Discover more from The Chatner
Ted Lasso and Mare of Easttown Staring Each Other Down The Barrel of The Last Sitcom Marriage
mild/partial spoilers for Mare of Easttown
There’s something oddly suitable about watching Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis’ latest project for NBC, about a genial-yet-inexperienced American gridiron coach hired by a British premier-league team) and Mare of Easttown (the Kate Winslet murder mystery that’s taught me and thousands like me that Philadelphians have a different accent from New York) in alternating succession. Both serve as necessary end-point intensifiers for their respective genres (the ‘affable ensemble’ type buoyed by relentless male enthusiasm, in Ted Lasso’s case, and the ‘Arctic shards’ character study type barely-taped-together by a woman who is simultaneously freezing to death and being crushed under the weight of her own relatives).
Other series of the first type include, of course, both Parks and Recreation and Brooklyn 99, but also Scrubs and often The Office. Schitt’s Creek and The Good Place are close cousins, although the earnestness in each is not generated by a single character but by the setting. Such shows almost always take the process of “being won over” as a primary plot form, whereby the characters of Schitt’s Creek and The Good Place live in a constantly-renewing state of “being won over” by themselves and their own loveableness. The resultant effect (and affect!) is one of regular mistiness, like bunches of celery in the display shelf of the produce aisle. This type is also characterized by transplantation and unlikely prospects; if they’re not all “fish out of water” shows, they’re often “fish suddenly thrown into much-larger pond. Can she prove herself?” or “fish from a variety of seemingly-incompatible ponds brought abruptly together in a 180-gallon aquarium, where they must learn to work together if they’re ever going to dazzle the customers dining below them at the Rainforest Cafe.”
A Fish Out Of Water vs. A Fish In Regular Water, But It’s Water That Hates Fish
Shows belonging to Mare of Easttown’s type (Top of the Lake, Marcella, The Killing, to a certain extent, Killing Eve) tend to have ad copy that reads something like “An expertly-trained police detective desperately attempts to maintain her sanity and save a kidnapped girl while her personal life crumbles around her.” If Ted Lasso et. al are fish out of water, Mare and Marcella and their ilk are fish in regular water, but if water were poisonous to fish, and also hated fish on a personal level, and the simple act of swimming around it in was simultaneously necessary and fatal to fish. The process of winning someone over is necessarily intimate, gradual. It proceeds in inches and degrees, requires both resistance and cooperation at various points, occurs despite one’s best efforts and as a result of great effort. The progression of crumbling is the inevitable product of years of wearing-away and an arbitrary surprise (why now, after such a long period of inertia?), declines abutment, can be either slowed or hastened but rarely stopped.
Both procedures pass an autopilot event horizon, after which point they might invite, but no longer require, active participation. Both promise erosion: in the case of the won-over ensemble, the erosion of resistance, of pessimism, of cynicism, of isolation, of old habit, and in the case of the splintering detective, the erosion of life outside the case. Everything that is not ‘the case’ must be sacrificed in the name of aerodynamics and decreasing wind resistance. Twenty-five years ago, Mare made the winning shot in a high-school basketball game that people still talk about in the present. When she admits as much to her date, he says, “Must’ve been some shot,” at which point she defers: “Other places, no. Around here, yeah.” Later, to another date: “Doing something great is overrated because then people expect that from you all the time.” But Mare is only interested in greatness, just as Ted is; they may not share a working definition of greatness beyond “what other people pretend not to expect from you” but they will upend their own lives, and everyone else’s, until they hit on a fresh source of it. Ted erodes everything outside of his ‘case’ by incorporating them into it, while Mare erodes everything outside of hers by attempting to shed, slough, or winnow it off; there would be no plot left for Ted if everyone were successfully and entirely won over (one can win repeatedly but not win over more than once, at least not without some sort of refractory period), but whether Mare solves her case or not is less critical than making sure she stays ‘inside’ of it.
What If Male Earnestness Were Redemptive (Welcome To My Ted Talk, “What If Ted Talks Worked”?) vs. What If White Women’s Anger Were Working In Your Service
If Ted is constantly shocked at his own success (“I can’t believe I’m having such a good time”/“Can you believe I’ve never done that before?”, always hustling himself during a game where he plays both pool shark and mark) and consistently confident that success is always just around the corner, Mare is equally unable to comprehend the scale of her own losses (as when her mother is unable to comprehend her confession for planting drugs on a rival: “My God, Mare – I don’t even know what the hell to say. Oh, wait. It just came to me. That was stupid! Goddamned idiotic! You’re a complete smacked-ass for doing that!”) while remaining confident that each new day will bring another set of losses, failures, and compromise with it. Ted tells defender Sam Obisanya “Be a goldfish” after seeing him unable to move past a bad move in practice (sorry, “training”), claiming they’re “the happiest animals in the world” because their memories don’t extend further than ten seconds. Neither does Mare’s, although in her case, it’s less because she puts the more-distant past behind her and more because the immediate past (“bad”) and the long-ago past (“bad”) are the same; to remember one is to remember the other.
Mare’s type can be found along a spectrum from Veep’s Selina Meyer to Modern Family’s Claire Dunphy – white femininity embattled by a certain requirement for tautness and flexibility, said tautness and flexibility approaching a certain snapping point; competence of a type that requires being overlooked as a precondition for noticing it in the first place, stretched across an unforgiving rack of domestic expectations and embittered dependents – but is here dialed up to maximum intensity, where Mommy’s Job is the real serial killer that causes every single male relative of Mere to die prematurely and horribly, where no one family is beset by a single tragedy but usually four or five all at once, bodies crowding up the basement. The better Mare does, the higher the body count.
Ted’s type is often married (or was) to Mare’s type, although his competence/expertise/attentiveness may be dialed up or down, according to the key of comedy or tragedy – fatherly attention that may lack granularity (“Now, you could fill two Internets with what I don’t know about soccer”) but, swings and roundabouts fashion, makes up for it in relentless, folksy intensity (“He thinks he’s mad now, just wait until we win him over”) and flashes of expertise (“All them fellas that used to belittle me, not a single one of them were curious…if they were curious, they would’ve asked questions, you know? Like, ‘Have you played a lot of darts, Ted?’ [hits a triple-20] To which I would’ve answered, ‘Yes, sir.’”)
Ted Lasso says, “Don’t worry. Not only have I got this, I’ve had it all along”; Mare says, “Bad news. I’ve got this,” but both of them will run you over in a hurry.
Ted and Mare on Sex Dynamics
“I must say that this is lovely. Ever since I was little, I always used to dream of sitting down with a bunch of mates, talking about the complex dynamics between men and women.”
“Since when is [Frank] a fuckin’ cook?”
“I guess he just needed a good woman to bring out the best in him [laughter].”
Ted and Mare on adolescence:
“Trust me, teenage girls are fucking sneaky.”
“Little girls are mysterious…and silly, and powerful. I gave up trying to figure them out years ago.”
Ted and Mare on divorce:
“I look back at everything we’ve been through, and I wouldn’t change a single thing. Even now. Michelle, if there was something I could do, or something I could say, that would make you be happy just being with me, I’d do it. I’d do it in a nanosecond. But I ain’t got no control over any of that.”
“My life’s a shit show, Zabel. I’m about to lose custody of my grandson, and I’m still workin’ through unresolved issues from my son who killed himself. And, uh, my ex-husband basically lives in my backyard. So you’re right. I don’t know what you want, but I’m sure it’s not that.”
Ted and Mare on hope/lessness:
“I’m not exactly sure what y’all’s smallest unit of measurement is over here, but that’s about how much headway I made today.”
“I’d only say this to you, Lor. We’re never gonna find her. Never. She’s a needle in a thousand fuckin’ haystacks.”
Ted and Mare on resolving conflict with old friends
“You’re givin’ me the cold shoulder and the silent treatment. That’s a combo. Does it come with a medium drink?”
“Your daughter beat the shit out of a girl who wound up DEAD IN A CREEK! What part of that don’t you FUCKIN’ UNDERSTAND? You can keep goin’ down this road, but you’re not going to like how it ends.”