Ted Lasso

I’ve been recommending Ted Lasso to friends recently, and now it’s your turn.

Ted Lasso is hard for me to pin down. The closest genre-bucket it fits into is “dramatic comedy,” but that feels misleading; this show doesn’t feel like many other dramatic comedies I’ve seen recently—or maybe ever. It feels absurdly kind, in a wonderful way.

Ted Lasso is most certainly a comedy. And it has dramatic elements, not shying away from the personal struggles facing the characters or the (mostly social) challenges they’re up against. But the only comparable shows I know are… more cruel? They don’t build my trust in them. The other shows I’ve watched in this genre don’t feel like they really honestly love their main characters, or like they’re written with empathy for the characters and their struggles.

In my experience, when most other dramedies explore tough emotional situations, they feel like misery-porn. At best, they’re wry and a little removed from the action. At worst, they draw out the pathos and angst and awkward personal struggles, and then they stew in those feelings until they finally make their audience feel better several (long) episodes later by offering relief… after they’ve created another suffering magnet for another character in the show. But the audience’s resting state is discomfort, leavened by brief flashes of humor at someone’s expense, and the characters rarely feel lovable or leave me cackling in delighted glee.

I guess, when it comes down to it, I usually don’t feel like those other shows care about whether they make me happy. They’d much rather be serious and funny, or just painful and funny. It’s as though they’re fine with being depressing as long as they get a chuckle out of me.

That’s not Ted Lasso.

I trust the writers of Ted Lasso in ways that I don’t trust other show’s writers. They’ve proven to me that they can take an absurd premise (American football coach is hired to coach a British Premier League Football [soccer] team), weigh it down with some serious personal and interpersonal issues for dramatic ballast, and then plot a steady course that leaves me smiling in happy admiration.

They do it in 30 minute chunks. They make fast and robust characterization look effortless. And then they make rewarding character development look easy too. And the editing! Whoever’s behind the way this show skips directly to the important parts, whether that happened in the cutting room or in the writers’ room or wherever, they deserve a prize.

Oh, and the show brings up those painful and serious issues that I mentioned above and then handles them gracefully. Things don’t always turn out perfectly, but they feel good in a way that I’d forgotten was possible in a TV show. It doesn’t feel dishonest, it just feels… hopeful.

And I love that.

Honestly, some people probably won’t like that. Not everyone will be as happy with Ted’s incredible positivity as I am. And perhaps some people might dislike how the show sometimes leans into its goofy bits, or pushes for the happier and healthier resolution. It might not always deliver the feeling of “reality” that those people want.

But I’m sad and scared and anxious more of the time than I’d like. So much TV that I see only embraces that, like a deeply critical cynic insisting that they’re a realist… and then laughing at me and calling me foolish to hope for anything.

Ted Lasso doesn’t do that.  It does the opposite.

In some strange way this show and its hopefulness are reminiscent of what I love about Star Trek. It’s idealistic. Not blindly so, and not in the same way that Star Trek is, but… that uplifting feeling is still there.

Ted Lasso feels refreshing, and brave, and honest in ways that both feel healthy and are damn funny. I don’t know that I want every show to be like this one, but I could really use a few more like it.

Loki, revisited

Well, as far as I can tell, the show stuck the landing.

Loki is now secure as my favorite of the Marvel TV series so far. Sure, I’m excited to see what comes from What If…? but I don’t expect those jaunts to have the same emotional weight, or to be given the same time and focus. I don’t think I’m spoiling too much to say that there’s supposed to be a second season of Loki, and that I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m going to try talking around spoilers as much as possible. But I am going to talk about the show, mostly from a structural perspective. If you’re really worried about spoilers and are able to watch the show, I strongly encourage you to go enjoy the rest of Loki’s first season (when you can) and ignore the rest of this.

I was worried when I started watching Loki that the show would promise too much and give (or resolve) too little. I was also afraid that, like WandaVision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier before it, Loki would suffer from compression or similar [writing / directing / editing] runtime and continuity problems. To be clear, I think WV and F&WS worked… but I also think they suffered from narrative cuts and cramming.

So. This show promises a whole lot. I think it delivers more.

In a really wonderful way, this show kept giving me more than I expected. There was one exception—one that kind of disappointed me—but that had been foreshadowed extensively already. Mostly, the show felt free to resolve lots of issues and move things along to a new, messy resting state with new sources of tension that I quite enjoy. Best of all for me, the show leaned into the exploration of Loki’s motivations, hopes, and dreams, and played those through to the hilt.

Honestly, I think the certainty of a second season is critical here. Without it, and without the show’s writers and runners feeling free to resolve issues or create new ones as they saw fit, I think they would have felt pressured to tie things up more neatly for the end of the season (and the show). And I think that would have done a huge disservice to the story. I suspect that pressure (along with budget) is what forced WV and F&WS to compress as they did.

I believe that Loki‘s messiness is actually better than a neatly tied up story, even if we never get more Loki. I’d love to have more stories that feel free to do this sort of thing: creating interesting and exciting and difficult situations and then using them for honest explorations of characters I enjoy… without feeling locked into tidying everything up at the end. I like stories that end with open possibility.

I know other people don’t necessarily feel the same way. I have friends who love a neatly resolved story with all the loose ends tied up and all the resolutions for each character explored on screen. They abhor open-ended conclusions that only imply next steps and leave it up to the viewer to decide, or imagine, what happens next. But for me, a lot of that is boring or uninteresting. Life is full of the unexpected, and it feels more honest to me to close out a story’s arc while leaving open the shapes of arcs to come.

Loki does that. I have my guesses about where things will go, but there are many possibilities, and I look forward to exploring them even if I have to do it in my own mind.

Raya and the Last Dragon (2021)

Raya and the Last Dragon is not a subtle movie. It hammers you with its themes from the very beginning, tying setting and conflict and nearly everything else into a robust and relentless thematic journey from initial action through to climax and conclusion.

And I really liked it.

Because while Raya’s thematic beats thump home like clockwork, it’s also heart-warming, dramatic, gorgeous, and engaging.

This movie did not surprise me. While it has nice little flourishes that feel right, it did not wow me with big twists or unexpected reveals. Nor did it leave me guessing about its message. But it did have me crying by the end. This story got me in my narrative soft spots even though I could see the setup coming from its first twenty minutes.

In many ways, Raya is an excellent introductory movie: it both teaches how to incorporate a central theme when making films, and offers a very clear example for audiences still learning to identify themes in movies.

A few quick highlights without spoiling anything: the fight choreography and performance is excellent (partially covered on this episode of Corridor Crew), as is the art and character design and the differentiation for the five different regions of the movie’s world. But the best part, from a narrative perspective, is that the movie feels true to its characters. The speaking characters may not be the deepest and most nuanced, but they feel relatable and human instead of paper thin. And I never really feel like they’re being made to carry an idiot ball; they aren’t roped in as plot tools without deeper consideration given to being honest to the character as we know them.

I like the voice acting and animation too! I’m not wishing for a sequel (the movie does a good job of delivering a conclusion, and doesn’t need more as far as I’m concerned), but I would happily watch and listen to these people (Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Daniel Tae Kim, Benedict Wong, Izaac Wang, and Sandra Oh) doing more work together… especially if the next movie they do is anywhere near as pretty as this one. Oh and points to Alan Tudyk for once again being a charming animal voice actor in a predominantly non-white movie, I continue to appreciate the role reversal.

So yes, I do recommend this movie. I liked it. It might not get you in the emotions the way it got me—I’m sure that experience will vary—but it’s good.

Update: Oh, and, because this video is accurate and made me snort, here’s the link to the Honest Trailer for Raya. Watch it if you don’t mind being spoiled (or if you’ve already seen Raya and want a laugh).

Star Trek: The Lower Decks

I have discovered that The Lower Decks is a fine entry point for new viewers to Trek. I wonder whether that was done by accident, or whether there was some co-aligned intent that made it so. Regardless, my partner really enjoyed it. We’re both looking forward to the next season coming out in a little over a month.

Did it help that I’m overly familiar with Trek? Probably.

I grew up on The Next Generation. I’m pretty sure some half-remembered version of “Remember Me” (Dr. Crusher is caught in a collapsing warp bubble, people disappearing around her while she’s the only one to notice) fused with The Nothing from The NeverEnding Story and a fragment from Bucky O’Hare to fuel a lingering childhood fear. The climactic moments of “Conspiracy” (brain parasites infest Star Fleet) were also etched in my memory.

But my Trek-neophyte partner liked it even without my input. They were laughing before I answered any of their questions.

The Lower Decks excels at being accessible to viewers who aren’t veteran Trekkies for several reasons. Reveling in its Trek-ness, the show wears the setting’s tropes on its sleeve. This earnest obviousness is a huge advantage. The show is so clearly enamored with its setting, it shares an infectious delight even while it pokes fun—and it doesn’t feel like it’s satirizing Trek so much as celebrating it and laughing at the same time. All of that made it easier for my partner to pick up on the setting of Trek without other context, while still having fun with it: several times, they cackled while asking “that’s a thing?” (They were right, it was a thing.)

Similarly, the characters are both varied and endearing while remaining plausibly Trek. They play to their comedic bits and obsessions, but the writers preserve their “humanity.” And I actually think this show does a better job of exploring the characters of its cast than Discovery does, and in far less runtime.

I’ll elaborate: this show feels more Trek than Discovery does to me, because of its unabashed embrace of the ideals of Star Fleet. In that way it feels more like the TNG I grew up with, more hopeful and earnest and less focused on following some larger dramatic arc. The important deliberations of this show are ultimately smaller in scope, and we have more time to watch people being people at people-scale instead of losing the little personal details as they’re dwarfed by the Big and Important Drama of the season.

Right now, I prefer this.

Back on track, part of what makes The Lower Decks accessible—and such an ideal entry point—is its plethora of easy references to other Treks. Normally I’d call that a bad thing. In many cases, those references would impede a new viewer with obvious missed in-jokes that feel like hostile gatekeeping. But this show references other Treks in a way that prepares viewers for the genre as a whole, ties it into the larger setting continuity, and makes those other Treks more fun later. It’s extremely well done.

Now, most times, I wouldn’t say that being a good genre starting point is an accessibility feature for a series itself. But when this show excites someone who’s never watched Trek before, it also makes them more invested in itself. It’s a virtuous cycle. It’s an admirable achievement, too.

So if you like Trek and haven’t watched The Lower Decks yet, I recommend it. If you’re wanting something that comes in manageable bites and is good fun, I recommend it. And if you’re wanting to introduce someone to Trek but you’re not sure where to start, this show is a delight.

Have fun.