Kansas Enjoys Moment on Streaming TV
The state of Kansas is enjoying some of the limelight these days, thanks to a couple popular TV shows. Commentator Rex Buchanan says each show offers viewers something different, but they remain connected by a Kansas thread that runs through both.
Commentator Rex Buchanan writes books, rides bikes and sometimes... even watches TV. The Lawrence resident is also director emeritus of the Kansas Geological Survey.
You may not have noticed, but Kansas is having a moment on streaming television. The state hasn’t had this much screen time since Gunsmoke.
First came Ted Lasso, the Apple TV series starring Jason Sudeikis. The show is set in England, but Sudeikis plays a soccer coach who previously coached football at Wichita State. Now we all know that WSU no longer has a football program, but Sudeikis includes plenty of real-life shout-outs to Kansas City and Kansas, including, especially, barbecue references. None of that’s surprising, since Sudeikis grew up in Overland Park, but it’s nice to see an unabashed embracing of his home town.
Ted’s got an one-liner for just about every occasion. But the thing that seems to have made the show a hit is its genuine positivity. Ted Lasso is almost unfailingly nice to people, puts an upbeat spin on most every situation. Ted Lasso seems to embody what many people refer to as “midwestern nice.” But it’s more than that. Ted Lasso is dead-set on seeing the world in a positive way, in trying help everybody else see the world the way he does, that it’s pretty hard not to like.
A more recent entry in streaming television is far more Kansas focused. It’s a series called Somebody Somewhere on HBO. The show is set in our own Manhattan. Though most of the show was filmed in Illinois, episodes generally include a few shots of Manhattan landmarks, like the Chef café or the Vista Drive-in. Characters drink Boulevard beer and wear t-shirts from Louise’s bar in Lawrence or the Alma Creamery.
The show stars Manhattan native Bridgett Everett who has made a career, mostly from singing, in New York. She’s the center of the show, but maybe more impressive is the cast of supporting characters, many from outside the mainstream who clearly represent the kind of folks not usually portrayed in the country’s heartland.
I’ve only seen a few episodes of this show, but it too is hard not to like. It’s more serious, and aims higher, than Ted Lasso, showing people who create their own community in a little town in a red state. While it’s nice to see familiar sights on the screen, I especially like the recognition that this center of the country is more complex, and thus more interesting than outsiders give it credit for. We see lots more than just “midwestern nice.”
So why, seemingly just like that, do two reasonably high-profile television shows reference Kansas? Much of the credit goes to two talented and persevering stars, Jason Sudeikis and Bridgett Everett. It’d be easy to jump to the conclusion that talent, plus midwestern grit, is responsible for their success. But lots of places produce talented people who strive and succeed.
So maybe it’s just a coincidence that these two shows came along when they did. I don’t mean to read too much into the timing. But I do know that they give a sense of Kansas as a complicated, and consequential, place. A generosity of spirit. And that too is pretty hard not to like.