Phil Dunster is proud to own a Vespa, wearing the self-described “douchebag” label that apparently comes with it as a badge of honor. His dream is to get into a camper van and go off-grid with his partner around the north coast of Scotland and forget about civilization for awhile. If he could have dinner with any fictional characters, he’d choose Mr. Bean and Mr. Blobby, a 6-foot-5 pink and yellow globule that can only say its own name.
If Ted Lasso’s Jamie Tartt was defined early on by his arrogant and detached sense of cool masking deeper insecurities, the actor charged with bringing him to life is remarkably comfortable with his own unique brand of self. Jamie performs to cover up his own truths; Phil’s identity is refreshingly overflowing with them. It’s one reason why Jamie Tartt has arguably become the central vehicle for Ted Lasso’s major themes in Season 2.
“It was Carl Jung who said that we all have an emotional shadow that makes up our personality,” Dunster told Observer.
In many ways, Ted Lasso is about finding and embracing the best version of yourself and Jamie’s evolution from villain to sympathetic figure has been a key arc in that effort. His selfish antics in Season 1 offered a never-ending string of self-sabotage. His reign of diva-like terror distracted him from his central issues and enduring the growing pains of, well, actual growth. It’s easier to stay the same. But in Season 2, he’s making strides to become a humbler person and someone open to constructive criticism and change. Yet as we all know from painful firsthand experience, self-betterment is far from an open-goal shot attempt.
You know, I keep getting cast as douchebags. I might speak to my therapist about that.
“It’s quite dissatisfying for audiences if everything suddenly went right with the world and he was all of a sudden just a nice guy,” Dunster said. “I don’t think it’s that straightforward. I think that continued conflict is really exciting. We want to see the Death Star blowing up for each of the characters in the arc for people to sort out their final form.”
Dunster, who comes across as a jovial and self-aware fellow millennial in our conversation (even referencing the growing contingent of online fans shipping Roy and Jamie as a romantic item), revels in playing up the darker elements of his character. As an actor, he’s drawn to “the sort of things that make us crap.” No wonder he’s such a fan of European cinema.
“You know, I keep getting cast as douchebags. I might speak to my therapist about that,” he says with a laugh. Yet that’s what makes his character’s turn toward the light, no matter how staggered it may be, worth a cast of the eye. We all want to believe we can improve. Fiction can provide that spark, if nothing else.
Ted Lasso is built on collaboration (Jamie’s ear-worm theme song, “Jamie Tartt DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO DOO,” is the brainchild of Dunster’s and co-creator Joe Kelly) and the idea of unrelenting optimism and kindness. The series arrived last summer when the entire world was in lockdown, dealing with the terrifying uncertainty of COVID that impacted every level of our everyday lives. The entire world needed an emotional pick-me-up, frankly, and Ted Lasso managed to fill that niche and become a phenomenon as a result. Yet Season 2 arrived in slightly better circumstances with the world a bit more open (at least for now) without losing any momentum.
It’s not just that Ted Lasso is a sitcom that supplies warm and gooey feel-good catharsis. (Its central conceit—“what if a man was nice”—feels like science-fiction these days.) It’s that the show’s specific brand of thematic humor feels no-brow in the most embraceable way possible.
We want to see the Death Star blowing up for each of the characters in the arc for people to sort out their final form.
“It looks at really important things we’ve had a problem with for a long time,” Dunster said. “To use an overused phrase: toxic masculinity. It looks at it, readdresses it, and tries to show another way. It’s about vulnerability and leadership.”
We often feel the need to reposition art as the only catalyst for progress in society. No, a sitcom on Apple TV+, the smallest of the major streaming services, is not going to change the world. But if Ted Lasso can inspire one person—and Dunster says the owner of his go-to coffee shop revealed that they ask themselves “What would Ted Lasso do?’”in their own life—isn’t that an achievement that entertainment all too rarely misses out on?
“I think a lot of comedy is about making fun of people at the expense of somebody. Ted Lasso is still funny and it still points fingers and holds truth to power. But it does it in a way that feels like it’s a net gain rather than somebody losing out.”