Coach Beard and Ulysses

When the synopsis for this week’s episode of Ted Lasso was released, I jumped to some wild ideas. Ted Lasso is a show about an American Football coach assigned to coach an Association Football (aka the better football) team. His hopefulness in the face of adversity is contagious, and it’s a really nice and optimistic show that isn’t afraid of digging a little deeper into its characters’ psyches. Anyway, last week’s episode saw Ted Lasso’s enigmatic right-hand man, Coach Beard, wandering off into the London night to shake off a dramatic loss. The synopsis for the following episode (this week’s) said it would follow that thread and be all about Coach Beard’s adventures after dark.

Naturally, my mind immediately hoped it would be a rough adaption of the fifteenth chapter of Ulysses: “Circe.”

Hear me out: “Circe” is something of a crucible for Stephen and Bloom in the novel. It’s written as a stage play (Ulysses is wonderfully weird, y’all), and though it ostensibly takes place in Dublin’s red-light district, it dances between reality and hallucination, allowing for Stephen and Bloom’s inner anxieties to rise to the forefront. Also, the potato that’s been in Bloom’s pocket the entire book has lines.

Like I said, it’s weird.

It also makes sense for a story about Coach Beard. He’s been something of a cipher thus far, a foil for Ted whose inner life is ancillary to the story and so not really explored. There have been hints at there being some wackiness in his past and present, but we don’t actually know too much. If we’re having an episode of Coach Beard going out on his own into London, it would make sense for him to have an experience hedonistic and soul-baring. Conversely, if there’s one character who’s going to have a night out that results in hedonistic soul-baring, it would be Coach Beard.

Is there any other reason to expect that an episode of a contemporary sitcom would draw inspiration from a 1922 Irish novel? Oh, god, no. It’s just the sort of association that gets conjured up in my mind. 

But was it?

To my immense surprise and delight, it was.

Now, the idea of sending a character on a dark night of the soul is nothing new. It’s usually how a three-act movie rounds out its second act, forcing the heroes to confront their inner failings before rushing to the climax. It’s Tony and Steve reflecting on Coulson’s death in The Avengers, it’s Theoden quaking before the reckless hate of the Uruk Hai in; it’s not necessarily a defeat, it’s the characters looking at themselves and how they got here.

“Beard After Hours” finds Coach Beard in that headspace, and then takes him on a “Circe”-esque journey. He’s not just ruminating or wallowing on the team’s loss to Man City and his own relationship woes, he’s going on something of a (mis)adventure, one that takes place in a heightened reality that builds itself around his mindset. For example, the televisions around him speak to him, be they in his apartment or in an art installation in a ritzy club. He finds himself going from trying to escape the realities of football to trying to escape the realities of his relationship, two things that quite literally find him in a dark alley. The episode dances across genres, slipping into a noir’s lady in red before playing around with a thriller, using whatever works to best get the beat of its stories across (again, Ulysses’s “Circe” is the only chapter written as a play, though other chapters play with writing style a lot). Like Ulysses, it’s not concerned so much with what’s real and what’s not real as to what it all means to Beard, after all, for Beard it’s all very much real, just as the events of “Circe” are real for Bloom and Stephen. The adventures of one wild night, for Coach Beard or James Joyce’s protagonists, flirt with surrealism as they force their characters onwards.

Was it intentional? Almost definitely. While the title is a shout-out to the movie After Hours, there are too many small touches that seem eerily familiar to the book. In Ulysses, both Stephen and Bloom are without their keys, Bloom having left them in the wrong pair of pants. Throughout “Beard After Hours,” Beard keeps almost losing his keys — at one point as a result of wearing a new pair of pants. Like Stephen and Bloom, he can’t go home just yet and his keys breaking towards the end compels him onwards in his journey.

Personally, I love it when shows try out this sort of madness, even more so when they pull it off (see also: the heist episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, the musical episode of Buffy, most any episode of Community). Drawing from Ulysses is the sort of high-concept nonsense that I am here for, especially in an episode so full of intertextuality. As a fan of the show, I hope that there’s some narrative payoff from this episode down the line, but in the meantime, the audacity to slip in a standalone episode that’s in part an adaption of a classic piece of Modernist literature makes me so darn happy.

So now the big question, was the lady in red Beard’s Circe, or was it Jayne? Because if we follow either Ulysses or The Odyssey’s comparisons, Beard didn’t end up at home and so with Molly/Penelope but rather he’s still out on his Great Journey, and what is the night at the club if not a continuation of “Circe,” but this time to an electro-rock soundtrack; he’s not yet ended up at the proverbial Butt Bridge, let alone back home; Beard is still in the middle of his odyssey, he doesn’t really go home at all, ending the episode at work with Ted and the others (is Ted his Penelope?) so who then was thinking like mad and said yes I said yes I will Yes

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