On Jason Sudeikis, Ted Lasso and Rooting for White Male Actors

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My infatuation with Jason Sudeikis began after Sleeping with Other People (2015). In fact, the last film I reviewed in full on this blog was his 2017’s Kodachrome.

As with other male actors I’ve been having a crush on, I started to dig into the internet’s bottomless abyss for every bit of information on him. His time doing improvs, the fact that he has anosmia (pre-Covid-19 it was), his appearance in Who Do You Think You Are?—in which he traced back his ancestors to discover that his grandfather abandoned his family and died in miserable condition. Found out that he’s an avid karaoke lover. Even followed his then partner’s Instagram account—whom I never really like, but since he has no social media presence, what can I do? When their breakup was made public earlier this year, I can’t tell you how relieved I was to finally unfollow her. 

The ferociously obsessive behavior, of course, includes watching all of his old, SNL-era clips on Youtube. He became a household name in the US for 10 years in that show. My favorite is the one where he sang in front of a piano, by the way. And finally, inevitably, I landed on the early version of Ted Lasso—the one made as commercials for NBC’s Premier League broadcast.

Guess what? I didn’t like it.

The earlier Ted Lasso is definitely a jerk. He is brash, a wiseacre, with classic American over-confidence. But actually, so are other characters Sudeikis ever played. In SNLWe’re The Millers (2013), Horrible Bosses (2011), Sleeping with Other People—a cute recovered one in this, I should say—as well as his newer roles in Colossal (2016) and Kodachrome. He always plays some kind of an obnoxious anti-hero protagonist—or a definite antagonist in the case of Colossal—that even he himself admitted in his recent interview

So when the news came up that Ted Lasso was being developed as a series under the same premise—an American football coach manages an English football club without even understanding what an offside rule is—I was less than excited. Growing up, I might’ve been more exposed to American culture, yet “soccer” is never the right word. It is always “football” for me. And I actually had a thing for the England football team. Back in my teenage years, I experienced this phase in which I slept in front of a poster of Michael Owen on my bedroom wall. So I never like the view the Americans take that their football is the right one. It never is.

Post-Colossal, I was hoping Sudeikis would take up more dramatic or antagonistic roles. At that time, it was apparent that he was searching for different kinds of roles. Heck, he even tried to do a Broadway play. A bit like Matthew McConaughey and his McConaissance phase back in 2014. Colossal is exciting. It is different, funny yet a bit dark, a little off-kilter, and he was good in it. Instead, he was taking small, supporting roles here and there. Nothing impressive. So, reliving an old role didn’t seem like something that can level up his career.

When I read the rave reviews that paint Ted Lasso as this heartwarming, wholesome tv show, I was utterly confused. Many says that the show is the antidote that we need in this time of uncertainty, but The Guardian left a two-star review of the first season, so I was skeptical that it’s more favored toward one side than the other. The American side, that is. Just like the people who favor the rest of the world’s version of “football”, I tried hard to not give the show attention. And we indeed finally cracked under pressure. Other people get that pressure from friends or families, but mine came when the show won Sudeikis a Golden Globe. Finally, an actor I root for was getting an acknowledgment, but from a show that I felt skeptical about. Well, it’s about time to see the show with my own eyes.

Jason Sudeikis and Hannah Waddingham in their beautiful performances as Ted Lasso and Rebecca Welton

As it turned out, I was indubitably wrong. This new version of Ted Lasso is unassuming. He anticipates the less than warm welcome, makes offhand remarks, panics at a press conference. On top of that, he makes efforts to turn back the situation. His vulnerability is fully exposed right from the first episode. Gone the obnoxious wiseacre, and I was relieved.

He is still a rather annoying optimist. Although, as we find out later, his antics come from a darker place. Born out of anger of being misunderstood and the eventual realization that you can’t be angry all the time for the rest of your life. I also love how the writers can turn an annoyingly ubiquitous, overly inspirational song that is “Let It Go” into the background of Lasso’s panic attack scene. Such a point of view.

The reborn Lasso is given depths and layers, but comedy is still Sudeikis’s strongest area. My favorite it’s his decoy run in “Trent Crimm: The Independent”–which Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) thinks is funnier than Step Brothers (2008). Also, when he shouts, “You spoke to God?!”, responding to Rebecca’s (Hannah Waddingham) remark that she has talked to the owner of The Sun. In playing Lasso, Sudeikis gets to practice his usual comedy while showcasing his dramatic exploration. A privilege, right? I envy him.

They instill some of the original jokes, though. Like the Middle Eastern sponsor and the “Wales is a country?” thing. But some of them are delivered in much humbler tones. In the original version, there is a moment where Lasso questions a referee about an offside with an annoying, stubborn attitude though not fully understanding the rule. In the series, it is changed into a more innocent, puzzled tone.

And as the story develops, the titular character blends deeper into the ensemble, leaving the title all by itself. In the beginning, it might try to sell this franchise character, but in the end, Ted Lasso is not about Ted Lasso. I think the showrunners just couldn’t figure out a better title.

Then, is there a “but”? Oh, yeah, there’s always a “but”. As much as I enjoy the characters, the dry British humor, and the occasional film nerd jokes, the voice at the back of my head keeps questioning, “Why should the sunny character that brings out the best in everybody be a white American male?”

But then, there’s another voice asking, “Why can’t you see him as a whole person, an individual? Maybe, you’re just part of the grumpy skeptical postmodernists.”

But then again, representation on screen does matter. Not just as supporting but also titular characters. To which, you can easily say, “Then, just stop rooting for white male actors.”

Seriously, I’m stuck in this gut-wrenching conversation in my head every time I watch the show. Can someone save me?

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