I Have Seen the ‘Ted Lasso’ Christmas Episode, and Now I Am Dead

God help us, every one

If you are like me, and you are, then people have been bombarding your feed with heartwarming ‘Ted Lasso’ opinions for months. Here’s ‘Ted Lasso Makes Me Want To Be A Better Person.’ Or ‘Ted Lasso Makes Me Want To Be A Nicer Person.’ How about ‘Ted Lasso Taught Me Why Women Don’t Go For Nice Guys.’ And on and on.

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It makes me wonder. I thought ‘Ted Lasso‘ was a sitcom about an optimistic American college football coach who a bitter divorcée hires to unwittingly destroy British premier league soccer team. Instead, apparently, it’s a series of lectures from ‘Wondrium’ about ethics and proper behavior.

But the ‘Ted Lasso’ Christmas episode, which appeared on Apple+ last Friday in the middle of August, is a monstrously saccharine forced dose of good cheer even by the standards of TV Christmas episodes. It features hackneyed heartwarming moment after heartwarming moment, and ruins its one semi-cynical plot line with a gag-inducing homage to the posterboard stalking scene in ‘Love Actually.’ There’s a slow-motion scene of a couple walking down the street holding the hand of a cute little girl to the tune of ‘Fairytale of New York,’ a song about junkies calling each other “cheap lousy faggots.” So this is Christmas.

Ted Lasso
Jason Sudeikis and Hannah Waddingham teach us how to be better people in the ‘Ted Lasso’ Christmas episode.

I prefer my sports TV dark and cynical, like Eastbound and Down or Brockmire, which has the same general premise as ‘Ted Lasso,’ but with a lot more drug use and bathroom humping. But I did enjoy the general fish-out-of-water vibe of ‘Ted Lasso’s’ surprise hit first season. I laughed at Coach Beard’s asides, rooted for grouchy Roy Kent to get the woman over Jamie Tartt, and found myself on the edge of my seat at the ‘Rudy’-like finale. Juno Temple’s Keeley was too Manic Pixie Dream Girl for me, and I didn’t like the karaoke scene in the middle of the season, but I understood the appeal. The show hit some sort of cultural sweet spot.

Season 2, though, has clearly gotten high on its own supply of self-righteous good feeling. The opening episodes were a parade of therapy and manipulative tear-jerking. It features not one, but two, separate wise-beyond-their-years girls. And it takes a stance against the exploitation of the Nigerian coastline by oil companies, about as courageous as saying “war is bad”. Only Roy Kent seems to be up to his old cynical ways.

But the Christmas special is the overdose episode. It went back to the karaoke well, and hard, and also tripled down on the virtue signaling that’s the show’s biggest downfall. ‘Ted Lasso’ is a Hallmark Channel show for Blue Staters. The Christmas episode centers around rich white people graciously delivering Christmas gifts to poor people in the projects. It makes them “feel better.” They are teaching you how to be a better person.

But herein lies the appeal of Ted Lasso. The show is a liberal fantasy where everyone gets along and eventually does and believes in the right thing. Goodwill and tolerance triumph. But what I see in my mostly liberal circles is the opposite. “Rage at the unvaccinated.” “Diseased toothless fuckwads in Wal-Mart.” Ted Lasso is a football coach from Kansas who speaks with a Southern accent. He may be Blue America’s kind and generous TV boyfriend, but the people who love ‘Ted Lasso’ don’t love the real Ted Lasso, whoever he is. Maybe they shouldn’t, it’s not required. But let’s not pretend that the show is anything but tolerance cosplay for people who have forgotten what the word tolerance actually means.

There’s also the irony of a show releasing a Christmas episode in an August during a pandemic where you see the world retreating into itself again. The city where I live is recommending vaccinated people don’t gather indoors. The ‘Ted Lasso’ Christmas episode is a total celebration of doing just that. I’m anticipating another canceled Christmas this year. But at least we’ll be able to gather around the hearth to watch Ted and Rebecca karaoke with the Christmas buskers, who benefit for their wealthy generosity. ‘Ted Lasso’ is a forced march to warmth and goodness, a treacly nightmare from Planet Christmas. Let’s watch the chosen few dance in the fake British snow.

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Neal Pollack

Book and Film Globe Editor in Chief Neal Pollack is the author of 11 semi-bestselling books of fiction and nonfiction, including the memoirs Alternadad and Stretch, the novels Repeat and Downward-Facing Death, and the cult classic The Neal Pollack Anthology of American Literature. A Rotten Tomatoes certified reviewer for both film and television, Neal has written articles and humor for every English-language publication except The New Yorker. Neal lives in Austin, Texas, and is a three-time Jeopardy! champion.

4 thoughts on “I Have Seen the ‘Ted Lasso’ Christmas Episode, and Now I Am Dead

  • August 16, 2021 at 4:57 pm
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    I appreciate your critique, which is not without merit, but it doesn’t resonate with me, dismissing how desperately viewers like me needed a balm to the past decade. I avoided this show for almost a year because I presumed the fish-out-of-water trope was going to stick to the usual: a cantankerous jerk changing his ways while swimming in a sea of someone else’s culture. Instead, it is the reverse, and it is lovely.

    Given how many shows on television do not even try to address the pandemic or the realities of living with extreme precaution, it seems odd to cite gathering for Christmas among its offenses. I’m not sure there is a timeline that has been established, so the show could be set just before the pandemic. Does it matter? When everyone but Ted Lasso is wearing masks and sheltering in their TV homes, maybe this particular complaint will carry weight.

    There are plenty of quality shows led by jerks with a buried heart of gold and the complexities of various harsh struggles. Maybe, in the end, Ted Lasso won’t live up to its first season—which was tremendous—but if so, it won’t be the first show to set an impossible bar it fails to clear again. I’m glad I have this oasis that brings me all the good feels and hopeful modeling of humanity I would like our world to emulate. Can’t wait for New Years.

    Reply
    • August 16, 2021 at 5:41 pm
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      I understand why people like it, and I also think the first season was pretty good. I am personally against living with extreme precaution, so I don’t fault the show for ignoring the pandemic. I just think it’s funny that the same people who are praising it to the skies are the ones who are also advocating hiding in their bunkers and professing intolerance for those who don’t make the same choice. But most of all, that Christmas episode was a war crime. Thanks for your thoughtful note.

      Reply
  • August 17, 2021 at 2:39 pm
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    Thanks for recap. Tough but fair.

    I enjoy the show very much, although I understand those who feel that Ted is a little hard to take. For me, the show has resonated the most when it complicates its hero and makes him less of a caricature, as during the panic attack episode last season. It seems that alcohol dependency may be creeping into the picture, and this episode does touch on this topic again briefly. I’ll be interested to see if the season continues to explore the issue of Ted’s possible alcoholism head-on, or if it stays in the background. Not sure which I’d prefer.

    I would also argue that the true beacon of goodness and light on the show is not Ted but Sam, who is perfect in every way.

    Reply
  • August 21, 2021 at 12:10 am
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    I like the phrase tolerance cosplay. It’s a nice way of summing up the way a lot of liberal sitcoms and dramedies fetishize the idea of getting along with people who think differently without ever really acknowledging that the reason why people think differently is because they want radically different things that are mutually exclusive from each others’ goals. The Good Place is probably the single most galling example, where literal demons are persuaded into giving up on eternal torture because of this force of sheer optimism.

    Reply

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