When I first saw the “Believe” sign taped above the door to the Oval Office on Twitter, I was a little confused. President Joe Biden posted the cryptic photo on Sunday night, along with the ominous-sounding “Tomorrow.” Was this about Trump’s impending arrest? Probably not—that would be a little unseemly of Biden. The sign was yellow and blue—was it about Ukraine? No, they haven’t figured that out yet. Oh, I realized after a few minutes, this is a Ted Lasso thing.
Ted Lasso—an Apple TV+ show about a soccer coach who, among other inspirational things, hangs a “Believe” sign in the locker room—just came out with a new season. I understood the president’s post to mean that he was pretending to be a really big Ted Lasso fan, possibly because the Ted Lasso advertising department had paid him to. The president, casually posting sponcon—what had the world come to! I shook my head. First the Oscars presented a commercial for The Little Mermaid, and now this.
It took me another few minutes to understand that I was wrong, but I wasn’t far off. The president was teasing the Ted Lasso cast’s visit to the White House to discuss mental health. So the president, or whoever runs his account, was pretending to be a really big Ted Lasso fan not because anyone had paid him to, but for both parties’ mutual benefit, which is either nowhere near—or the same amount—as nefarious as sponcon.
Why am I so quick to say he was pretending to be a big fan of Ted Lasso? In my estimation, it’s possible he’s seen a few episodes. Maybe his aides or his granddaughter—who may or may not still live with him on the down-low—cued them up for him. But the likelihood that Biden has figured out how to access Apple TV+ when I can barely figure out how to access Apple TV+ seems very low. He’s quite busy.
That said, if Biden had the time or ability to watch Ted Lasso, I have no doubt he’d react to it with adoration. It may be the only thing on earth more grandpa-core than the man himself, which might be why the Onion once joked about Biden using a summit with world leaders as an excuse to ask if anyone had seen the show. It almost seems as if it was designed in a lab for him: On the surface, it’s about a guy who succeeds against all odds in sports by being the nicest person in the world, but it’s also secretly about grief, something Biden knows a thing or two about. The show also happens to star someone he might recognize from Saturday Night Live: Jason Sudeikis, who actually played Biden for several years.
But while the Biden-Sudeikis axis is strong, politicians from both political parties love referencing Ted Lasso in their speeches. Republican Sen. Mitt Romney even dressed up as him for Halloween (and was subsequently roasted for it). Was inviting the cast to the White House Biden’s attempt to reach across the aisle, then? The jury’s out—I think Biden’s comms team mostly just wanted to remind everyone of his goofier side.
But back to the visit itself. The Ted Lasso cast, including Sudeikis and maybe only one other name you would recognize, arrived as planned to the White House on Monday. They were scheduled to sit down with the president and Jill Biden, but first they joined the White House press secretary for a news briefing. “We all know someone, or have been that person ourselves actually, that’s struggled, that’s felt isolated, that’s felt anxious, that’s felt alone,” Sudeikis said during his remarks. An actor who plays a reporter on the show, frequently seen asking questions at press conferences, sat with the press and asked a question. Everyone had a good chuckle. Biden has promised, via Twitter, to share video of him and the cast “soon.”
Some fans of the show were pleased to see the cast in the White House, posting on forums like Reddit that they appreciated its depiction of anxiety and panic attacks. But others saw the visit as lip service. Several right-wing commentators on Twitter criticized Biden for meeting with a fictional character while Russian President Vladimir Putin was meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, but to be fair, they were never going to have anything good to say about him in the first place, even if they secretly like the show.
Considering the timing, the Ted Lasso cast appearing at the White House just as they’ve got a new season out did seem unusually promotional. But as publicity stunts go, this was a decent one. The cast got to market their show. The White House got to associate itself with a well-liked entertainment property. Both groups got to have an important discussion to raise awareness about mental health. And it worked. Trust me: I didn’t know about mental health before, and now I do! Just kidding.
It’s true that the world seems pretty well aware of mental health, and that the next step might be actual solutions, not just stunts with Jason Sudeikis. But it’s the job of the press secretary to stage those stunts, among other things, and this one was perfectly inoffensive. Sometimes that counts as a win.
Now, if Ted Lasso were here, he’d end this article with a folksy saying. Let’s try this. “Visiting the White House is like ice cream …” No, that won’t work. “Visiting the White House is like pizza …” No … OK, got it: “Visiting the White House is like Season 3 of Ted Lasso—you can’t please everyone!”