Ted Lasso and Other TV Bosses We’d Walk Over Hot Coals For

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In the heady moments of celebration after England’s victory over Denmark in this year’s Euros semi-final, the sight of team manager Gareth Southgate prompted ITV pundit Gary Neville to comment: “The standard of leaders in this country the past couple of years has been poor. Looking at that man, he’s everything a leader should be: respectful, humble, he tells the truth.” 

The former Man U right-back’s words, directed at the political rulers of a country riven by Brexit, tap into a modern craving for decency. Fed a diet of self-serving narcissism from our public figures, we hunger for more wholesome fare: moral character, humility, honesty, kindness. In the year of horrors that was 2020, that appetite was temporarily sated on TV by fictional football manager Ted Lasso

Played in the Apple TV series by Jason Sudeikis (who, in true Ted style, wore a shirt to the Ted Lasso season two launch in support of the three young Black England footballers who received racist abuse after their team’s eventual loss to Italy in the final), Ted’s thoroughgoing decency won everyone over to The Lasso Way. He’s the gold standard of TV bosses – selfless, caring, wise, inspirational, and patiently dedicated to bringing out the best in his players and the team as a whole. He may not always win on the pitch, but he always wins in our hearts. And if those words make you want to heave, then you, friend, may just need a little more Lasso in your life. #Believe.

To celebrate his return, we present Ted’s TV peers, the bosses for whom you’d go any number of extra miles.

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Leslie Knope – Parks & Recreation

There is no finer example set in the TV workplace than Leslie Barbara Knope. The Pawnee public servant leads from the front, the sides and the back. She’s the waffle-powered sheepdog of City Hall, yapping co-workers and townsfolk into shape with her relentless work ethic and bottomless optimism. Leslie’s a boss who cares so much that she’s already bought your Christmas gift. And your birthday gift. And made you a special hand-crafted gift to mark the half-year anniversary of the day you first met. She sleeps three hours a night, runs entirely on sugar (or should that be salgar?), has a binder for every eventuality, and always, always has your back. Her rubber-soled energy is so infectious that over seven seasons she even manages to motivate the lazy (Tom), disaffected (April), dumb (Andy), aloof (Donna), hapless (Jerry) and the downright obstructive (Ron). For a gal named ‘nope’, she’s a whole lot of yes. LM

Bertram Cooper – Mad Men

Technically, advertising firm Sterling Cooper on Mad Men has two bosses – Roger Sterling and Bertram Cooper. Coop, however, is the let’s say…more experienced of the two and takes on the role of boss. And what a boss he is! The eccentric office sage played by Robert Morse takes a decidedly hands off approach to managing the workplace. Do whatever you want in this Madison Avenue ad agency, as long as you take your shoes off when you enter Bert’s office. And if you’re nice enough he might show you his collection of erotic octopus art. AB

Jacqueline Carlyle – The Bold Type

The Editor-In-Chief of Scarlet magazine, the women’s title at the heart of ridiculous millennial wish fulfillment vehicle The Bold Type is part mentor, part mother figure, part fairy godmother to the three young women at the centre of the show. Jane is an intern when she first meets Jacqueline, who greets her with “Are you a writer? You look like a writer.” Because, yep, it really is that easy to get a job at a top magazine. The Bold Type is nonsense but it’s very good hearted nonsense which tries in earnest to tackle big issues while maintaining a sunny outlook. Be yourself, be passionate, be bold, the show says, and the world is at your feet. Sent a couple of tweets? Congratulations, have a promotion! Threatened with a lawsuit because of something you wrote? No bother, have a promotion! Fraudulently passed yourself off as a stylist when you’re not, thereby ruining a key relationship? Meh. Promotion for you! Promotions all round! Jacqueline is glamorous and wise, endlessly patient with her proteges and seemingly in possession of a bottomless budget. We all wish we worked for Jacqueline and she’s a wonderful (imaginary) role model. We’re just slightly nervous for any young fans of the show who ever get to work for an actual, real life Editor-In-Chief… RF

Mr. Krabs – SpongeBob SquarePants

Mr. Krabs is a good boss because he’s refreshingly upfront about what matters to him. Simply put: the crab likes money. As long as you’re putting in the hours and keeping the profit margins fat, Mr. Krabs will be your best friend. Sure, he takes advantage of SpongeBob’s naivete from time to time. But deep down, you know the guy has a heart as big as his enormous whale daughter, Pearl. AB

Supt. Ted Hastings – Line of Duty

Think of Ted Hastings, head of Central Police’s Anti-Corruption Unit 12, as Ulysses – a man sailing on dangerous waters but so determined not to be seduced by the sirens’ song that he’s tied himself to the ship’s mast and stopped his ears with wax. Except replace ‘siren’s song’ with ‘bungs from criminal gangs’, and ‘ship’s mast’ and ‘wax’ with ‘sheer force of will, son’. Ted’s a colossus of integrity in a world of backhanders and turning-a-blind-eye. He does the right thing even when it’s the hard thing, and if you’re one of his officers, then you’re his for life. (Unless you’re a corrupt gangster plant, in which case, by Mary, Joseph and the wee donkey, he’ll never live down the shame.) Ted may have more decency in his side-parting than most officers have in their whole bodies, but he still has his flaws. The stock he puts in loyalty makes him inflexible, and his temper’s a thing to be seen, but the key thing about Ted as a leader is that when he makes a mistake, he owns up to it. We should all be so lucky to have a gaffer like him. LM

Ron Donald – Party Down

Starz’s brilliant comedy Party Down premiered around the same time as classic NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation. As such, Ken Marino’s perpetually stressed boss character Ron Donald didn’t get nearly as much attention as another boss named Ron: Ron Swanson. Let’s be clear, however, nobody would want Ron Swanson as a boss because that means you’d have to regularly interact with a libertarian. Instead, it’s far better to be in the good graces of Ron Donald. This Ron will support your dreams all the while telling you about his own to own a Souper Crackers franchise. AB

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Lynda Day – Press Gang

Bit of of a niche one – you probably have to be British and in your 40s to even know who this is – but Lynda Day, played by Julia Sawalha deserves a mention as the youngest boss on the list. Editor of the Junior Gazette, the after school newspaper run by pupils at the heart of Steven Moffat’s very first show she’s an erudite journalist, a ruthless news hound and a self possessed young woman who cares more about being right than about being liked. Lynda isn’t particularly soft or warm but she is a boss who would make you a better writer. You’d strive to please Lynda, want to live up to her incredibly high standards and know that the work you were doing on the paper could actually make a difference. Lynda is all about work ethic and integrity. Small of frame, sharp of tongue, you wouldn’t wanna mess with her, but you know she’ll get shit done. RF  

Captain Holt – Brooklyn 99

It says something about a boss when you wouldn’t just walk over hot coals for them, you would also do it for their pet dog. Cheddar the corgi is just one of many reasons to snap your sharpest salute to Captain Raymond “Do Not Call Me Ray Or Use Contractions In My Presence” Holt. Precinct captain of the 99, Holt is a walking yardstick of fine taste, good manners, linguistic clarity and grammatical coherence. Holt values simplicity and despises vulgarity. Do your job and do it right, and you will earn his hard-won respect, perhaps indicated by a very slight incline of the head if he is feeling frivolous. Holt has already earned your respect, for leading an exemplary career as an openly gay NYC cop since 1987, facing down racists, homophobes and the lowest of the low: people who use “What’s up?” as a greeting. Captain Holt’s impossibly high standards are a bar few reach, but to which we can all aspire. LM

Ian Grimm and Poppy Li – Mythic Quest

Mythic Quest creative directors Ian Grimm (Rob McElhenney) and Poppy Li (Charlotte Nicdao) are messes on their own. But when their personalities combine, they create one great boss unit who keeps things moving and keeps things lively. Granted, I wouldn’t want to work for Ian and Poppy as a programmer or dev on the Mythic Quest team because crunch is real (and I also have no such skills). They would make for a great boss team in just about any other industry though. AB

DCI Cassie Stuart – Unforgotten

Some bosses try to impress their status on employees by turning up the volume, but not DCI Cassie Stuart. Everything she does in ITV police drama Unforgotten, from case meetings to suspect interrogations, she does in the same controlled, low voice. It gives her words an intensity that shouting wouldn’t achieve and makes her cold-case murder team lean in to absorb the significance of what she’s saying. Usually, that’s on the theme of how they owe victims answers and are going to find them. Diligent and dedicated, she trusts her team, especially partner Sunny, and is the kind of boss whose praise really means something. A ‘good work’ from her and you’d be walking on air. LM

Conan O’Brien – Conan

This is technically violating the spirit of this thought exercise because Conan O’Brien is not fictional. What he is, however, is a boss…in both the metaphorical and literal sense of the word. No late night talk show host has ever reveled in being the boss of a staff as much as Conan O’Brien has on his shows like Late Night, The Tonight Show, and Conan. He views his role as boss as an opportunity to troll his employees like a corny father torturing his children with dad jokes. Many of Conan’s behind the scenes workers have become stars in their own right, like producer Jordan Schlansky or assistant Sona Movessian. And it’s all because Conan can’t help but want everyone to be involved and having a good time. Just like any great boss would want. AB

Captain Janeway – Star Trek Voyager

Anyone can be a good boss in a thriving workplace, but it takes a person of strong character to stay empathetic, decisive, and focused when everything goes to hell. In the very first episode of Star Trek: Voyager, Captain Janeway is stranded with her crew on the wrong side of the galaxy, 70,000 light years from home. She is tasked with getting not only her Starfleet crew home, but also the remaining members of the Maquis vessel Voyager was trying to capture when they were both pulled into the unexplored Delta quadrant. She does this all without the institutional support of the Federation, and without the certainty that they will ever make it back. It’s not always pretty, and Janeway makes some questionable decisions along the way, but it’s hard to imagine Voyager making it home without Janeway as their tough-as-nails boss. KB

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Ted Lasso Season 2 is available now on Apple TV+

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