I like to complain about Cormac McCarthy a lot. Like, at every possible opportunity, for example the other day I was listening to a compilation video on YouTube called Behind the Curtain that explores the writing processes for all kinds of things from True Detective to Arrival to the video in question, The Office where what sounds like Michael Shur explains a concept that I champion every chance i get. And, paraphrasing, it’s the idea that the world can be awful and scary and terrible so why not, given an artistic platform, find a way to create a solution, what’s a path out of that, a way of saying here’s some things that help show how the world can also be a better place, if at all possible. To anyone unfamiliar, Mike Shur is responsible for, aside from the American version of The Office, Parks and Rec, Brooklyn 99, and The Good Place. So feel-good comedy is kind of his wheelhouse.
What does that have to do with Cormac McCarthy, MacArthur Genius Grant recipient and author of, among other things, The Road, No Country For Old Men, and Blood Meridian, the last of which is one of the most revolting and unpleasant experiences I have ever had since I first started, you know, reading? I don’t have a problem with darkness or nihilism or pessimism in art, be it cinema, literature, or any other medium, but misery for the sake of itself, without any contrast or context, is exactly as much of a waste of time as anything that is on the polar opposite of that. Your Live, Laugh, Love crowd or the people that say Happy Monday and want everyone to go around the room and say something about themselves. Life, and I’m not an expert but I do recycle and chop up plastic soda rings before throwing them away, is pretty weird and complicated. It’s got so many odd layers and tides, the way it gives and takes, painting it as entirely one shade or another is reductive, simplistic, and, in a way, pornographic, which is what I find McCarthy’s inexplicably lauded work to be.
It’s very easy to tear something down or paint an awful picture of life’s inequities. It’s very very difficult to celebrate life realistically, with one foot in optimism and the other in realism, and if you told me a few months ago that an NBC promo for Premier League coverage starring an SNL actor I couldn’t pick out of a lineup of generic white guys, that was converted into full 10 episode season on, of all things, APPLE TV, would or could succeed at doing exactly that, I’d have called you a cab or an Uber or a Lyft because you are clearly drunk and what time is it, what time did you start drinking, I think one of us has a problem.
Ted Lasso is my favorite show in the last…I don’t know how many years. It’s my favorite show, of the laugh/feel/think type, since Scrubs for obvious reasons, Bill Lawrence is the showrunner on both, and what he succeeded with there, he succeeds with here. Ted, on his own, is a funny concept that lives exactly as long as the NBC promo videos that spawned the character but relying on this slightly insouciant yet deceptively insightful coach to carry a full order is both unwieldy and practically impossible; Lawrence and Sudeikis clearly knew this coming out of the gate, so what we have instead is an ensemble of interesting, quirky characters with their own particular journeys and hang-ups. While Lasso’s fish-out-of-water plot is suitably explored, it’s his personality and approach to both coaching and life that invert the trope. To wit, it’s his team and their owner who have to adjust to him and his relentless positivity; how they react to his idiosyncrasies is what generates and provokes a lot of the plot, when they aren’t exploring their own fully realized stories.
Further, if Ted was a perfect, flawless man sent to right everyone’s wrongs and ride off into the sunset, the show would find itself beached on a different shore. While it might not be perfect (I mean, I think it is, but that’s just me), it succeeds in turning Ted’s greatest strength into his greatest weakness, which is where it graduates from good to great. The premise of why exactly an American football coach with no soccer experience or expertise would be hired to coach a Premier League team is reasonable, if a little bit borrowed from Major League, but why an American football coach with no soccer experience or expertise would accept the position is, again, what pushes Ted Lasso above what could be a mediocre novelty.
I don’t really care for Coldplay but in Fix You there’s that line, “When you love someone but it goes to waste, could it be worse?” Coldplay is an English band so this feels like an appropriate reference. As much as I don’t care for their music songs, that line always hits me and, if you can’t relate, Ted’s collapsing marriage can put it in context. Louis CK (may his career R.I.P.) used to say, “No good marriage ever ended in divorce“. Well, that ain’t true. Sometimes people really care about one another but just can’t make it work, they feel around in the dark and can hear each other’s voices but things are always just out of reach; in a way, it can be worse than if that love just died on the vine. In fact, I’ll get even nerdier on you, as Captain Picard once said to Data (with a lot more stank on it than the measured, fatherly memes might imply), “It’s possible to make no mistakes at all and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life.” I know that it absolutely can be worse but, when love goes to waste, it is no picnic.
One of the reasons I have a blog, a blog where I will regularly quote Star Trek or wax sentimental by bringing up, of all things, a Coldplay song about crying, is because of a character named John Dorian (J.D.) from the TV show Scrubs played by Zach Braff. Zach and Bill Lawrence showed me for the very first time that it is possible to be a sensitive geek who listens to Dido and cries during movies, and that didn’t make me any less of an adult or a man, that being in touch with my feminine side or willing to be the butt of my own jokes was actually empowering because empowering is what happens when you accept and embrace your own personality. J.D. never apologized for being those things, he was never embarrassed to be them and he made me feel okay about being me.
This was something I needed very much in my early 20s and, as I get older, I have found the next version, the next example of that in this unexpected place. I don’t possess Ted Lasso’s optimism or his charm, but I love being as silly and self-aware, I do believe in an individual’s ability to affect their environment, that lifting up others and being a source of comfort and patience is a very difficult thing to do that pays off in orders of magnitude for everyone involved. And I do know what’s it’s like to love someone and it goes to waste. Ted’s an inspiration there, too (Onward, forward). And so is the rest of the cast of Ted Lasso, as they learn from each other and mature and just try to do and be better, I can’t wait for Jaime Tartt’s redemption arc and the potential promotion of AFC Richmond over the coming second and third seasons, and the clever, hilarious ways Ted and company will find their solutions through the awful and the scary and the terrible. Fuck Cormac McCarthy.