Ted Lasso Isn't About What You Think

tags: Solidarity, television, Ted Lasso

(David M. Perry is a journalist, historian and senior academic adviser in the history department of the University of Minnesota. Matthew Gabriele is a professor of medieval studies and chair of the Department of Religion and culture at Virginia Tech. They are the co-authors of The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe. The views expressed here are the authors' own. Read more opinion on CNN. NOTE: This commentary contains spoilers for season 2 of "Ted Lasso.")

The breakout show of the pandemic has been Apple+'s "Ted Lasso," now just finished with its second season. The titular character, an American college football coach who improbably finds himself coaching the fictional English football club AFC Richmond, seems to exude kindness and optimism. He comes across as a folksy rube at the beginning -- the worst kind of stereotype of Americans abroad -- but during the first season manages to win just about everyone over to his side even in the face of betrayal and disaster. The second season seemed to continue this trajectory, as Ted and those around him confront their inner demons.

But although the show's superficial focus over the first two seasons has been on Ted as a "nice guy," that's not really what the show is about. It isn't a happy-go-lucky dramatization of optimism, but about the work and necessity of building communities in which we draw strength from one another. The show's tension and success stem not from its oft-touted emphasis on kindness, but from its ability to embody something that in the past would have been called caritas.

The Latin word caritas is most often translated as "charity," but a better meaning is "love" -- a certain kind of love, though, one that's selfless, that puts others first. The "love" of the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13 (that it is "patient," "kind," etc.), the staple of so many Christian weddings, for example, is translated from caritas in the Latin. This is a type of love that thinks more about others than oneself. As the 13th century theologian Thomas Aquinas explained, it's simply to "wish good to someone."

Although early Christians were proponents of this ideal of caritas, it's not an exclusively religious one. As we explain in our forthcoming book, "The Bright Ages," the ancient and medieval worlds were filled with dangers that couldn't be navigated alone, and so the societies around the Mediterranean built structures to support the poor, the sick and others.

As historians, we've spent the past 18 months of the pandemic not only watching "Ted Lasso" but also thinking deeply about the values communities need to weather difficult times. In the midst of a pandemic, when so many of us feel fundamentally alone, we see glimmers of this in our own world when we remember that we wear masks not just for ourselves but for everyone else too.

"Ted Lasso" reminds us that there's a world possible in which people can count on one another. As Ted says to his demoralized team at the very end of the last episode of season 1, "I want you to be grateful that you're going through this sad moment with all these other folks. Because I promise you, there is something worse out there than being sad, and that is being alone and being sad. Ain't nobody in this room alone."

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