I haven’t been shy about the fact that I think Ted Lasso has lost its way. Villains like Shandy and Jack have no nuance—they’re cartoonishly bad for the sake of a half-hearted gag or a hasty reunion. The episodes are simultaneously bloated and pointless. What used to be sweet is now treacly and twee. Nothing feels like it has any stakes anymore.
But there’s one bright spot.
Have you noticed that Coach Beard loves mushrooms? Like he really, really loves them? I don’t mean he loves to eat them (although maybe he does, I dunno, they’re delicious). I mean he’s a mushroom nerd. As a fellow lover of fungi, I notice whenever Beard subtly geeks out over things like mycelial networks or the power of psilocybin, especially when he happens to be reading one of my favorite books.
Coach Beard, lovable mushroom nerd
Here’s a (possibly non-exhaustive) list of all the moments Beard has let his love of mushrooms come out.
In season 2, episode 11, “Midnight Train to Royston,” Beard is reading Entangled Life by biologist Merlin Sheldrake. This book is a mind-blowing account of the world of fungi, including how fungal networks in the soil have structures that resemble a massive brain, which seems to make decisions about where to route nutrients in an ecosystem. It’s not science fiction! It’s amazing stuff! You should read it!
While Beard is reading, he takes a moment to talk about another prominent biologist. “We used to believe that trees competed with each other for light,” Beard says. “Suzanne Simard’s field work challenged that perception, and we now realize that the forest is a socialist community. Trees work in harmony to share the sunlight.” The quote comes after Nate expresses frustration that Ted supposedly takes the credit for Nate’s strategies.
Later, in season 3, episode 6, “Sunflowers,” Beard gives Ted a dose of hallucinogenic mushroom tea. As he sets the glass down, he says that “this is how you change your mind,” which is a likely nod to Michael Pollan’s book on hallucinogens, How To Change Your Mind.
Now, in season 3, episode 10, “International Break,” Beard returns to to Simard, reading her memoir Finding the Mother Tree. This book explores the ways in which trees work with fungal networks under the soil to share the nutrients they produce from sunlight. (Pro tip: Entangled Life is way better than Finding the Mother Tree if you’re mainly interested in the science. Finding the Mother Tree has a lot of stuff about Simard’s career as a forester and her brother’s rodeo competitions.)
Like I said, I love mushrooms, so I’m primed to love any pop culture references to mushrooms. I ate up The Last of Us like a finely sautéed chanterelle. However, Beard’s fascination with mushrooms is also an example of when the quirkiness of Ted Lasso actually works.
One reason season 3 has become so unbearable is that all the quirkiness is brought to the forefront. Take, for instance, the pillow fight in Amsterdam. It’s absolutely unwatchable. The scene is infantilizing to the Richmond players, boring to sit through, and not even believable. These are grown-ass men! The flight from London to Amsterdam is barely more than an hour! Why wouldn’t they just go get a drink? It’s quirkiness for the sake of quirkiness, which just makes it cringe.
Beard’s weirdness, though, works—for the most part—because we usually only get it in tiny doses. (You could say we microdose it, if you wish.) It adds flavor to his character, subtly brings out the themes of the plot, and doesn’t overwhelm us by being too precious. Beard’s a really weird guy, but he knows when to get down to business.
I hope we get at least one more mushroom reference before the show ends on May 31. I may have lost faith in the series, but at least Beard will always be a … fun guy. (I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.)
(featured image: Apple TV+)
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