B!KE
Statement House
Theatre Trent 2022
Arthur News School of Fish
Image from Ted Lasso, Apple TV+ (2021).

Be A Goldfish: How Ted Lasso is Changing the Game for Male Mental Health in Television

Written by
Bethan Bates
and
and
March 28, 2022

Disclaimer: this article will include spoilers for seasons one and two of Ted Lasso. It also uses ‘football’ to refer to British football / soccer.

Be A Goldfish: How Ted Lasso is Changing the Game for Male Mental Health in Television
Image from Ted Lasso, Apple TV+ (2021).

Just over a month ago a good friend of mine encouraged (see: forced) me to start a new TV show which they posited as ‘a comedy show about British football’. I was less than convinced by this descriptor, but as I am a sucker for validation, I began my Ted Lasso journey. 

Ted Lasso is a comedy show starring Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham, and Juno Temple on Apple TV+. The titular Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) is a viral college American football coach who has been hired by recently divorced football club owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) to move to London to coach a failing Premier League football team. Knowing nothing about the sport but needing to get away from his deteriorating marriage, Ted moves with his right-hand man Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) to coach AFC Richmond. Although the show primarily focusses on Ted and Rebecca, there is an incredible ensemble cast accompanying them through the chaos. Some of the highlights of this incredible cast are Juno Temple as Keely Jones, Brett Goldstein as ageing midfielder Roy Kent, Nick Mohammed as assistant coach Nathan Shelly, and (my beloved) Sarah Niles as the wonderful Dr. Sharon Fieldstone. 

So why am I telling you this? What does Ted Lasso have to do with anything, other than being a hilarious show? Well, the show tackles a number of important issues in a relatable and accessible way. I have decided to break this article down by character to demonstrate the issues they face and how they overcome them.

Ted Lasso

The very best place to start is of course with Ted Lasso himself. The series opens with his move away from his family in Texas in large part due to his marital problems as his wife files for divorce. Ted is a complex character who appears largely jovial and carefree with catchphrases such as ‘success is not about the wins and losses’. His coaching style relies on the expertise of those around him and he places himself as somewhat of a cheerleader of team morale. However, he struggles with anxiety and panic attacks throughout the show as he works through his family problems, the trauma of his father’s suicide, and the expectations of his team and fans. However, the team, his friends, and therapist Sharon Fieldstone are vital in teaching him that his mental health issues are not something to be ashamed of and that he is allowed to reach out to his support system. What is so important about this role is that Sudeikis is representing a male character who is not perceived as weak for his anxiety and is capable of growth.

Nathan Shelley

Nathan ‘Nate’ Shelley begins the series as the socially awkward victim of bullying kit manager at AFC Richmond. He is often overlooked by the team and managers at the club despite his extensive knowledge of plays and strategy that go on to be key winning moments in the team’s season. Due to this, he has very low self-esteem and struggles to make interpersonal connections. He latches onto Ted due to the praise he receives and is soon promoted to assistant coach. However, he is also shown to be an unkind and manipulative person, often shouting at the team and new kit manager, Will, for small mistakes with no regard for their feelings. He is the foil to Ted’s inexpert yet warm persona. By the end of season two, the awkward yet well-meaning Nate of early season one has completely disappeared as evidenced when Nate tells a newspaper reporter about Ted’s mental health problems in an attempt to sully his reputation. Nate represents the ‘nice guy’ who becomes angry and abusive at the first sign of rejection. He also reminds the audience that every person is a mystery.

Jamie Tartt

A controversial and unlikable character at the beginning of the series, Jamie Tartt has one of the most dramatic character changes throughout the show. He begins as the boyfriend of Keely Jones and is a highly talented - but egotistical and rude - player who causes tension in the locker room and on the pitch. He does not take to Ted’s coaching, which focusses heavily on being a team player regardless of personal skill. At the end of the first series Jamie returns to his home team of Manchester City and goes head-to-head with Richmond and ultimately causes them to be demoted from the League. He wins the game with Ted’s voice in his head reminding him to ‘make the extra pass’, something he has struggled to do previously. It is after this win that we learn that Jamie’s father is verbally and physically abusive towards him and is the cause of Jamie’s need to be the best and win on his own. Jamie returns to Richmond in series two, humbled by his stint on Lust Conquers All (a very funny Love Island spoof), he works to build positive relationships with his team whilst hiding his relationship with his father. However, everything comes to light when his father becomes abusive in the locker room after Richmond loses an important match. By this point, the end of series two, Jamie is a well-liked member of the team and his team supports him, even his rival Roy Kent, in an emotional scene where Jamie openly cries.

Sam Obisanya

One of the most likeable characters on the show is Nigerian right-winger Sam Obisanya who is a leader in the locker room and a friend to all. Sam is a young player who has moved away from his family in Nigeria to play for Richmond and is very successful, but struggles with homesickness. One of Sam’s main plotlines is when he begins a PR campaign with their main sponsor Dubai Air, but he finds out that they are connected to an environmental crisis that is destroying land in Nigeria. He chooses to tape out their logo on his uniform at their next game as a sign of resistance and is heart-warmingly joined by the whole team, led by Jamie Tartt. He is a character of strong morals and determination who is more interested in doing what is right than what is safest. Another example of this is when he chooses to stay at Richmond rather than taking a position back in Nigeria as he wants to continue to inspire young people in London.

Sharon Fieldstone

A new addition for the second series, Dr. Sharon ‘Doc’ Fieldstone enters the show as a sports therapist hired to help Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernández) after a traumatic event involving the team mascot, but she stays on and works with various members of the team in a counselling capacity including Colin Hughes (Billy Harris) who struggles with his self-esteem. She immediately makes Ted uneasy as he is sceptical of therapists but is also unable to admit he may need help with his mental health. One of the reasons Doc is such a great character is not only her clear yet comforting methods, but also because she openly sees a therapist herself to deal with her own issues to help her as a person and a professional. When we first meet Doc she is closed off and as sceptical of Ted as he is of her, but she develops to become more sociable with the team and after being in a crash and getting a concussion, she manages to ask Ted for help. 

I could go on forever and speak on every character in this show and why they are ground-breaking in their representation of mental health in sport, but I do want to leave a little something for you when you watch this (side eye). Overall, Ted Lasso toes the difficult line between drama and comedy with lovable characters, great writing, and important messages. I think it will be a blueprint for many shows to come on how to write male characters and mental health. The third season is currently in production so get ahead of the game and watch the first two seasons now!

B!KE
Statement House
Theatre Trent 2022
Arthur News School of Fish
Written By
Sponsored
B!KE
Statement House
Theatre Trent 2022
Arthur News School of Fish

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