I did not expect Ted Lasso to be my favorite new show of 2020, but as I binged the 10-episode first season in two days, the series quickly climbed to the top of my list. Apple TV+'s show centers on the titular Ted Lasso, an American college football coach who is recruited to lead the (fictional) middling London-based Premier League team, AFC Richmond. Ted, however, has no experience coaching soccer and is about as salt-of-the-earth Midwestern as they come. This sets up a classic fish-out-of-water story that, in lesser hands, easily could have leaned too heavily on tired cross-cultural jokes and not explored anything deeper.
Instead, Ted Lasso thematically occupies the same space as shows like Schitt's Creek and Parks and Recreation. It's heartwarming and gentle, and it leans into the power of community and what we can achieve when we lift each other up. It's a hug of a show, and in this never-ending lockdown, I had almost forgotten what a hug feels like.
Ted Lasso exceeds expectations thanks to witty writing, compelling storylines, and a stellar ensemble, led by cocreator and star Jason Sudeikis. You know Sudeikis, consistently one of the brightest stars on Saturday Night Live during his run from 2005-2013. His comedic chops are a given, but Sudeikis also demonstrates an incredible emotional range. Ted easily could have felt one-dimensional and irritating, someone who is so upbeat that their head is stuck in the clouds. But therein lies the genius of Ted Lasso: while positive and cheerful, Ted is not an idiot, and his optimism is not born out of naivety. He is great at reading people (he knows immediately that the team's star player is selfish, immature, and cocky) and carries his own pain (first seen at the end of episode one during a heartbreaking phone call that reveals Ted's crumbling marriage).
Throughout the season, storylines are set up that, if the show had a cynical worldview, would have seen Ted fail or embarrass himself. But instead, things generally work out for the best (particularly off the field), and he lifts up those around him in the process. As Ted says, he loves helping people become the best version of themselves, and he's really good at it; as it turns out, watching people flourish makes for an incredibly satisfying show. In making Ted smart and showing how his life philosophies pay off, the show demonstrates that approaching life with an optimistic mindset can, in and of itself, help you succeed. And the power of optimistic thinking is needed now more than ever.
To make the understatement of the century, 2020 has been absolute hell: endless uncertainty thanks to a botched containment of COVID-19 with a president who spreads disinformation, a high-stakes election where voter suppression is a real threat, a continual racial-injustice crisis, and countless other headlines that make me want to lie facedown on the ground. The constant stream of bad news is so relentless, from all directions, that it's easy to feel cynical, apathetic, and hopeless.
But just when you're ready to throw in the towel (good sports reference, me!), might I suggest an episode or two (or 10) of Ted Lasso? It's a wonderful reprieve from this year not only because it's delightful but also because of the optimistic mindset at its core. Ted Lasso is a fantastic reminder that there is power in believing in yourself and that we can all succeed by lifting each other up and helping one another be our best selves. As we see with Ted, holding onto your humanity and leading with optimism do not make you dumb or weak. In fact, they may be the very things that can ultimately help you overcome many of life's challenges.