Entertainment

‘Ted Lasso’ Makes Me Want to Be a Better Person

I’ve never tried being a kinder or more optimistic person, but Jason Sudeikis’ title character makes me think that it’s possible.
August 5, 2021, 3:16pm
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Image via Apple TV Plus

Most days, I think I’m a decent-enough person. Not a great person, not the kind of person who gets a community 5K named for them after they die, but the kind of person who sends thank you notes, and never mentions how many filters her friends use on their Instagram pics, and pretends that she still doesn’t hate the kid who didn’t invite her to his 6th grade birthday party. (IT’S FINE, WAYNE, I’VE MOVED ON.) 

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I’m also the kind of person who hasn’t necessarily tried to be better, kinder, or more genuine. But I  recently realized that I could be all of those things—and it only took me seven minutes’ worth of Ted Lasso to see that. 

In the first episode of the AppleTV+ comedy, right after Jason Sudeikis’ title character deplanes in London and gets ready for his first day as the manager of a middling English soccer team, he asks the driver who’s been sent to pick him up what his name is. It’s such a small, simple moment, but it’s one that illustrates who Ted Lasso is: He wants to make a connection—a real connection—with everyone he encounters. It’s the kind of gesture that would be so easy to repeat IRL, though most of us—myself included—probably don’t do it as often as we could. 

I’ve thought about Ted Lasso, the character, and Ted Lasso, the show, a lot during the past year, and it’s been bouncing around my frontal lobes even more since Season Two started a couple of weeks ago. (If you’ve missed it, the SparkNotes version is that Lasso was the mildly successful coach of the Wichita State Shockers football team, and he’s recruited to manage AFC Richmond, despite the fact that he’s never coached soccer, doesn’t know anything about the sport, and has never even been to Britain, let alone on a Premier League football pitch.)

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Despite the number of scenes that take place in locker rooms—and the fact that most of the major characters are either football players, coaches, or front office execs—it’s not really a “sports” show. If you’ve watched the twelve episodes that are available as of this writing (a new episode drops every Friday between now and mid-October), you might say it’s more about kindness, optimism, self-acceptance, or some other ineffably positive quality.

Viewers of the show don’t just internalize the lessons that Ted teaches his players, like reminding them to “be a goldfish” and stop dwelling on their past mistakes.They also seem to come away from it wanting be more Ted-like: to be the kind of person who knows when to talk and when to listen, who isn’t afraid of being both confident and vulnerable, and who can communicate using the kind of Midwestern maxims that Rae Dunn would torch a TJ Maxx for without sounding the least bit insincere. 

“To me, it’s a show about love, and I don’t use that term in a sort of narrow, romantic sense,” journalist and author Dan Harris said. “You’ve got all of these different kinds of love, and not the kind of grandiose term we’ve made it, but in a broad, down-to-earth way. It’s about romantic relationships, sure, but it’s also about relationships on a team, friendship, coworkers, and how to conduct relationships, which very few of us are ever taught to do.” 

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Harris co-founded the Ten Percent Happier mindfulness app, which is based on his book of the same name. In collaboration with the show, the app now has a series of Ted Lasso-inspired kindness meditations. A weeklong Ted Lasso meditation challenge is also on the way.

According to Harris, it’s totally possible to become more Lasso-esque. Like anything else, you just have to work at it. “Kindness and compassion are not factory settings that are unalterable,” he said. “They’re skills that you can develop, and one of the ways to develop that skill is through meditation. That’s a radical proposition, because I think many of us assume that we are the way we are: We’re X-amount patient, X-amount kind, X-amount generous. And that’s just the way we’re wired, but you can change that.” 

The fact that a sitcom has inspired a dedicated set of kindness meditations is a sincere compliment to Ted Lasso’s aspirational brand of storytelling. The show gets in your head, and not in an unwelcome way, or an “I’ll never forget how Kate Winslet said ‘hoagie’ during Mare of Easttown” way. Instead, it makes you wonder, How can I pull a little bit of this positivity into my own life? 

“I like that you’re able to see how Ted can influence these characters, but you also know he’s just a normal person who has flaws himself,” Marisa Callan, one of the co-hosts of the Richmond Til We Die podcast, said. “He’s open to people speaking into his life, and ultimately when you watch it, you want to be more like that, right? You want to be a kinder, more thoughtful, more curious person, but also someone who’s real and willing to let other people speak. I like that, as far as his leadership qualities go, he doesn’t have to always be right, and it doesn’t have to always be his way. As someone who teaches at a college, that’s something that I strive to put into my leadership style just a little bit more.” 

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Callan, her husband Brett, and Christian Dashiell started the podcast after “quickly getting obsessed” with the show last summer. In the months since, they’ve also occasionally measured themselves against Ted, wondering if they’d be capable of filling his box-fresh Nikes. 

“I just always have that in the back of my mind, of wanting to live up to this ideal which I have to remind myself is a TV character and isn’t realistic 100 percent of the time,” Brett Callan said. “But it’s a good reminder that there’s always room for more compassion, more grace, more charity, and more patience. We have the ability to be curious about people’s humanity and their lived experiences every day, with every person we interact with. That’s hard to do, but it’s something that the show reminds me that I’m capable of doing.” 

Last month, over 40 “Ted Heads” from around the world met up—online, for obvious reasons—for the first-ever Lassocon. The event provided fans ample opportunity to talk about what they’d learned from Ted Lasso, the scenes that had served as sources of strength and optimism during the darkest days of the pandemic, and how the show had shaped their understanding of both healthy masculinity and the divine feminine

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“I think for all of us, it’s been really surprising to see how much momentum there is, and how much togetherness there is, in a community of people that love a TV show,” Dashiell said. “It’s kind of weird that a show that is so much about relationships is one that so many people found in isolation. Because [for the past year,] there has been so much relational separation, some of it by necessity, and some of it because there are so many fundamental things that we, as a culture, cannot agree on right now. I do think that people are really asking the question, ‘What types of communities can I be a part of that are life-giving?’ The Ted Lasso community checks a lot of boxes for them.”

I missed Lassocon and its very on-brand idea exchange this year, so until the next one happens, becoming more like Ted Lasso could be more of an independent study. That might be a good thing, because according to Dan Harris, being kinder becomes easier when you start hearing Ted Lasso in your own head. 

“A lot of us think that in order to succeed, we need to have an inner drill sergeant, somebody who’s unbelievably cruel and says the kind of thing to us that, if another human being said, we’d punch that other human being in the face,” he explained. “The evidence suggests that a better approach to recovering from inevitable mistakes and failure is having a Ted Lasso-style coach in your ear. Ted doesn’t let anybody off the hook. He has very high expectations [...] and holding you to high expectations is much more likely to get you to pick yourself up and dust yourself off in the face of life’s inevitable ups and downs, rather than a cruel sort of inner taskmaster.” 

That doesn’t mean that embodying the ideal of kindness, all of the time, doesn’t have its drawbacks. In the early episodes of Season Two, the show seems to be exploring the ways Ted Lasso himself has recovered—or hasn’t recovered—from his own Personal Shit, while suggesting that even kindness can become a coping mechanism. “God bless Jason Sudeikis for depicting this very Midwest, very Great Plains attitude of kindness by any means necessary,” Kenny Madison, the co-host of the Lasso Cast podcast, said. “The character of Ted depicts so wonderfully that unyielding kindness can sometimes be at your own expense. I’m excited to see what happens this season, like, how far are you willing to go to be kind, and are you willing to sabotage yourself for it?”

Perhaps true kindness necessitates extending that consideration to oneself. “There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that people who are kinder to themselves have better relationships in their life,” he said. “It’s not true to say that you can’t love others until you love yourself, because I think we know a lot of people who are pretty hard on themselves, but are very kind to their friends. I spent most of my life as a hyper-ambitious television news anchor and correspondent, you know, beating the shit out of myself and really believing that was the only way to achieve. I think that’s a very common approach, but you can be your own Ted Lasso and do even better.” 

Despite the search for my interior Ted, I realize that Ted Lasso wouldn’t want me to change on his account; he’d try to maximize the strengths that I already have. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t develop additional strengths, too. Moving forward, I’m going to do a better job at finding and celebrating the humanity in others—and I should probably let that birthday party thing go.