Is Ted Lasso setting the stage for a thoughtful examination of homophobia in sports?
The episode “4-5-1” opens and closes with a secondary character we haven’t spent much time with. Colin (Billy Harris), like many of the players not named Jamie or Sam, has long been merely a background teammate. That changes here. For all of a sudden, Ted Lasso is wading into the “no homo” territory that so continues to afflict many locker rooms across the world. Colin, you see, has a boy he’s seeing regularly. (I won’t use boyfriend since their flirtatious texts suggest more of a fwb situation.) Yet, because of the tone-deaf way his teammates react to anything remotely homoerotic—as both ha-ha funny and ha-ha weird—Colin finds himself keeping that part of himself a secret.
“Ted Lasso” gets into the (video) game
“I am a strong and capable man,” Colin tells himself, a mantra that feels as illusory and immaterial whether used to help him coach himself about keeping his sexuality a secret or used as a way to cope with being booted from the starting team to make room for Zava. It sounds hollow even if it’s clear it’s become an emotional crutch that’s helped him cope with cleaving himself in half for the better of the team. We’re clearly about to witness a subplot where that may well come to an end.
On the other end of the spectrum is Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), who suffers no fools and has no time for the platitude-driven work of a psychic, no matter how well recommended she comes. What’s fascinating about Rebecca’s psychic visit is how, even as it leaned into seemingly New Age-y crap, it looked not too dissimilar from the kind of therapy Dr. Sharon offered Ted last year. It makes sense Rebecca wouldn’t want even that level of self-examination. The less she has to think about what’s been motivating her lately, the less she has to reassess whether continuing a needless feud with her ex-husband is the best way to lead her life, lead her team.
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She may even scoff at the palliative power of Kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending things and of embracing imperfections in order to create something beautiful, but as a metaphor it feels most apt as a coping mechanism for how she’s come to approach her life as of late. Of course, given what we find out later in the episode (a green match book!), it seems we, like Rebecca, need to take the psychic’s words at face value. That is, we may have just been spoiled as to what’s going to happen to Rebecca by the end of the season (series!): “You will have a family. You will be a mother.” Will it involve newly-minted restauranteur Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh)? Inquiring minds are dying to know.
But I’m just delaying the inevitable. Because, despite these various subplots, “4-5-1” was all about that single digit at the end of the episode’s title: Zava (Maximilian Osinski). The soccer superstar has deigned to join Richmond and from the moment he arrived (late, no less), he made it clear that he was there to boost his own ego, even as his behavior also suggests such self-serving moves often require him to soothe those around him and make them feel seen. It’s only Rebecca who’s not immediately won over, perhaps because she sees right through those moves.
Oh, and Jamie (Phil Dunster). The former Richmond It boy is clearly having problems adjusting to playing second fiddle to the meditating, goal-scoring force that is Zava. And really, you can’t blame him—especially when Zava outright steals one of his goals for himself. Jamie knows a thing or two about being a diva so it makes sense he’d be the one to similarly see right through Zava’s antics. Thankfully, rather than merely sulk around, Jamie gets the Roy Kent treatment: namely, a talking to that’s equal parts hype session and telling off. (I’ll admit my favorite bit of that exchange was Roy’s sheepishness once he’s called out for making a mess of Sam’s yet-to-open restaurant.)
Roy and Jamie have long felt like an odd couple waiting to happen, and this seems like a perfect way to get Keeley’s exes to finally bond over something else other than the petite pink-wearing go-getter. Hilarity, I hope, will soon ensue. I wonder, though: What will it take for the rest of the Richmond team to realize that Zava is not really a team player? What will that do to the morale of a group of mates who’ve been through so much together? Sure, they’re winning, but at what cost? Maybe Jamie will be able to open others’ eyes.
Speaking of opening others’ eyes…it’s understandable why Colin would keep his personal life to himself. Locker room talk (about, say, Julie Andrews!) is so aggressively heterosexual in such spaces that there does seem to be little room for someone like Colin to fully express himself. It hurts though, to watch him and his hook up (fwb? bf?) straight-act their way through Sam’s pre-opening, openly playing the “We’re just two hetero bro friends who are wingmen for one another” schtick. I felt for Colin there and I’m eager to see what Lasso will do with such a storyline. I’ll admit though, I’m worried, given that the episode ends with a gotcha cliffhanger that may set the stage for either a compassionate examination of homophobia in sports and/or one where people’s worst impulses are tempted.
Colin, you’ll remember is caught in flagrante by none other than Trent Crimm. Will the erstwhile cutting and cutthroat sports journalist use this tidbit as juicy gossip to bolster the tell-all book about Richmond he’s writing? Or, emboldened by the tender conversation he had with Roy last episode, will he find a way to counsel Colin? We’ll have to tune in next week to find out.
- Not only does Zava sport a messianic Zava tattoo but he’s A-okay sporting a “Zava Zava Zava” white tee while visiting Ola’s in case you needed more hints that this self-absorbed player is a prima donna (not to be confused with a pre-Madonna, though I do love imagining how guys like Roy would use such an expression).
- Not that you asked but my favorite Julie Andrews performance is as Victoria in Victor/Victoria (please Google “Le Jazz Hot” and you’ll understand why).
- I can’t believe they snuck a Donald Trump impression into my beloved Ted Lasso. A good one, at that. And one deployed in the most awkward of moments. Can you imagine finding out THAT way that your ex-wife is dating your couples counselor? Yikes. Ted, as we know, is a better man than the rest of us, but my god his self-control and equanimity at that moment remains inspiring. He even kept his panic attack at bay! Can’t be easy, because oof.
- Say what you will about Zava but a line like “Time is a construct, like gender and many of the alphabets” is kind of amazing.
- Paul Newman. Idris Elba. Norm MacDonald. Zava. Who else would we add to that list of guys that even “no homo” straight jock bros would unironically joke about finding hot and bangable? No, really, I’m dying to know.
- “He’s a fragile little bitch.” No one translates Ted better than Roy.
- I don’t know if I’ll recover from the show using a Jesus Christ Superstar song for a soccer montage. I’ll try though.