In 'Ted Lasso', London Actually Looks Like London

London is one of the most diverse cities in the world, but you wouldn't know it from watching TV. In 'Ted Lasso', audiences get a glimpse of the real thing.

I know: there’s an unacceptable amount of Ted Lasso discourse around at the moment. And that was even before the show dominated the nominations field at this year’s Emmys. The show bagged eight Emmy Awards; including Outstanding Comedy Series, Best Supporting Actress for Hannah Waddington and predictably, a Best Comedy Actor trophy for Jason Sudeikis.

To be clear, I don’t think the show deserves that much fanfare. Like most people, I was barely able to get through season two’s Christmas episode: the whole thing was so mawkish that I was forced to imbibe two hours of True Crime podcasts just to feel normal again. And Nate’s season two storyline? It just seems off. This is to say nothing of all the product placement, which feels greedy and disingenuous. I’m sorry, but who just uses an iPhone all naked like that, without a case?

But one thing that I reckon Ted Lasso – a fish-out-of-water story of an American in London – does consistently do well is its actually realistic portrayal of London. Across both seasons, Ted Lasso offers up a version of the city that bears some resemblance to the London I actually know.

I’m not from London. I’m not even from the UK. But like a lot of Australians, I lived in London for two years harbouring a certain idea – gleaned mostly from popular culture – of what to expect. Living in a flatshare in East London, I initially worked an admin job in Canary Wharf (the city's depressing financial district built on unused wasteland that literally inspired Radiohead's “Fake Plastic Trees”) before finding a much better gig as a civil servant in Westminster. Every morning I sashayed past those infamous houses of the British Parliament on my way to work; all Black cabs and double-decker buses, trundling through the streets. This, I thought, was the London I had known from TV.

Perhaps it was the bleakness of Canary Wharf that made me hungry for a more recognisable London. But it didn’t take long for my expectations to once again be thwarted.

For one thing, most of the Londoners I met were not actually from London. While your standard Richard Curtis movie would have it that London is made exclusively of posh white people who emerge on Marylebone Road one day like a retractable bollard, the majority of white British people I came across were from the likes of Essex, Newcastle, Yorkshire, Devon, Hertfordshire, Northern Ireland, Scotland… one guy was even from a place called the Isle Of Man. Literally some Island! In the Irish sea!

This is to say nothing of the fact that 41% of the population is made up of people who are non-white. As a person with South Asian heritage, I experienced the relief of rarely having my ethnicity remarked upon. It was London, after all, and nothing about my melanin was notable or interesting. Most of my colleagues had allegiances to more than one country; they were Bangladeshi; Pakistani; Zambian, Nigerian and South African. Then there were the people from other parts of Europe; Spain, Poland, France, Portugal. Oh, and Americans. None of this was a big deal. A bunch of different accents – including the many accents that exist in London itself – rubbed against each other. And everyone got along fine.

If nothing else, Ted Lasso manages to make the basic acknowledgement of this plurality.

Kelsey reminds me of the Essex girls that took the Tube into Central London on Friday nights; all hair extensions and bronzer. Jamie, of the 20-year-old Geordie (actually an ex-football player) and fellow administrator at my first job. And in Sam and Nate, I was reminded of the British-Asians and British-Nigerians who were so fundamental to how I experienced the city.

Of course, the show sometimes yields to the tropes; Ted’s neighbourhood does seem like it’s straight out of a Richard Curtis movie, as a journalist at The Guardian put it, “a twinkling picture-postcard fairyland”, but to be fair, there are pockets of London like that; they’re just the very expensive parts. (And I suppose the production team had to throw the Londonphiles of the world a bone.) And we best not discuss the Christmas episode. Let’s never again discuss the Christmas episode.

But in an industry that overwhelmingly favours a sanitised, white-washed and monocultural portrait of the UK capital, a rendering that still looms large in the global imagination; Ted Lasso at least manages to showcase a London that bears some likeness to what London actually is.

In the five years that have passed since I left London, it’s the first time I’ve been able to really point to a show and say: “Hey. I lived there.”

Written by Reena Gupta, a Melbourne-based writer for MTV Australia. Follow her on Twitter at @purpletank.

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