But although the show’s superficial focus over the first two seasons has been on Ted as a “nice guy,” that’s not really what the show is about. It isn’t a happy-go-lucky dramatization of optimism, but about the work and necessity of building communities in which we draw strength from one another. The show’s tension and success stem not from its oft-touted emphasis on kindness, but from its ability to embody something that in the past would have been called caritas.
As historians, we’ve spent the past 18 months of the pandemic not only watching “Ted Lasso” but also thinking deeply about the values communities need to weather difficult times. In the midst of a pandemic, when so many of us feel fundamentally alone, we see glimmers of this in our own world when we remember that we wear masks not just for ourselves but for everyone else too.
This fully blossoms throughout season 2, even if it’s not a lesson everyone learns by the end.
The camera lingers on Tartt and Kent, but you can still see the faces of the rest of the team, silent, but slowly beginning to understand what they owe to each other. Two episodes later, in episode 10, the entire team attends the funeral for the father of their boss, Rebecca, and does so out of a genuine effort to support her in her loss.
Two episodes beyond that, in the season 2 finale, Ted apologizes to his team for not being honest about his mental health struggles — not just because he lied, but because in so doing he didn’t give himself a chance to build further trust within his community. The team immediately rallies to him, though, continuing the pattern that apology is part of restoring community, but the person who has done wrong must ask for forgiveness for that process to begin. They all are wishing good to each other.
Certainly, this ethos is put to the test throughout season 2. Rebecca is still damaged by her ex-husband as well as her father but has allowed others to care for her and so becomes stronger. Viewers learn quickly this season that as much as Ted himself tries to create a community of care, he lacks one himself. Divorced, absent from his son back in Kansas and carrying, we learn, a history of family tragedy, he begins to understand that he too needs people to care for him. He opens up to his team of coaches and even more to his therapist, only to have that vulnerability betrayed by Nate, a man whose potential Ted saw, supported, nurtured and thought he had fully included in his chosen family.
Nate cannot see the community. He remains damaged, feels abandoned by his father and hence by Ted. His final speech to Ted is that of a villain, still blaming others for his own choices and creating false justifications that cast him as a victim, rather than being accountable for his actions.
Meanwhile, Sam, a young Nigerian player who this season has emerged as a star both on the field and off, scoring lots of goals, raising awareness about oil spills in Nigeria, as well as having a torrid love affair with his boss, Rebecca, and being courted to leave the team by an African billionaire, is the opposite of Nate. He has a supportive family — which helps, but as Jamie shows isn’t necessary if you’re willing to do the work — and so embraces the care of the whole Richmond team. He stays in the community by learning to rely on himself.
All of these story lines are about the need for caritas, the work it takes to get there, and how easy it is to lose your way.