I Guess the ‘Ted Lasso’ Optimism Only Extends to Its Male Characters

I Guess the ‘Ted Lasso’ Optimism Only Extends to Its Male Characters

Something’s off with Ted Lasso this season. The episodes are longer. The jokes are sparse. Even Full House couldn’t get by on heartfelt moments alone. But what has really, really irked me in season 3 is that Ted Lasso‘s female characters, and Keeley in particular, are getting left out of the show’s positive ethos. *Nicole Kidman voice* We come to this place for kindness and optimism. So why is Keeley in a flop era populated by mean people?

In episode 2, Keeley goes to supervise a commercial shoot for her PR firm. Her mean, no-nonsense CFO Barbara gives her strict instruction not to go over time and over budget. She very nearly would have if it weren’t for her model friend Shandy, who comes up with a last-minute solution on set that saves Keeley and her firm both money and time. So Keeley hires her on the spot. She doesn’t have a job title for Shandy. She doesn’t have specific duties in mind. She just does it!

That’s ill-advised perhaps, sure. But what’s most aggravating to me is that Keeley doesn’t defend Shandy when Mean Barbara the CFO meets her and proceeds to tear her down. Not once does she mention how Shandy’s problem-solving skills and creativity saved the day. She just sits there and lets Mean Barbara be mean to her friend, and then later says it’s going to be okay because she believes in Shandy. The word “believe” is, of course, hugely important in Ted Lasso. It’s the success strategy the show is built on.

Only, believing in Shandy doesn’t work out for Keeley, does it? In the next episode, everyone at AFC Richmond who meets Shandy make cutting comments about her big personality, or how Keeley only hired her because they’re friends. Then, one episode later, Shandy changes Bantr’s tagline without Keeley’s approval to “Wanna bang a celebrity???” Annnnnd in the episode after that she creates her own app to rival Bantr and loses a client by drunk dialing them. Keeley fires her, and Shandy causes a scene.

Then Keeley starts dating her own boss, a woman named Jack, which, regardless of how you feel about that relationship (I liked it until I didn’t) still gives the viewer the impression that Keeley is committing a classic professional faux pas and is therefore bad at her job. It seems like the show wants us to think that Mean Barbara has been right all along. The Keeley I know is unconventional at times but savvy, professional, and competent! We’ve been watching her career rise, and now all of a sudden she’s clueless? It’s not making sense to me.

Ted Lasso is ostensibly about a fish out of water who changes a grumpy English football club with pep talks, folksy sayings, and optimism that lifts up everyone around him. By season 3, we should be seeing those ripple effects in other characters. For many characters, most of them men, we have seen a Ted Lasso-ification. Roy Kent has taken it upon himself to train and mentor Jamie. Trent Crimm has gone from snark to sentiment. Evil Nate tried to start a Diamond Dogs club at his new job. But then, while Rebecca’s outlook and leadership style has changed since meeting Ted, she’s been on a weird personal journey this season. And Keeley, an optimistic fish out of water just like Ted, fails at every turn.

Why is the lesson that Keeley learns about hiring Shandy that it was a mistake? Why not have Keeley mentor her and sow the potential that is clearly there? This storyline became, to my bewilderment, a sped-up version of the Nate storyline that spanned two whole seasons of Ted Lasso and counting. Ted nurtured Nate in Season 1, and Nate betrayed and abandoned him at the end of Season 2. But it only took three episodes for Shandy to betray and abandon Keeley after she was introduced.

As the season progresses, we’ve gotten even more baffling storylines. I don’t love that episode 7 was all about Jack “love bombing” Keeley and the lesson to be learned was that it was romantic, not manipulative. I don’t love that Rebecca assumed that a psychic saying “You’re going to be a mother” meant she was magically fertile–she’s smart enough to know that there are other ways to have a family. I really don’t love how mean Mean Barbara is. I can’t even get started on Nate’s relationship with Jade. I straight-up hated Jack’s prudish and slut-shaming attitude about Keeley’s leaked nudes. (The locker room conversation was more sex positive, like… come on!) Rebecca assured Keeley that Jack might “surprise her” and be supportive, but nope.

The show has not traditionally been sexist. Rebecca and Keeley have a great friendship. They are both three dimensional characters with flaws and attributes. I always appreciate how the show breaks down toxic masculinity and shows a lot of different ways that men can be soft and strong. But it seems like they have forgotten that another great way to topple the patriarchy is to let the women’s storylines have some nuance, too. Apparently the “believe” method only works for the guys.

We don’t know how this season of Ted Lasso is going to end. Hopefully when it does there will be egg on my face. There’s still time for Keeley to bring Shandy back on board, apologize, and reforge their working relationship as a mentor. Shandy could be the Jamie to her Roy instead of the Nate to her Ted. There’s a little time for Jack to learn the power of positivity. In recent episodes, Rebecca stopped following cryptic clues from a psychic and gave both Ted and Roy pep talks they needed, so maybe there’s hope for her to believe in herself instead of signs from the universe. Maybe there’s even time for Mean Barbara to become… Nice Barbara? That might be too far, but a gal can dream.

Leah Marilla Thomas is an entertainment writer, UNC alum, and former Hasbro Toy Tester (yes, that’s a real thing) who loves The Good Place and Love Island equally. In her alleged spare time, she’s probably either at the theater, in a park, or watching basketball. 

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