Ted Lasso created space for healthy conversations around “soft” masculinity on television.
The final episode of the Peabody-winning series Ted Lasso aired last week on Apple TV, ending the season—and potentially the show—on the note that it has been most celebrated for: optimism, cheer and community.
The final episode follows football coach Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis), the titular character, as he decides to leave AFC Richmond (the team he has been coaching) in favor of returning to Kansas City to spend more time with his son, Henry, and his co-parent and ex-wife Michelle. Not only does Ted’s decision come at a bad time for the team, which has just advanced to the top of its league, but also for the work family that Lasso has cultivated in his three years as part of the team.
The latest season aired to mixed reviews from viewers and critics alike, many of whom were disappointed with a rushed ending that felt inauthentic to their beloved characters. However, despite the debate around its critical appeal, the workplace sitcom stayed true to its most salient value in our current media landscape by casually and comfortably addressing the possibility of healthier masculinity in male-dominated spaces. This is particularly groundbreaking given the context of aggression in men’s sports, especially English football.
Domestic violence by partners increased by 50 percent when England won a World Cup game, researchers at Warwick Business School found in a recent study. Ted Lasso acknowledges this fact throughout its air-time by highlighting the impact that abusive language from fans, teammates, pundits and family can have on the life of a professional athlete. We see star athlete Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) struggle with his relationship with his father who supports a rival team, or abusive club owner Rupert Mannion who channels his aggression both in his personal and professional relationships. These characters aren’t caricatures of what could be—they are representations of the relationships that exist within the landscape of men’s sports. They allow us to look at the systemic aggression and violence through a microscope and dissect it.
Some of the show’s greatest moments depict fan-favorite characters experiencing challenges to their mental health, struggling with their sexualities and growing together as human beings within the limelight. The final season addresses questions of depression, queerness and family by allowing these men to have honest conversations about their lives in a locker room—which, sure, can feel like the bare minimum, but I much prefer this narrative of locker-room-talk to anything that some politicians have been spreading over the last decade. And it is refreshing.
It is refreshing to know that there is a future for healthy conversations around “soft” masculinity on television—and that there is space for us to celebrate the impact that these values can have on the men that choose to embrace them.
Even when Ted Lasso is just a lighthearted sitcom, it is part of a legacy that will redefine the way we represent masculinity on television—as going beyond the bottom line of aggression or violence. There is so much more to fall in love with than meets the eye.
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