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Ted Lasso's workplace

  • 20 September 2021
It’s not hard to understand why so many people are watching Ted Lasso (Apple TV), nor why it was nominated for twenty Emmy Awards and won seven. Believe it or not, it is twenty years since The Office first premiered on the BBC. Not since then has a comedy series cut so close to the bone of our cultural needs and anxieties.

The first scene of The Office shows the infamous boss, David Brent, (played by one of the series creators, Ricky Gervais) lying about the first aid credentials of a person that Brent wants to employ. While on the phone, Brent pretends that his nose is growing like that of Pinocchio. The scene set the tone for all the excruciating moments that were to follow.

The Office is the story of a workplace where there is opportunity for advancement but none for authenticity; there is a career structure but no personal growth. Brent was the model of the self-absorbed leader whose main mission was to make himself feel good. In a beautiful irony, the firm that employs him, Wernham Hogg, is a paper wholesaler. It sells appearance, not substance.

Ted Lasso touches the same nerve but in a much more endearing way. The series speaks to a world that is weary of encoded leadership, the idea of career advancement through learning the right things to say and pushing the right buttons. It addresses the lifelessness of the scripted workplace. People long for leadership that sets them free, liberates them to make a genuine contribution the human family, rather than patrolling policies and procedures. Lockdown has revealed to many people the central place of human connection in a healthy workplace, the sense of belonging to others for which cliches such as ‘well-being’ and ‘resilience’ are plastic substitutes. Working from home, some people have started to ask themselves what they are actually doing with their lives.

Enter Ted Lasso, the most unlikely coach ever to take over an English Football Club. His unique approach to leadership is poignant, funny, humane, wise and successful in ways that really matter. Of course, there are many elements of fairytale in this show, especially the glorious Christmas episode which will stand for the ages alongside the Christmas episodes in The Vicar of Dibley and the Festivus episode of Seinfeld. But don’t forget there are elements of fairytale in Cinderella as well, not to mention Jack and the Bean Stalk,