The female relationships in a show about British men’s football are redemptive
The scene that best showcases the treatment of female relationships in Apple TV’s new feelgood series “Ted Lasso” is not much of a scene at all. It occurs midway through the series. In Episode 5, “New Underwear,” Keeley Jones (played by Juno Temple) strides unbidden into her ex-boyfriend Jamie Tartt’s home (played by Phil Dunster). Jones finds Tartt walking around in nothing but his briefs, with an unnamed woman wearing a silken pajama top by his side. The unnamed woman is instantly starstruck upon Jones’s arrival. Despite the fact that the unnamed woman has apparently just spent the night with fictional AFC Richmond’s star player, the woman is far more dazzled to be in Jones’s midst. She says, “Sorry, can I just say, I’m your biggest fan. I follow your Insta, your Snap — everything.” Jones is flattered and does not waste a moment being upset at the woman, even though she and Tartt have only just broken up the day prior.
The exchange lasts no more than a minute, with Tartt asking if Jones will be at his promo later. She confirms that yes, she will be present for the opportunity she spent months setting up for him. With that, she turns on her heels, but not before telling the unnamed woman that it was “nice to meet you,” — and somehow the kindness in her eyes toward the woman causes us to believe her that it was in fact nice to meet this social media follower in the flesh.
Indeed, it is in the lack of what may be expected between glamorous, powerful women where we find the most beautiful mosaic of feminism in “Ted Lasso,” a show about British men’s football. There is a refreshing lack of duplicity among the female characters. The women of “Ted Lasso” are more than mere “Footballers Wives”, but it’s clear that their characters are having to clap back to the monolithic pettiness of their portrayal in the British drama that lasted for five seasons, or even in their more exploited dynamics in reality programs like the “Real Housewives” or “The Bachelor” franchises.
From the beginning scenes of “Lasso,” we encounter women who are beautiful, successful, confident, and troubled by the men they love. Driving the AFC Richmond ship is Rebecca, whose parting gift from her ex-husband Rupert is the football team for which she does not give a damn. In fact, so great was Rupert’s affection for the team that it serves as a constant reminder of how Rebecca played second fiddle in the erstwhile marriage to a playboy. Rebecca is thusly determined to drive the team into the ground, unwittingly aided and abetted by the Texan coach she recruits from the stateside, Ted Lasso.
The dynamics of the relationship between Rebecca and Lasso contains volumes, but Lasso’s deference to women in general throughout the first season, shows the writers of Lasso were not only woke to the #MeToo era, but recognize the ways women can be the ultimate designers of gameplay, even if they remain in the box seats. At one point, Lasso even pauses a match to consult with Rebecca about a decision to bench Tartt. Combining an epic chivalry reminiscent of Robin Hood seeking the hand of Maid Marian, the scene shows that Rebecca’s honor is what Lasso seeks to defend, even if he makes himself a fool in the process. “Ted Lasso” begs the question: can toxic masculinity be upended by women who refuse to put up with it? Or will it require men who simply refuse to buy into it?
Another surprise in “Lasso” is the way women advocate for one another. The covenant bonds of women’s relationships with each other are so often poorly portrayed, even in shows with a majority female cast. In “Lasso,” Rebecca and Jones both trade business favors with one another, one helping the other appear more statuesque on red carpets, the other offering her young protege a job in promotions. The infighting and backstabbing we often see bear out is not fuel to the female fire in “Lasso.”
At one point, Rebecca hires a paparazzo to catch Lasso and Jones in a compromising position in order to continue her crusade to foil Lasso and the team. Upon learning of this attempt, Jones confronts Rebecca head-on, and demands an apology — not to Jones but to Lasso. Their ex-husbands and ex-boyfriends can undermine their powers and take them for granted, but women like Jones are going to demand more of their friends, expect better, and hold one another to a higher standard.
“Make Rebecca Great Again,” episode 7, is one of the most beautiful examinations of female friendship that has played out on any screen in recent history. Rebecca’s girlhood friend Flo Collins joins Jones and her for a weekend, in lieu of the anniversary Rebecca would have been celebrating with Rupert. The point of their rendezvous is not just to redeem the pain of the day for Rebecca, but to redeem one another. Collins intimates to Jones that they are not seeing the real Rebecca — who is normally silly and singing. They are seeing a facsimile, but we catch glimpses of the real Rebecca in a Karaoke spot that is as unexpected as it is unparalleled.
I watched “Lasso” with my husband and its effect on a couple abiding a long quarantine in the midst of a pandemic cannot be underestimated. From Brene Brown to Buzzfeed, it seems everyone has a soft spot for the program about cheering for the underdog, especially in the midst of a pandemic. What I’ve loved most, though, is sharing the highlights and laughs from “Lasso” with my best friend from high school who now lives in Australia. Over messages exchanged over Whatsapp, we are bridging the divide between hemispheres, echoing our favorite Lasso-isms. We are redeeming ourselves by loving each other, which is what women do so well.