That's the question I'm pondering as I'm watching two fish-out-of-water coach shows — Ted Lasso and The White Shadow.
The title character in Lasso is an American football coach who takes over a soccer team in England. It's one of the most streamed shows nowadays, and, well, you've probably at least heard of it. Right?
The White Shadow (1978-81) features Ken Howard as Coach Ken Reeves, who leaves the Chicago Bulls to coach hoops at a predominantly black school in Los Angeles. I remember watching it as a kid, ages 5-8, and totally remember the players Coolidge and Salami. I mean, come on, who can ever forget a character named Salami?
I love Ted Lasso, so much so that I went as him for Halloween in 2021. The show has good vibes and is a feel-good one. One of the phrases that promotes it is "Kindness makes a comeback."
The White Shadow usually tackles a big social issue in each episode. It's explored teen pregnancy, alcoholism, the school-to-prison pipeline, homophobia and even taking a difficult airplane ride from LAX to San Jose.
By the way, the title comes from the end of the pilot episode when Coach Reeves says, "I'm going to be leaning on you guys, and I'll be behind you every step of the way." Then player Morris Thorpe adds, "Yeah. Like a white shadow."
I find the show entertaining and comforting. Of course, there are some outdated, cringey moments, especially with how female characters are portrayed and filmed. However, the show, which was created by Bruce Paltrow (Gwyneth's dad), is pure on so many levels. It's got heart, a social conscience, and it's not just out to make a buck as Lasso and contemporary shows and movies are — to the umpteenth level.
The White Shadow predates product placement, so it doesn't fill the screen with constant Apple products as Lasso does. And it doesn't sneak in products like current shows, or movies, do. Heck, a popular movie just released is Air about Nike. On one level, that movie is a 112-minute ad.
For the longest time, TV shows have had various storylines, even in 23-minute sitcoms. I remember Seinfeld in the '90s definitely had multiple storylines, and The Sopranos did that, too. A typical Lasso episode has about five rotating storylines that are pretty fast-paced. In contrast, The White Shadow deals with just one storyline without any real subplots. That lone narrative thread is actually quite refreshing, and because of that, the show has more depth.
By revisiting The White Shadow, I also realized how overproduced and overstylized our current TV shows are. I remember hearing Jason Bateman once explain how on Ozark, they would film in bluish colors and greys to add an extra level of anxiety to a scene. With the lovey, calming music and pleasant hues in Lasso, I see that opposite tricks are being done to add warmth.
I'm not saying I don't like Lasso, but with advanced technology, the brain power of its writing staff and money of Apple behind it, it just may not have the pure heart that the character Ted Lasso has. But The White Shadow does.
Ted Lasso, like most shows today, pretends that everybody is equal in terms of social and economic class, and that's a gross lie. The White Shadow was created to expose those unfair differences in each episode.
I believe what we see on the Internet, and many of our TV shows, make a default assumption that 21st century capitalism is important. There's another default assumption that it's worth scrolling through advertisements to see Instagram posts that are really just more advertisements. Another default assumption is that watching a 5-second ad is worth seeing another vehicle of capitalism, some YouTube video.
Back in The White Shadow's time, we didn't have the hyper video and advertisement consumption that we have now. The average person did not have blind faith in the marketplace or the belief that as long as something sold, or got attention, then it's OK.
The time was more reflective. The show was more reflective than my beloved Lasso, and the show's creators did something innovative, and socially progressive. Long live The White Shadow!