When the finale of Ted Lasso’s third season aired, I used it (coupled with a wholly unsatisfying trip to the theater to see the latest Fast and the Furious film) to talk about fandom and how it makes criticism more difficult.
I stand by my overall reaction. I didn’t much like Ted Lasso (the show) over the course of the second and third seasons; they never reached the heights of that magical first season for me. But all the while, I still really liked Ted Lasso (the character) and the struggles that he was coping with. Same with his merry band of characters throughout the AFC Richmond ecosystem.
My life has changed a lot from that first season. Watching the third season (and wrestling with whether I was enjoying myself), I realized I felt more similar to the Ted of the show: I was now going through something, a huge life change that could in theory make running away to coach a football team in England though I know nothing about the sport sound appealing: My dad had just died.
For the first time in my life, I experienced panic attacks. Ted had those, too. (I’d argue the show does a good job of depicting them.) On a deeper level, part of Ted’s deepest-seated trauma and what perhaps drove him and made him the way he is was his own father’s death when he was a child.
All of these things make me want to love the show. I know that doesn’t necessarily make sense, but I think it’s natural enough that people want to see themselves on screen, to see their stories depicted. (It’s why I felt so powerfully affected by Succession this season.)
Now that I was seeing more of myself, I wanted to give the show (its plot lines, its writers, its actors) more credit than I thought it deserved from a TV criticism point of view. “Oh well, so they took a swing and missed. Look at them! They’re telling your story (OK, not exactly yours but one you can deeply relate to right now).”
I think this is a fine thing to do, if a person was so inclined. To grade on a scale all that is 100% his or her own, to award points and give credit because it speaks to them in a way that fair-minded critics might not see or feel. (Again, the whys surrounding my adoration of the third episode of Succession’s final season has everything to do with when I watched it and what was happening in my life at the time; no matter how critics might agree with my assessment that it’s a wonderful episode of television, my reasoning will be unreasonably (and inexplicably) tied up in my own circumstances of when I watched it.)
A recent article in Slate has me reconsidering fandom, at least in the Ted Lasso sense.
The summary of the article is this: In the show, a recurring bit involves Ted and a small circle of men who call themselves the Diamond Dogs and convene meetings to hear out a problem from one of the members. The others listen attentively and give heartfelt (if sometimes tough-love) advice, signing off with various barks and woofs and other dog noises. And now fans, touched by the message of the show, have created a subreddit that brings that Diamond Dog ethos into the real (if digital) world: It’s a place where fans of the show mostly (though anyone seems like they’d be welcome if they somehow found their way there by accident) can share life events and travails and get some advice, support, or general positive vibes from total strangers, all in the spirit of how Ted and the Diamond Dogs would do it.
It’s hard to know what to think of this, in all honesty. My immediate reaction was some mix of eye-rolling cringe and “Aww, that’s sweet.” Because it is both of those things.
We’ve all seen stories (perhaps examples from our own lives) of how people’s relationship with the culture they consume feels overblown, bordering on unhealthy. It was (in its more annoying form) the backbone of a recent Taylor Swift news cycle, forcing we Taylor agnostics to care about (by virtue of being unable to escape the news) who she was dating and whether he might suck because her fans had drafted an open letter akin to a Change.org petition demanding she break up with him. As ridiculous as that sentence sounds (because it is), that’s a real thing that just happened. (If you’re just learning of this for the first time, rest easy: She broke up with him, and you ever have to care.)
The Diamond Dogs of Reddit pose a different question: What if the seemingly unhealthy things (this devotion to a TV show and its characters) promotes something good (even bordering on healthy), which is to say the creation of this space for people to be kind and vulnerable with strangers?
It’s a genuinely interesting point to consider (no doubt why the author was interested in the first place). But I don’t know how I feel about it. Ultimately, people want to keep a good thing in their lives going, which is arguably what the internet is all about. They want community (another checkmark for the internet). They want to spread a good feeling they have, make the world a little bit brighter, and probably, as Ted said in Season 1, “Be curious. Not judgmental.”
These seem like unalloyed goods. But the article makes mention where the forum could fall short:
However, Jern maintains that an affectionate Ted Lasso forum, or a verbose suite of advice columns, can’t be a total replacement of the intuition of an actual mental health professional. He doesn’t believe that the Diamond Dogs possess the bona fides to administer scientifically sound mental health advice, and instead equates it to the casual backslapping commiseration among friends. That’s plenty valuable, but it isn’t exactly medicine.
This seems pretty basic, a no-duh observation, and in many ways, it is. But just visiting the subreddit on the morning I’m writing this post, there was a post left on the board in the past 10 hours where the commenter said they “don’t want to survive the night” and “can’t do this anymore.”
Who knows if it’s real, if it’s a sincere cry for help, but the comments, while supportive and kind, can only do so much on an anonymous message board. The original poster even said as much, that anonymity of the site makes it hard to feel like there’s real connection. Which, of course, is true.
None of the commenters pointed the person the person toward the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.
One wrote asking for a response “so I know that you made it through the night.” Which is kind to say, but what if the person hadn’t responded? Then what?
These extremes are possible with any online community, and it shouldn’t necessarily detract from the people who go to get support as they navigate a breakup or getting fired or the millions of other curve balls life can throw at us.
But I come back to the issue of whether I like the group (and its purpose) because I liked the show, just like whether I actually liked the last season because I’d liked the first? I’m honestly not sure, but I think, ultimately, if Ted Lasso causes there to be more goodness and kindness in the world, then that’s a positive thing for all of us.