TV shows reinventing on-screen bromance
by Patrick Wright
The TV sitcom Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) has no shortage of touching moments, but there’s one that stands out for me in the latest season.
Lasso (played by Jason Sudeikis) shares with the Diamond Dogs — his friends and fellow coaches — that he’s been experiencing panic attacks. “I’ve been having [them] from time to time as of late, and I’m working on them. But I just want you all to know the truth,” Lasso says.
It’s only a brief moment, but it’s notable. Why? Because it's rare to see male friendships with such openness, honesty and vulnerability depicted on screen.
Ted Lasso is often praised for its positivity and kindness but, for me, it's these kinds of moments — when the show tackles tricky topics such as mental health and toxic masculinity — that stay with you.
“Ted is presented as not merely as a caricature of optimism but rather as someone who goes through the spectrum of feelings in front of us,” says Dr Lauren Rosewarne, Associate Professor of Public Policy, Social and Political Sciences at Melbourne University, who studies pop culture. “There are also scenes of male affection. In one episode we see Roy hug a player who is crying. It's not as though audiences have never seen such scenes — we certainly have — but they stand out, in part, because the sporting backdrop is not where we usually see this play out.”
Take Roy Kent, for example, the gruff, sweary footballer-turned-coach who has quietly become the star of the show. We see his tender relationship with his niece, Phoebe. After footballer Jamie Tartt’s run-in with his dad, it’s Kent who comforts him. Kent adores his girlfriend Keeley and watches reality TV with the mums from his yoga class.
Kent is interesting because he inverts stereotypes of hypermasculine athletes. “Sport in real life has also been beleaguered by toxic masculinity. Male sportspeople acting badly has become a cliche. Ted Lasso, at least in part, offers a counter to this,” Dr Rosewarne believes.
"We’re never going to lose the darker, malevolent male characters that have been everywhere throughout the history of pop culture . . . [but] men who are open with their feelings, men who are affectionate with one another provide a good counter.”
For many, ‘being a man’ means being stoic, strong and hiding your feelings. Nearly 60 percent of men surveyed by Movember in 2019 thought society expected them to be emotionally strong and not show weakness. About 40 percent said they had avoided talking about their feelings to “avoid appearing unmanly”. One respondent even reported that, "[To be manly/masculine is to be] strong, not open about feelings [and] always fix everything."
It's no surprise these expectations affect how men socialise, and many men struggle to make deep friendships.
While Ted Lasso has Roy Kent and the Diamond Dogs, Netflix’s Sex Education has Otis and Eric.
Throughout the show, we’re shown the trust and emotional honesty shared by the two teenage best friends. They keep secrets and lean on each other for help with dating and family challenges.
They also have a lot of fun. It’s a bromance for the ages — but the relationship is not without complications.
“The beauty of Otis and Eric’s relationship is that it’s complicated; it’s not always smooth sailing, it has layers, they've hurt each other, they often stumble because they’re young,” Dr Rosewarne notes. “The two, however, have an intimacy that male friends are not often treated to on screen.”
It’s a friendship of outsiders. Straight, white Otis is neurotic and struggles to fit in at school. Eric, meanwhile, is often ostracised as a black, gay man. These are not the typical male lead characters you see on TV, and their relationship isn't typical either. But there are also moments of tension — such as when Otis ditches Eric to spend time with Maeve in the first season.
For Dr Rosewarne, Sex Education succeeds because it does such an “excellent job at reflecting the complexities of gender, sexuality and human relationships”. Like Ted Lasso and his Diamond Dogs, Eric and Otis show the benefits of having good friends to help through life’s up and downs.
“Such presentations . . . demonstrate that there are lots of different ways to ‘be a man’ in our culture — this is a positive thing,” Dr Rosewarne concludes.
TOP Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) and Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis)
PHOTO Apple TV+
The beauty of Otis and Eric’s relationship is that it’s complicated; it’s not always smooth sailing, it has layers, they've hurt each other, they often stumble because they’re young. The two, however, have an intimacy that male friends are not often treated to on screen.
| Watch Eric and Otis in Sex Education
Source ABC Everyday