In the lead-up to the highly anticipated release of Ted Lasso’s second season, Time TV critic Judy Berman wrote about the show and its titular character as representative of a boring and worrisome trend. Berman uses Ted Lasso (and the titular character) as a launching-off point to discuss the fad for a type of one-dimensional “Perfect Man.” She calls these “Perfect Men” who have increasingly shown up on our television screens inherently flimsy. These characters aren’t allowed to have interesting flaws, she argues, because they’re explicitly designed to teach male viewers how to be less toxic.
In my opinion, Berman’s analysis of Ted Lasso engages with the discourse around the show more than with the show itself. Many viewers and cultural commentators seemed desperate to ignore season one’s nuances and its intrinsic darkness. In their eagerness to hold up Ted (Jason Sudeikis) as a paragon of healthy masculinity and positive vibes, some viewers did flatten the character and the show. But over the course of Ted Lasso’s somewhat divisive second season, the writers dove deeper into the darkness and showed that the Ted Lasso way is not, in fact, perfect. The introduction of sports psychologist Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles) explicitly states that Ted needs therapy. The professional and personal relationship that arises between Ted and Sharon exposes the fragility of Ted’s charm offensive. Season two practically shouts it from the rooftops: Ted Lasso won’t cure your depression! Ted Lasso is about living with depression!
As it became unignorable that Ted wasn’t the show’s “Perfect Man” (and was never meant to be), cultural commentators began to latch onto another character as the heir to this useless mantle. Some quickly deemed Roy Kent (played by unexpected breakout star Brett Goldstein, who also writes for the show) “TV’s Dream Man.” While Ted Lasso is a rom-com, Roy remains the only straightforward romantic lead the show has produced. In season one, the aging footballer falls in love with Keeley Jones (Juno Temple), a model/influencer turned PR professional. The Roy/Keeley romance undoubtedly yields the first season’s biggest rom-com payoffs. (If you didn’t fall for this couple during the “Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman” scene in the press room, you might just hate love.) When critics and fans extoll the virtues of Roy Kent, they often point to how “perfectly” he handles this romantic relationship.
This shallow perception of Roy Kent hardly does the character justice. I agree with Berman; “perfect man” characters are simply dull, and Roy cannot be called dull. But, more crucially, any praise of Roy as the “dream man” is predicated on a complete misunderstanding, or perhaps disregard, of his anger issues. Anyone who watches Ted Lasso knows that Roy Kent’s anger and Goldstein’s Emmy-winning performance define the character. What seems less apparent to some viewers is where that anger comes from. Roy’s constant swearing isn’t a cute idiosyncrasy, and his outbursts aren’t always comedic punctuation. His ever-present anger stems from his inability to acknowledge, process, and articulate his emotions.
Most of Roy’s anger is self-directed. He’s in a tough spot in season one, facing down the end of his career as a football player and unable to envision his future beyond retirement. Even as his star has faded, his own sense of value remains tightly bound to being a successful footballer. His looming retirement has sent him into a depression pit, and he hates himself for it. He doesn’t think his feelings matter because he doesn’t think he matters. So Roy shuts down, refusing to let himself feel anything—good or bad. He responds with frustration and misplaced anger when forced to confront any of the emotions he’s been assiduously repressing. (He violently swears it out, literally shouting “Fuck!” on more than one occasion when metaphorically slapped by a moment of emotional comprehension.)
Although Roy’s clearly closed off and struggling in season one, he doesn’t reach out to anyone for help. He doesn’t think he deserves anyone’s compassion.
I can understand that feeling.
During one particularly bad year of grad school, my anxiety got the better of me. Looking back now, I can see why I was stressed to the point of dysfunction. In the spring of 2018, I was finishing up a master’s degree, working on an ambitious thesis, planning a cross-country move to begin another graduate program, and recovering from a traumatic ankle injury that severely impacted my mobility for two months. But at the time, I did not have the perspective to give myself any grace.
I lived in a constant state of dread, obsessed with all of the work I had to do but incapable of getting past the paralyzing stage of worrying that I wasn’t good enough to finish anything. When I was in the middle of a spiral, all I could do was feel guilty about being unable to get myself out of it. “If I just write a page every day, I’ll submit my thesis on time,” I’d tell myself. Then I’d feel absolutely worthless when I simply couldn’t make myself do it. It got to the point where opening my thesis draft document would trigger a panic attack.
You would think that, eventually, I might have told someone about any of this. I didn’t. I wouldn’t even open up to my husband about it. I couldn’t bring myself to talk about what I was going through with anyone, because I felt ashamed for letting myself become overwhelmed. I mentally beat myself up for it every day.
I believed that they would go away if I ignored my incapacitating feelings of unease. If I don’t acknowledge a feeling, it can’t have any hold over me, or so my thinking went. I’ve always been quick to invalidate my own emotions and immediately deny their importance. I had never seen the purpose of talking things out, never experienced the power of communicating about my moods with no aim to “fix” anything. I’m not a cold person. I’ve always felt things deeply and all-consumingly, but for most of my life, I didn’t respect that emotional part of myself, instead actively working to suppress it.
At the root of this attitude sat a tangle of unexamined convictions. My feelings are a weakness. They’re irrational. Talking about my negative feelings is the same thing as wallowing. Mastering my feelings is a matter of personal discipline. To ask anyone for help is to become a burden to someone. No one wants to hear about it if I’m suffering. My feelings don’t matter. I don’t matter unless I’m producing exceptional work.
So, I completely withdrew instead of seeking help that horrible spring and summer. I spent all of my energy unsuccessfully trying to keep myself from unraveling at the seams. I didn’t want anyone, including my husband, to learn how bad things had gotten. Trying to convince him that I had everything under control increasingly took the form of white lies that piled up and made me feel even worse. I was so highly strung that every little thing caused me to snap. My husband could tell I wasn’t okay, but whenever he would ask me about it, I’d be dismissive or get mad at him.
Through the course of Ted Lasso’s first season, Keeley coaxes Roy out of his self-protective shell as their romance develops. Roy desperately needs to let himself feel things again, and Keeley provides a safe space for him to do it. Only in his moments of vulnerability and emotional honesty does Roy make any headway with Keeley. He wants to be different for her. He wants to open up to her, and their intimacy evolves every time he does.
Ultimately, they click because, in addition to having sexual chemistry in spades, they see each other. Roy supports Keeley’s business ambitions and appreciates her brain as well as her bangin’ body. Keeley understands that Roy doesn’t mean it when he tells her to stay the fuck away from him as he’s falling apart. When Roy’s football career inevitably ends, Keeley catches him and helps him return. This is where we find Roy at the beginning of season two: in love but otherwise aimless, trying to figure out what to do with his life now that he’s retired.
Roy notably never steps foot in Dr. Fieldstone’s office, but his journey in season two is no less obviously about mental health than Ted’s. Roy continues down his path of self-discovery, and his emotional growth continues apace. While Roy still isn’t entirely emotionally well-adjusted by the end of the season, he’s demonstrated that he’s working on it. He’s communicating his emotions more freely—even joining a session of the Diamond Dogs—and coming to terms with the fact that he has to let himself feel things to process them in a healthy way.
So much of this progress springs directly from Keeley’s influence on Roy. In season two, we see how he learns how to be more in tune with his emotions through trial and error within their relationship. Keeley gives him a reason to want to feel anything and positively reinforces his efforts to embrace his sensitive side. In “Lavender,” she does this most memorably by reluctantly revealing to Roy that she’s been pleasuring herself to a video of him crying during his retirement press conference.
Roy, of course, responds with an initial flash of anger. “The fuck?” he demands. “Is this your kink, me being pathetic?” Keeley insists that Roy isn’t being pathetic in the video. He’s being “passionate and vulnerable,” and that’s what’s hot. She laments that Roy hasn’t been either of those things since he retired. She calls him out for declining an offer for a new TV commentating gig. “Can’t get hurt if you don’t try,” she says, reading him like a book. He agrees to give sports commentating a go; and when his trial run proves successful, he apologizes to Keeley for resisting her advice.
“Lavender” sets the template for season two’s Roy and Keeley subplots. 1) Keeley warily brings up her feelings in a conversation with Roy—warily because she knows feelings aren’t Roy’s favorite subject. 2) Roy responds with anger. 3) Roy takes a beat, thinks about what Keeley said, sorts out his feelings, realizes Keeley was right, and feels bad for being a jerk. 4) Roy apologizes to Keeley in the most romantic way he can come up with. (In “Lavender,” this apology involves oral sex, because, okay, yeah, Roy is a little bit perfect.)
Those who interpret Roy and Keeley’s relationship as unambiguously healthy focus mostly on steps three and four. Roy shows maturity by taking responsibility when he’s wrong, and maybe the idea of a man doing that strikes some viewers as a fantasy. But when looked at as a pattern, it becomes clear that Roy’s anger issues make it difficult for the two of them to have honest conversations. They do always end up having those honest conversations, but never without Roy reacting badly first. I would assert that this pattern even goes back to season one. The press room scene, adorable as it is, is Roy’s apology for going speechless with rage when Keeley levels with him about having slept with Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) again.
I’m not saying there isn’t something refreshing about how Ted Lasso allows Roy and Keeley to grow together. The show lets us watch the two of them figure out how to communicate and be there for each other. Each fight isn’t presented as potentially relationship-ending. But a key thing gets elided in so many discussions of Roy and Keeley: Roy’s insecurity and self-loathing over this pattern.
It’s not like Roy is unaware of how much Keeley helps him open up. It’s part of why he loves her so profoundly. He knows that, every day, she saves him. In his worst moments, Roy thinks of himself as a burden to Keeley for this reason. He knows what Keeley brings to his life but can’t see what he brings to hers besides great sex. Take, for example, Roy’s reaction when Keeley tells him that she needs some alone time in “Headspace.”
Midway through the season, Roy joins AFC Richmond’s coaching staff and begins to piece together his post-footballer career. Rather than give Roy some security and identity outside of his relationship, rejoining the AFC Richmond orbit binds Roy even closer to his girlfriend. Now, Roy and Keeley see each other every day at work. Naturally, Keeley finds this arrangement a bit suffocating. She still thinks Roy is “the cat’s pajamas.” She just needs a little time to herself every now and then to recharge and relax. Keeley, worried that she’d hurt Roy’s feelings if she brought this up, talks to all of her work friends about her frustrations instead of Roy. In a humorous recurring bit that underscores how little breathing room the couple has between them, Roy accidentally keeps interrupting these discussions.
One night after work, Keeley blurts out her desire for space when Roy won’t let her watch Sex and the City in peace. Her outburst stuns Roy, who’s been oblivious to how he’s been crowding her. Roy doesn’t get angry until he pieces it together that this is what Keeley’s been talking about in secret to all of their coworkers. He looks at her, betrayed and close to tears, before asking, “Have you been making out to everyone like I’ve been following you around like a needy, clingy fucking fridge magnet? I’m an idiot.” With this one leap of logic, Roy reveals everything he thinks about himself. Rather than let himself cry (or let Keeley clarify), Roy shouts, “Fuck this!” and leaves the house.
There’s a part of Roy that doesn’t think he deserves Keeley. He’s terrified that he’s let himself become too vulnerable, that he’s an idiot for thinking he could have something good. He’s worried that he’s trusted too much of himself to her and weighed her down with it. He doesn’t believe he deserves Keeley’s patience, and he’s paranoid that her reserve of patience for him will run dry. Each of his apologies is an act of atonement for lashing out, a lavish display of gratitude, and a plea for her to put up with him for just a little bit longer.
I’ve been known to say that I’m only learning how to process and articulate my emotions in a normal way because of my husband. His constitution is the opposite of mine. He’s a compulsive communicator who is emotionally sensitive and in touch with his feelings. My husband knows his feelings matter. He reminds me that mine do, too. He habitually prompts me to open up and creates a sheltered space out of our relationship where I feel comfortable doing so. I love him immeasurably for this.
My husband and I are fundamentally good for each other, and we help each other be the best versions of ourselves. I tell him every day how lucky I am that I found him. I shudder to think how emotionally closed off I would be by now if he weren’t in my life. When I tell people as much, it sounds like I’m the impassive hero in some romance novel who finally found the right woman to unearth my hidden heart. And that’s the fairy tale version, sure. I do feel like that some days.
But the reality of this dynamic isn’t always so sweet. We have a pattern, although I didn’t truly recognize what I was doing until that awful summer of 2018. By August of that year, my husband decisively broke down, understandably unable to take how I was treating him any longer. He begged me to tell him what was wrong, if it was him, if I wanted a divorce. Well, that broke me. That was the last thing I wanted, and it shocked me to realize I had become so detached that he thought I might leave. Finally, I tried to talk to him about how bad my anxiety and depression, and self-loathing had gotten.
It took me a while to get it right. This wasn’t a single-conversation kind of deal. I had broken my husband’s trust by shutting him out so harshly for months; I didn’t really know what I was going through because I hadn’t let myself process it. I hadn’t acknowledged it or talked about it at all. Having these conversations with him required a level of introspection and vulnerability that I’d never previously attempted. It was difficult for me even to think that way. Whenever I thought I’d gotten to the bottom of my feelings, I’d find that I hadn’t gone deep enough. You have to dig when you bury everything.
But my husband saved me by forcing me to confront my feelings and deal with my mental health. He stuck with me. He was forgiving and loving with me, even though I certainly didn’t feel like I deserved it.
As a result of the self-work I did in the wake of that terrible year, I identified a behavioral pattern of mine. I unintentionally stonewall my husband whenever I’m feeling any negative emotion. Of course, that summer was the most extreme version of this, but I do it unconsciously on a smaller scale all the time. Sometimes I feel that I don’t think it is important, and I feel stupid bringing it up; so I brush off my husband with a grumpy “I’m fine” that doesn’t convince him. Sometimes my husband will broach an emotional subject, and I reflexively bite his head off. (The classic Roy.) The worst is when I’m not in a great mental place—anxious, depressed, just in a funk. I completely disengage and become brittle. I don’t always know when I’m doing this, either. I usually do think I’m fine, or some version of fine, when this starts. My husband puts up with my aloofness for a while, trying to be patient until I get sharp with him over something inconsequential.
The sting of my misplaced anger always works as the catalyst for our arguments. When my temper flares, my husband presses me to sort out what, exactly, my problem is. I feel guilty enough for being an asshole that I finally make myself talk about it, whatever “it” happens to be this time.
We usually end up in a better place after we “fight” than we were before. I am so thankful my husband keeps asking me to open up even when I don’t always react well. But I feel the destructiveness of this pattern every time it happens. I hurt my husband every time I take out my misplaced anger on him, even if I apologize immediately. I can’t take it back when I lash out. It hurts him, and it hurts me. I hate myself a little bit more every time I do it. I know there are only so many times I can say I’m sorry before he should probably stop accepting it.
In “No Weddings and a Funeral,” Roy finally has an emotional insight into himself all on his own. As Roy and Keeley get ready for the funeral of Rebecca’s dad, Keeley seems out of sorts. She comments on the weirdness of funerals. Then she asks Roy a serious question about what he wants her to do with his body when he dies. Roy shrugs off the question with a joke and proceeds to make light of Keeley’s idea that she’d like her ashes to fertilize a fruit tree. Keeley gets frustrated with Roy for not taking her seriously, and the couple spends most of the funeral apart.
After the funeral, Jamie Tartt ambushes Keeley to manufacture a love triangle. Suddenly possessed (Jamie later explains that being around a dead body “did something to me, emotional-eh”), Jamie confesses that he partially returned to Richmond for Keeley. “I finally think that I’m becoming the best version of myself, the kind of man that you always knew I could be,” Jamie says. “And I know this is a mad, shitty thing to do, but… I love you, Keeley. Sorry.”
The unexpectedness of Jamie’s declaration visibly rattles Keeley. Just as Jamie walks away, Roy approaches Keeley from behind. She jumps in surprise and turns around to face him. Roy realized he messed up earlier by ignoring Keeley’s emotional needs. In a new development for him, Roy also realizes why he was acting the way he was. He explains that his insensitive jokes were his way of avoiding facing his own discomfort with death. “I love you, Keeley. I’m sorry,” he says.
The diptych structure of the scene establishes the stakes of the “love triangle,” such as it is. It’s not really about whether Keeley loves Jamie more than she loves Roy. She makes her choice at the moment; after Roy apologizes, she nods her head and embraces him. It’s subtle, but it’s there. The problems between Roy and Keeley start when he doubts whether he’s good enough for her. Any drama that follows Jamie’s admission stems from Roy’s own insecurities.
At the funeral, Roy shows up in the nick of time and says exactly what he needs to say. He displays enormous emotional growth by recognizing when he’s repressing feelings and reacting inappropriately because of it. Roy apologizes to Keeley for being inadvertently callous. He probably thinks he’s doing well, putting in the work. But when Keeley tells him that Jamie tried to swoop in during the funeral, Roy can’t help but feel like his best is not enough. While he was busy—preoccupied with sorting out his own emotions because it still takes him a whole damn day to do that—Jamie offered himself, new and improved, to Keeley.
In the season two finale, Roy’s insecurities deepen when Vanity Fair publishes a profile of Keeley that doesn’t include any of the photographs she and Roy took together. This disturbs Roy so much that he brings it to the Diamond Dogs, a first for him. (Ted and Coach Beard can hardly believe it when Roy asks for their advice.) After the Diamond Dogs mount up, Roy haltingly explains how seeing the profile hurt his feelings. He elaborates, “The thing is… she looked so fucking great. On her own. Without me. So natural. I… It would have actually been fucking weird if I was in the pictures.”
Roy has convinced himself that he’s somehow holding Keeley back by being with her. “And then,” Roy spits out, “at Rebecca’s dad’s funeral, Jamie fucking Tartt tells her he’s fucking in love with her.” Keeley has given Roy no reason to think she’s still in love with her ex, and Roy actually forgives Jamie rather swiftly. (“Yeah. Instead of beating him to death, I fucking forgave him!” Roy furiously exclaims when Coach Beard expresses incredulity that Jamie’s still alive after making a move on Roy’s girlfriend.) Roy sees Jamie as a threat because he might possibly be deserving of Keeley, in Roy’s jealous estimation. And, of course, Roy’s self-loathing has caused him to suspect that he isn’t deserving of her.
I’ve gotten better and faster at regulating my own emotions. I voluntarily communicate about my feelings now, and I’ve started to internalize that it’s okay to do that. I know what my patterns are, and I’m learning to head them off at the pass. Most days, I feel like Roy in “No Weddings and a Funeral.” Sometimes it takes me all damn day, but I usually catch myself when I’m not being honest with myself or others about how I’m feeling.
I’m doing my best, but I’m not perfect. My husband still has to cajole me into talking about my emotions, and he, rightfully, doesn’t always accept my first answer when he asks if I’m doing okay. I still jump down his throat—more than I’d like to—about things that aren’t his fault. I know that I’m trying, and I know that I make progress every day. But every time I slip up, a nasty voice in my head whispers, “Your best isn’t enough. Making your husband put up with you is selfish. Doesn’t he deserve someone who won’t treat him like this?”
I worry that one day, my husband will tire of being patient with me. I’m scared that my sweetest apology won’t be enough one of these times. My husband assures me that this is an unfounded fear. He has never said anything that comes even close to my darkest thoughts. But, on my worst days, I can’t help but think that maybe it’s unfair of me to expect him to put up with this forever. It’s not his job to emotionally reeducate me. He’s not obligated to remain non-judgmental as I gradually stumble my way toward greater self-knowledge. I’m waiting for the day when he tells me, “You need to figure yourself out. Come back to me when you’re better. I’m your partner, not your therapist.” (The nasty voice asks me, “Doesn’t your husband deserve someone who’s done the work already? Instead of you, going so painfully slowly?”)
I try not to listen to that voice in my head.
Roy, unfortunately, does listen to that voice in his head. As season three opens, Roy and Keeley have broken up in a decidedly non-mutual fashion. Contrary to what everyone else assumes, Roy ended the relationship—an act of self-sabotage justified as one of self-preservation and mercy. He’s convinced himself that he’s not good enough for her, so he preemptively breaks her heart. Roy’s obviously broken his own heart, too. He spends the majority of this week’s episode, “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea,” in a haze of misplaced fury.
Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) has granted Trent Crimm (James Lance) full access to AFC Richmond for the season so that he can write a book about the team. Roy vehemently refuses to speak to Trent and orders his players to do the same. To use one of Roy’s favorite words: he’s being an absolute prick to Trent. For most of the episode, it seems that Roy is unfairly taking out his emotional pain over the breakup on the journalist.
That’s only half true. Roy’s deep-seated, intense feelings of worthlessness and fears of inadequacy directly led to the breakup; and those feelings aren’t Trent’s fault. But, in a painful moment, Roy confronts Trent about the source of his animosity. The coach pulls a tattered slip of paper out of his wallet. He unfolds it and begins to read. It’s something negative that Trent wrote about Roy’s debut in the premier league. Roy tells Trent that these dismissive few sentences “fucking wrecked” him when he read them for the first time, at seventeen years old. This clipping that Roy has kept on his person every day for, presumably, at least two decades serves as a powerful emblem of his own self-hatred.
Trent apologizes for writing so cruelly in his youth, and Roy seems cleansed by his confession. The two move on, beef squashed as Ted ordered. Season two Roy probably would have left it at that, exhausted by one forced emotional breakthrough. But season three Roy continues to grow. He recognizes, deep down, that the clip and Trent Crimm—while they are fundamental sources of pain for him—aren’t quite the root of his horrid behavior. He’s still misdirected, even if it led to some catharsis.
AFC Richmond has had their first match of the season at Chelsea, where Roy played during his glory days. After the match, Roy tears up the clipping back at the Richmond locker room. He goes to leave his office, walking past Ted and Trent, exchanging goodbye pleasantries at the end of the day. “Hey, Roy,” Ted asks, catching his assistant coach on the way out. “I’m just curious. What was it like being back at Chelsea?”
Roy pauses, clearing his throat before answering honestly, with no anger. He admits that being back at Chelsea made him sad, because it reminded him of how he ended his time at that club. Roy tells Ted and Trent about how he left Chelsea the second he knew he was no longer at the top of his athletic game. He describes the match when he played “like shit” and immediately started doubting his value to the team. He continues, “That was the first time I ever thought, ‘I’m not good enough. I can’t keep up anymore.’ And that was all I could think about for the rest of the year. I knew it was only gonna get worse. So at the end of the season, I left. And everyone was shocked.”
By this point, it’s clear that he’s connected his regret over preemptively leaving Chelsea to his regret over preemptively leaving Keeley. (“Sport, it’s quite the metaphor,” Trent says to Ted after Roy’s left.) This devastating monologue, delivered exquisitely by Goldstein, makes it apparent just how much Roy has let his self-loathing rule his life. He doesn’t let himself keep anything good because he doesn’t ever think he deserves it.
I listen to my husband when I feel like succumbing to my worst thoughts about myself. He tells me that his life is better with me in it. He reassures me that our relationship is mutually supportive, even if we don’t support each other in precisely the same ways. He confirms that he wants to care for me, that he wants to love me. Listening to him reminds me that it’s a beautiful gift, to be loved, if you let yourself accept it.
More than anything else, Ted Lasso has always been about how letting people care for you is part of healing. Allowing someone—whether it’s a friend, a teammate, a coworker, a therapist, or a lover—to care for you always necessitates a certain level of vulnerability. While that’s daunting for each character in their own way, it’s also the only thing that gets them through the challenges of being alive.
I hope that Roy Kent can be vulnerable enough to let Keeley love him. I hope he will give her a chance to tell him what he means to her. Keeley, who never entirely falls for it when Roy pushes her away, seems so far unconvinced that the separation will be permanent. When they break the news to Roy’s niece Phoebe, for example, Keeley says that she and Roy are “taking a break,” contradicting Roy’s insistence that they’re breaking up. If Roy gives her an opening, perhaps Keeley will be able to persuade Roy that he’s the perfect man, after all—the perfect man for her, more than deserving of her love.
This is breathtakingly beautiful, vulnerable, and insightful. Or as Roy Kent would say, “It’s f*#$%^g brilliant.” 🙂 I absolutely love it. 🙂
I’ve bookmarked this and will return again and again.
Forget that… I’m printing a hard copy because I need a few days to process this level of authenticity. This is one of the most outstanding pieces of writing I’ve read in forever. The next to the last paragraph triggered the tears.
Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing. So many dots connected; ones I hadn’t gotten to the root of as a viewer, AND ones I hadn’t given myself space for as a human. Please know that your time, energy, wordsmithery, and vulnerability are all appreciated. ♥️