The third series of the hit show has gone in a strange direction
An unusual phenomenon to watch from the vantage point of “over-educated, probably pretentious coastal type” was The Big Bang Theory.
Premiering at the height of the mainstreaming of “geekdom”, the show was chock-full of lazy innuendos and empty stereotypes — it seemed congenitally incapable of trusting its audience. One of the more egregious examples was the character Sheldon Cooper, who, in the pilot episode, is a pedantic (and frustratingly inflexible) STEM guy. But by the premiere of Season 2, he was cartoonishly autistic, bordering on childlike.
It wasn’t just that Sheldon Cooper had been “Flanderized”, a term used to describe the process in which a character becomes increasingly exaggerated and one-dimensional over time. Yet, for some reason, the audience loved it: The Big Bang Theory remains among the most popular sitcoms of all time and, in the US at least, one can probably still find a graphic t-shirt that reads “Bazinga” at the local shopping centre.
Something similar seems to be happening with AppleTV+’s Ted Lasso, which has recently taken an unsettling “woke shift”. Viewers don’t appear disturbed because of the content itself; rather, they’re alarmed by what feels like an abrupt advertising campaign for DEI programmes. On a Reddit thread, commenter after commenter posts about how it feels like the writers are “shoehorning in societal issues”, and how “every 2 minutes, it’s woke crap.”
Having watched the show, I’m inclined to agree: Ted Lasso has gone from feel-good, even nauseatingly wholesome, to a comedy at great pains to tick diversity boxes. In series three alone, not one, not two, but three gay characters have been introduced. And then there’s the dialogue: racist Facebook users, late-stage capitalism, the refugee crisis, and admonitions about “boring white people” all appear. Amazingly, there were no quips about neoliberalism.
One might expect the show to be suffering a viewership crash as a result but, according to Forbes, the numbers for Ted Lasso are better than ever. “Still a smash”, they write, as other outlets report that its premiere set records.
It’s no The Big Bang Theory, that’s for sure, but that’s because fewer people are tuning into television shows, and fewer still are loyal to AppleTV+, which itself is no Netflix or Hulu. But why are people still watching, even though the writing has gone downhill?
Unfortunately, the truth is that the cornier, the more accessible, the more immediately relatable, the better for modern audiences. The same way viewers liked The Big Bang Theory until the bitter end, people are still watching Ted Lasso despite it losing “some of its magic”. Similarly, though Marvel films continue to get worse, they are still pulling in large audiences because people love content that hits them over the head with what it is; that doesn’t make them think. More than that, it reflects what they think the world around them is all about.
And right now, to the everyman, it would appear to be ham-fisted depictions of wokeness, as bitter a pill as that might be to swallow for some of us.