Media Literacy is Dead. And it Wasn’t Fandom that Killed It.

An interesting thing happened after the latest episode (3.05) of the popular show Ted Lasso aired. Several people complained about the supposed sudden revelation that two longtime characters are not straight, supposed sudden shifts in major characters arcs/personalities, and seemingly aimless direction the show has taken on. Now, there has always been a segment of the audience for any show that appears to watch a series as background noise or with a phone in hand or some other distraction taken away their full attention. It is an unfortunate circumstance of being seen, but the truly surprising part was how many paid, professional critics, journalists, and writers joined this group and have either forgotten or outright ignored the last two seasons of narrative and character development. Which is just baffling since that should be the most basic requirement of being able to analyze something: paying attention to the entirety of the series.

To be fair, one explanation I saw was the expectation of what Ted Lasso is. Not necessarily at fault, the show has become a bit of a victim of its own success. The first season hit at the beginning of the ongoing pandemic and a workplace comedy about positivity and found family and finding success was just the right thing for the moment. The immediate positive reception and spread through social media along these lines aided in the show’s popularity but also in a specific, incomplete perception. Yes, the show is about positivity and family and success, but it is far more than that as it discusses and incorporates into its very core issues like mental health and aging and failed relationships and unhealthy coping mechanisms and trauma, for starters. But those topics do not make for viral sixty second clips, so they were not as discussed or promoted as the more seen elements. Because at its inception and foundation, Ted Lasso is a show about broken people, and a broken team, dealing with their trauma, coming out the other side, and finding their true desires and intentions.

Yeah, it’s not as sexy as Ted sleeping with Sassy or Rebecca’s dating app obsession or the Keely/Roy/Jaime triangle, but from the very first episode the show has been about the central characters having unhealthy to outright toxic coping mechanisms dealing with their personal traumas and insecurities. And season three is about them coming out the bend and finally being ready to face and accept their futures in a healthy and fulfilling way. The entire premise of the show happens because Rebecca wants to destroy a multimillion dollar business along with the community around it to hurt her cheating ex-husband. Ted agrees to come coach a sport he knows nothing about in another country in the vein attempt to save his failing marriage. Higgins is constantly shrinking himself out of fear and shame at the cost of his own health and agency. Jaime is a self-centered twat who doesn’t understand his purpose or the game he’s playing. Roy is an aging athlete who cannot fully express himself emotionally, has never had a real romantic relationship, and has a habit of exiting things before he can fully experience the loss. Keeley is a Page 3 model who does not see a future for herself and is emotionally stunted due to her career and romantic choices. To relate each individual team member’s issues would take an entire novella, so will just say that they all do and the show makes a point of showing and addressing these issues for the named characters throughout the series.

The majority of dismissals for this season do seem to center around a few central issues: Rebecca’s storyline, Keeley’s storyline, the appearance of queer characters, and seemingly too much story to close out in the limited amount of episodes. I wish to address all these to some extent.

Rebecca’s concern about motherhood and finding her person has been part of her character since season 1. She has a near emotional breakdown when Rupert condescendingly tells her that his new wife is pregnant, and further suggests that the reason they never had a child was because he didn’t want one with her. The issues of children was a bludgeon that Rupert used against her, and it is something that she has mentioned and desired throughout the series. How anyone paying actual attention could even consider that this development is out of nowhere is utter idiocy. It is also interesting and concerning how so few of the critics and journalists had issue with Rebecca’s season 2 storyline that had her more removed from the team and most of the cast and obsessed with finding fuckbuddies, and yes that word choice is specific because she was not looking for love regardless of what those in favor of the Rebecca and Sam pairing say. Because, and this bit will be hard to hear for most, Rebecca’s dalliance with Sam was an unhealthy coping mechanism on both their parts. Rebecca was using Bantr as a distraction from her life and poor romantic options. She specifically went on the app when her personal life would take a bad turn like when her mother went back with her father after promising to spend a night with her and talk. And even her relationship with Sam was based on him being the most interesting person she could have a conversation with, but keep in mind those conversations for as enjoyable as they may have been were also superficial. This is apparent when at Rebecca’s father’s funeral, Sam tries to comfort her, but it is someone else that actually comes to her rescue in her moment of need. Nor is it just chance that Rebecca pauses her romance with Sam at the moment of having to confront her father’s death and legacy as the man who first betrayed her and formed her entire romantic trajectory.

For Sam, his storyline has revolved around finding the balance between being in England and being a proud Nigerian. From the beginning, his interactions with Ted and the team have in some way centered his Nigerian heritage and in furthering his character outside of his role on the team. Hell, all we have seen in season 3 so far, is how he is trying to bring his Nigerian culture and cuisine to Richmond. His short lived relationship with Rebecca was part of that. She is the epitome of English culture: white, wealthy, elite, and of a class and culture above most. It is not incidental that he is successful in his attempt to meet her after he saves his Nigerian homeland and has his father’s full support/approval once more. Just like it is not accidental that Sam makes the choice to fully pursue his idea of bringing Nigerian culture to Richmond after ending his deal with Edwin Akufo and his relationship with Rebecca. He is no longer beholden to either specific side or legacy and is able to pursue his own path. The romance between these two was not meant to be a long lasting thing but a stepping stone in both their journeys.

But the real issue is how critics and journalists and writers were fine with and celebrated this storyline as long as it showed Rebecca being sexy and sleeping around, but the moment she deals with and confronts her actual trauma around romance and family and children, it is a bad story. I am sure it has nothing to do with men wanting to see Hannah Waddingham in lingerie and being sexy and women wanting to fulfill their fantasies of being a sexpot without the obvious dealing of the actual character being unhappy and unfulfilled with these actions as has been made abundantly apparent in season 3. I’m sure that has nothing to do with it.

Similarly, the sudden revelation of Colin being gay or Keeley being bi or pan or just not preoccupied with gender are not sudden. Colin’s queerness has been peppered throughout the series. He is never seen on a date with a woman or have any actual romantic interest in a woman. Not even in locker room talk. He has operated with obvious shame and self esteem issues whose origins were never exactly known. He mentioned Grindr as the example of comparison when Bantr is mentioned. Were these more subtle than painting a rainbow flag on his locker? Sure, but they were not absent. Same with Keeley. She outright mentioned how she has slept with women in the past and is constantly mentioning Rebecca’s body and beauty with specific details. Do some women do this with female friends? Sure, but no other woman on the show has done so. Not even Flo “Sassy” Collins who is the most openly sexual character; perhaps even more so than Keeley. Again, you can dislike the introduction of Jack as a sexual partner/romantic interest for Keeley. Frankly, I am not a fan mostly because it is odd to introduce a brand new character midway through the last season as a love interest for one of the main cast even more so with virtually no actual background or character development being presented. However, Keeley being interested in a woman is not a sudden thing. And, honestly, it follows Keeley’s character pattern of using sex as a distraction when a personal complication comes up, ironically almost always due to something Roy has done or not done.

A lot of the complaints and criticism seems to come from just not paying attention to the show being shown on screen which is fine for standard audiences. But when you are getting paid to write or even just want to present a professional opinion, the very least you should do is actually watch the show. You don’t have to read all the theories or listen to all the interviews that have been done, but if you cannot do the basic function of applying attention and media literacy to the, honestly rather short, series that has been presented in front of you, then maybe criticism or writing is not your ministry. Or at the very least maybe it shouldn’t be attempted or applied to this show.

In truth, this show has never really been about football (or soccer depending on your linguistic preference) which is why even for the big games in which Richmond wins (like in Liverpool), we don’t actually see the game play out. No, what we witness in that episode is Nate’s speech to the team, Rebecca reuniting with her past friend and life, Keeley and Roy coming closer together, and Ted have his first full on panic attack at the realization that his marriage is truly well and over. Because this show has always been about these slightly bent, slightly broken but still ultimately good people reaching their lowest point and finding a way through by learning, loving, and leaning on one another. This season is simply the culmination of those journeys. Some characters will have an easier time than others. Some will face hard truths and lost opportunities. Some might not get the ending we wish. But you are a complete idiot if you truly think that anything we have seen on screen with this show has not been 100% intentional and planned out.

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