-confident Rupert in a game of darts, thereby saving Rebecca from a series of humiliations, but never using guile on his opponents. When he praises Jamie, who despises him, he means it and is interested, not in getting back at the him for his insults, but genuinely wanting to bring out the best in the cad’s character.
“Happy are those who make peace, for they will be sons of God!”
Surely Ted is “a son of God” in the scenes in which he stops Jamie from fighting with veteran player Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein). Once a great midfielder, Roy is past his prime, and Jamie does not hold back in pointing this out. Roy has such a short fuse that the two often come to blows in the locker room. Ted not only intervenes, but works with Roy, refusing to give in to others who want the player benched. Before one game he enables Roy to use that anger for motivation in performing well in the game.
“Happy are those who have suffered persecution for the cause of goodness, for the kingdom of Heaven is theirs!”
Wherever he goes, Ted is ridiculed, the crowds chanting “Wanker! Wanker!” when he comes on the field or enters the local pub. Yet he absorbs this in a “turn the other cheek” way. This has an effect on others, as we see in Episode 3 when Rebecca arranges for Trent Crimm, a tough reporter and one of Teds harshest critics, to spend the day observing the coach at work and leisure. She assumes that Crimm will pen a harsh attack on the hapless coach, but Ted has an ameliorating effect on his critic, revealing that he is more interested in his players than in winning games. The columnist is hard on what he regards as the coach’s shortcomings, but writes that he likes the man.
“And what happiness will be yours when people blame you and ill-treat you and say all kinds of slanderous things against you for my sake! Be glad then, yes, be tremendously glad—for your reward in Heaven is magnificent. They persecuted the prophets before your time in exactly the same way.”
If you do not know the English slang put-down “Wanker,” you will by the second episode! Yet, by absorbing the intended insults of the crowd and continuing to be concerned with his players rather than just winning games, he changes the attitudes of those lambasting him. By the end of this first season, “Wanker” has become a term of endearment, a back-handed way of the crowd to show their appreciation and support for their unusual coach.
Secondary to the theme of “the blessed man” is the theme of community or team building, at which Ted proves to be a master. Part of his approach to Jamie is to get the ace player to see beyond his own prowess and realize what they all could do if he would work with the others rather than just for himself. His arranging for Sam’s birthday party in the second episode, in which everyone but Jamie become more involved with the homesick player, is the beginning of the process. In the fifth episode Ted astounds and enrages everyone by benching his ace player and, after giving the team a talk based on the sign “Believe” that he has taped above a doorway, has his team run a play they had practiced. The team wins their first game, imbuing them with a team spirit never felt before. Ted also invites the input of others, especially the lowly Nathan, who proves to be full of insight and football knowledge that contributes to the team’s eventual success.
The writing is so good, giving us characters rich in detail, including some not yet mentioned. Leslie Higgins (Jeremy Swift) is Rebecca’s milquetoast Director of Football Operation who goes along with his boss’s duplicity until he has had more than he can stand. Keeley Jones (Juno Temple), an ambitious model, is Jamie’s girlfriend, ditching him when his arrogance proves too much. She becomes a good friend of Rebecca and strongly drawn to Roy. There is not a weak actor or character in this whole magnificent series! Indeed, they seem like such flesh and blood people that we come to care deeply about them. Jamie at first is the villain we like to hiss at, but even he is transformed by Ted’s gentle treatment of him, so that his humanity reappears late in the series. Only the cad of a husband Rupert remains an unredeemed villain, even his generous gift of a million pounds to the club’s children’s charity a device to get back at Rebecca and not a gift from the heart.
To the writers’ credit, the Big Game in Episode 10 that will determine whether or not the team with the most losses will be relegated to a lesser league, does not turn out in the usual Hollywood way. It seems that there are more mountains to climb before our underdogs can rise to the top. I am eagerly waiting to see the second season of a truly phenomenal cable series, one that deserves its many Emmies and Golden Globe awards!
Wikipedia has an excellent summary of each of the 10 episodes as well as a descriptive list of the cast members.
Also, the series official website is full of information, including pictures.
This review will be in the November issue of VP along with a set of questions for reflection and/or discussion. If you have found reviews on this site helpful, please consider purchasing a subscription or individual issue in The Store.