If Ted Lasso was your coworker in real life, at least half of the people reading this sentence would hate him. Maybe more. This is true of many sitcom characters, but, if you think about a real Ted Lasso for two seconds, it’s creepy that the cultural conversation has elevated him to an aspirational role model. At his best, Ted Lasso is pathologically optimistic because (along with the writers) he’s avoiding processing real pain for as long as possible. At his worst, he’s a disingenuous weirdo. But, oddly, although the show is supposedly about Ted, a different real role model has emerged strongly in Season 2.
The guy who is teaching us real, usable life lessons isn’t Ted anymore. It’s Roy Kent.
Spoilers ahead for Ted Lasso Season 2, through episode 8, “Headspace.”
In the fifth episode of season 2, “Rainbow,” Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) rallies his losing soccer team (yes, they’re on a losing streak again) by telling them to believe in “rom-communism.” After rattling off references to the late-90s/early aughts cluster or romantic comedies that usually starred Hugh Grant or Renée Zellweger, Ted’s philosophy boils down to this: Live live your life as though it was a romantic comedy, because, in those movies, things always work out in the end, even if you don’t know the specifics. And because the writing is designed to prove Ted correct, everything works out.
Once again, various players find a confidence they didn’t know they had, and previous badass players who are in slumps are suddenly pulled out of it by a change in perspective, or whatever. For many, the message of Ted Lasso is, for the most part, a healthy one: Talking about your problems, being honest, tends to be healthier than bottling them up. The trouble is, the titular character, the warm-fuzzy Ted Lasso isn’t representative of any of this. He might believe in rom-communism, but he lives in an emotional bubble. Of all the characters in the series, Ted is the one we know the least. As LA Times critic Lorraine Ali points out, the series should probably change its name to Roy Kent since he’s the “real star of the show.”
There’s a lot of reasons to like Roy Kent over Ted Lasso, but the most salient one is that he consistently demonstrates the ability to be wrong about something, and then change.
In Episode 8, “Headspace,” Roy (Brett Goldstein) goes through what is one of the show’s best turns so far. Roy realizes he is crowding his girlfriend Keeley (Juno Temple) but, in order to get to the epiphany, has to have the error-of-his-clingy-ways pointed out to him, circuitously, by his nemesis Jamie Tart (Phil Dunster). These “profound” moments of self-discovery are the bread and butter of what makes Ted Lasso the show that it is. But, just because you take a lot of shots, doesn’t mean you score a lot of goals. As many (MANY) have noted online, not all of these warm-fuzzy morality tales work in Ted Lasso Season 2 the same way they did in Season 1. In short, even though some might argue the basic core of the show hasn’t changed, when it comes to its titular character, that’s the problem. If this show is going to be about the journey of Ted himself, then it seems a bit late for the character work to haphazardly begin. This sucker is only going to be three seasons long, and we’re just four episodes away from Season 2 being over. Ask yourself: Has Ted had the same kind of growth that Jamie Tart has? Even Nate (who is sliding to the dark side now) has changed more over the course of two seasons. But, in theory, the number-one source of all of the show’s charm and philosophy, the titular Ted himself is basically the same exact guy we met in Season 1, Episode 1. While the rest of the characters seem to exist in a dynamic contemporary TV show, Ted himself is stuck in a sitcom from the ’70s or ’80s.
The problem is, “Ted being Ted” is very much the way many men view themselves and their faults. People with bad habits, or who are not in touch with their emotions often rationalize that behavior because it’s consistent. So, despite his unrealistic facade, what lies beneath Ted Lasso is very realistic. And common. A lot of people are like this: They project a persona that is vaguely likable, but also unapproachable. They are resistant to change, and in doing good for others, they place themselves in an unassailable position. Ted is a martyr and scary one at that. For almost two complete seasons now, we’ve seen Ted not cope with his divorce and not figure out what kind of father he’s going to be after the split.
In “Headspace,” we’re meant to think Ted is making progress, simply because he’s not “quitting” therapy with the team’s shrink, Dr. Sharon (Sarah Niles). But, again, this feels pretty late in the game for the show to finally be dealing with its biggest problem. The show’s aim is to be aspirational and inspiring. And yet, the character who should be scoring the majority of those philosophically heart-warming goals is Ted himself. But, because there’s been almost zero growth or character development, the show — so far — has benched the person that we thought was the star player.
Conversely, just because Roy fixed one mistake he made, doesn’t mean he won’t make others. What makes Roy automatically more interesting than Ted — and healthier — is weren’t interested in seeing how he might succeed or fail, and how that might shape him. And the reason we’re interested in that is that we’ve been given actual examples of how that might happen. With Ted, we’re basically dealing with a rootin’ tootin’ robot. A good robot, to be sure, but closer to a character like Data from Star Trek or Piccnochio. Will Ted learn to be a real father? Can he learn the meaning of Christmas before it’s too late? Compared to the down-to-Earth foul-mouthed honesty of Roy Kent, Ted Lasso seems like a cartoon.
“Headspace” isn’t the only episode in which Roy has demonstrated laudable growth. In fact, in the “rom-com” episode, “Rainbow,” Roy quit an easy job as a sports pundit, which was surely a good thing for his career, in order to do something riskier and harder. Roy again admitted, to his peers, that what he was doing with his life wasn’t right for him, and so, he decided to change. It’s not totally realistic. But Roy is an ideal we should aspire to. He has the courage to be wrong. He has the guts to speak his mind. He doesn’t hide behind pop-culture references or vague metaphors. “Roy being Roy,” is generally being honest. And being honest often means simply admitting that he’s wrong.
The basic premise of Ted Lasso seems doggedly determined to make its subtext its context, and in doing so, will leave no exaggerated, absurd analogy left behind. The idea that Roy was following Keeley around to the extent he was at the beginning of “Headspace” is pretty unrealistic when you think about it for two seconds. But when he has the all-important “ah-ha” moment, it works, because we want to believe a character like Roy can change. Roy may not be more realistic than Ted, but he is a person you wish you knew. Or, the guy you wish you were more like. In the world of Ted Lasso, the fans sing a song about Roy Kent: “He’s here. He’s there. He’s every-fucking-where.” If only that were true in the real world. We need more Roy Kents right now.