Following up on my previous posts:
Christianity Today, ‘Ted Lasso’ Won’t Settle for Shallow Optimism:
The show’s second season challenges viewers to consider true joy over hyper-positivity. ...
Released in 2020, Ted Lasso centers an out-of-his-depth American football coach who takes a job with an English soccer team. ... Ted’s vulnerable moments—a divorce, a disdainful team captain, and a boss who’s set him up for failure—have balanced his seemingly unflappable optimism, preventing him from being reduced to a symbol and revealing him as a human who, like us, is sometimes neglected, anxious, and in need of love. Even in the first season, writers attempted to make Ted more than a mustachioed Pollyanna by showing his panic attack at a karaoke bar and his procrastination in signing his divorce papers.
After a dark year that made many of us face our greatest anxieties and our mortality, watching Ted build an unlikely community felt satisfying. “Being nice, in ‘Ted Lasso,’ is not a naïve denial of the darkness of life. It’s a cleareyed adaptation to it,” wrote James Poniewozik at The New York Times. “The series recognizes that nice guys do sometimes finish last. It just argues that other things are more important than finishing first.”
And yet, what has haunted Ted Lasso’s second season is the chance that a good show centered on positivity, kindness, and joy might turn maudlin and trite. It offers us a glimpse of integrity without consequences and mirth without stakes. ...
Among the many social phenomena that the pandemic has forced us to contend with has been “toxic positivity,” or, as the Psychology Group puts it, “the excessive and ineffective overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state across all situations.” (Much of the reason we dislike Christian movies, after all, is because their storylines feature unearned saccharine performances or righteous actions that read as corny or hollow.)
The enthusiasm and reception to Ted Lasso suggests that part of serving sad people during chaotic and unpredictable times rests in leaning into both joy and pain. Hyperpositivity and happiness are shallow; they are emotions characterized by their ephemeral state and the existence of external conditions. But Scripture teaches that joy is much deeper. It is an unflappable fruit of the Spirit, grounded in the truth of God’s everlasting and unconditional love for us (Ps. 16:8–11).
Ted Lasso doesn’t have much to say about religion, or where ultimate hope might be found. But his persistence in his joy makes him attractive, especially for those in his life who have given up. Throughout season 2, the show has begun to suggest that Ted’s optimism may actually be masking deep hurt and pain, rather than coming from his suffering (1 Thess. 1:6). Ted’s wounds stay out of sight of many of his friends and, if he has it his way, out of the psychologist’s office. His visible and visceral pain make it possible to love his impenetrable cheeriness and not reduce him to a positivity mascot.
Our love for the show perhaps exemplifies our hunger for a space where trauma, joy, forgiveness, and community can coexist. And during a time of death and division, the church has a unique chance to be the messenger of the most consequential good news. How do we avoid the pitfall of shallow optimism and offer a greater gospel?
In the aftermath of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Afghan refugee Mariya Dostzadah Goodbrake wrote:
We want to stay encouraged and to say the right Christian things: “God will prevail,” “This is a broken world,” “Justice is not on this side of life,” or “We already have victory.” Yes, these comments remind us that we have a God that has already prevailed, but can we just grieve for a moment and not say the right Christian thing to say? Can we stand in righteous anger? Can we say that for this moment, evil prevailed? Can we just sit in the hurt and injustice for a moment?
The call of the Christian life is a complex one. It calls us to both joy and sorrow, both hope and lament. It calls us to a posture of wisdom, one where we discern when to sit in solidarity with friends who mourn, when to speak truth, and when to call a brother or sister to hope (Ecc. 3:4). In the gospel, the contradictions Lasso’s creators attempt to portray meld harmoniously together. Maybe we can show our friends the real-life thing.
Rod Seddon (Crossroads Church), There's a New TV Show That Will Make Your Life Better:
Faced with enmity from pretty much everyone around him—his players, his owner, the press, the fans—Ted proceeds to win over each person, moment by moment, by being genuinely kind and interested. Sure he’s an idiot at times, and he’s a flawed guy who is hurting (to be explained in a later episode), but deep down, he’s a genius because he understands what people really want, and he gives it to them. He’s relentlessly positive. He pays attention to the little things about each individual he comes across, from the star player to the lowly clubhouse attendant who no one can remember his name. It’ll make you want a Ted in your life. And it’ll make you want to be a Ted. ...
[T]his is the most Christian, non-Christian show I’ve seen because there isn’t a hint of faith in the show. After all, it takes place in the UK, where faith is basically non-existent. But every single thing that Ted does is what Jesus tells his followers to do.
Ted goes on a crazy adventure that everyone thinks will fail (2 Corinthians 11:26). Ted is struggling deep down, but that does not stop him from treating people right (Luke 6:31). He does not judge but is simply curious about the person in front of him (Matthew 7:1). He uses his words to build people up when all they do is sneer at him (Ephesians 4:29). He focuses on the well-being of others, despite his own pain (Philippians 2:3-4). He turns the other cheek when people put him down (Matthew 5:39). He forgives even when it’s hard (Matthew 6:14). He shines light on others with every opportunity (Matthew 5:16). ...
If you aren’t a Christian, watch Ted Lasso because it’ll make you happier. If you are a Christian, watch Ted Lasso and ask yourself if you look like Ted to those around you. If you don’t, you might not really be one.
Daniel P. Horan (National Catholic Reporter), The Anonymous Christianity of 'Ted Lasso':
What is so moving is the way this man — who is at once more than a buffoon and more hopeful than a Pollyanna and kinder than a saint — negotiates the challenges he encounters.
He sincerely cares more about developing relationships and supporting the full flourishing of each player and staff member on his team than he does about winning or losing (to the frustration of shortsighted competitive colleagues). He is genuinely thoughtful and caring, even when he is the object of derision and scorn, even when he is being set up for failure. He is able to win over the most cynical and selfish people, not through biting argumentation or insult, but through sheer persistence, presence and, dare I say, authentic love.
Oh, and the show is also absolutely hilarious. Even in the writing there is a sense of team camaraderie allowing for the entire ensemble to shine at various points.
While there is no overt religious message, plot or character in the show, I found myself reflecting on how it may very well be the most unwittingly Christian program on air today. I do not believe that Sudeikis, who just won a Golden Globe for best TV actor in a musical or comedy series, or his series-development collaborators ever intended to produce a show that would be taken for conveying a religious message, but that is part of its brilliance. The overarching lessons are shown rather than told, lived rather than preached, and often lighthearted and humorous rather than stuffy, dry, condemnatory or moralizing.
As I continued to reflect on the positive power I believe this show has, I kept thinking about the concept of "anonymous Christianity" developed by the late Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner. While largely misunderstood, the notion of an "anonymous Christian" was Rahner's way of talking about how to balance Christianity's unequivocal assertion that Jesus Christ is the universal savior with the practical realities of religious pluralism or ignorance of the Christ and the Gospel by billions of humans through no fault of their own. ...
In an age when the hypocrisy of religious leaders and their myopic focus on culture war issues causes grave scandal to many Christians and non-Christians alike, we might do well to look to other examples of what Christian discipleship looks like in action — even when the terms "Christian" or "religion" or "faith" never appear. While I would never claim that a television program like "Ted Lasso" or any other show is equal to or could be a substitute for the basics of our tradition, I believe the overarching message and example of characters and stories like one finds in this show offer us at least a supplement and a refreshing reminder of what it looks like to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ in practice.
And that is the power of this wonderful show: it invites viewers to imagine another way of being in the world, another set of values to prioritize, another approach to decision-making and relationship-building. This is what the best of Christian preaching ought to accomplish, but so rarely does. To this Christian viewer, the religious valance of "Ted Lasso" is undoubtedly anonymous, but is wonderfully compelling. Plus, it will make you laugh, cry and feel good!