Author: Alex Kennedy
With the start of fall and chilly weather, Season Two of Ted Lasso has drawn to a close. With viewers waiting until next year to see what will happen after October 8th’s satisfying finale, we can look back at Season Two with a smile. Even if a few episodes weren’t above standard, with weak character development and a few forced jokes, Season Two’s arc has shown that Ted Lasso hasn’t lost its spark as a funny yet emotional TV show for all viewers.
Ted Lasso follows the plight of the perpetually optimistic, Kansas-raised, American football coach, Ted Lasso who finds himself as the head coach of AFC Richmond, a Premier League European football team in England. Hilarity ensues as viewers watch Ted attempt to learn a game he himself has never experienced and a culture he has never encountered. The show is a refreshing take on classic TV comedy with a sweet, sympathetic character who is doing the best he can while it seems as if the world is wishing him to fail as he struggles to overcome impossible odds. Lasso’s relentless optimism and frequent misreading of British customs create the perfect storm of amusing interactions for the viewer to watch. Originally based on a 2013 commercial for NBC after the company procured TV rights to the Premier League, the loveable, folksy character of Ted Lasso was placed into a large scale TV show for Apple TV+ in 2020.
Following the end of Season One, where AFC Richmond was relegated after a loss to Manchester City, Season Two opens right in the middle of football season and Richmond is looking to be promoted back into the Premier League. By the end of the first season, the most identifiable villains from the show — club owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), once anxious to see AFC Richmond fail in order to get revenge on her ex-husband, and egotistical star player Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) — have been fully humanized, each one won over by the “Lasso approach” to life. It’s a satisfying conclusion but leaves Season Two with no clear antagonist for viewers to root against, at least not in the beginning.
Instead, Season Two focuses on an inner battle within our protagonist Ted Lasso himself. Ted’s world at AFC Richmond is complicated by the arrival of team psychologist, Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles). Dr. Sharon is introduced to viewers as a counter to Ted’s constant positivity and way of life: as he succeeded in Season One through a pep talk or positive reinforcement with others, Dr. Sharon has more success by exposing and accepting the wounds of others. Ted is then forced to confront the limitations of his approach. The absence of an immediate outward opposing force hurts the season’s start and is quite risky for a semi-new TV show to have the antagonist for its main character be the weaknesses within himself.
This is not to say the show is only interested in Ted’s inner turmoil. In Season 2, Ted Lasso is particularly keen and proficient at fleshing out its ensemble cast and giving them depth. Jamie’s revelation about his father after the loss at Wembley is heartbreaking, and the way the team, including his rival Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), rally around him is an incredible moment in the show. Additionally, the way that Nate’s (Nick Mohammed) anger towards Ted builds, slowly and tragically throughout the season until it turns unforgivable by the season finale, is incredibly well-written.
Throughout the season, as conflict and drama impact the lives of those he cares for, Ted became increasingly insular and less in tune with the world around him. Ted undergoes frequent panic attacks during major games; repeatedly declines to ask for help; is late to a funeral for a close friend; and unknowingly hurts the feelings of those around him, in unmistakably careless ways. There is no intentional malice from Lasso, but his inner demons often leave him separated from those around him. The risk Ted Lasso is taking has paid off: even though internal conflicts pale in comparison to the familiar cruelties of outward villains, clearly they are quite enough to keep an audience (and critics) enthralled with the show. By the season finale, Ted is still not completely healed from his past traumas nor his anxiety, but he is better equipped to face them head on. The finale episode is not only focused on Ted but also on what happens if a main character accepts responsibility for past actions and accepts forgiveness from his peers, or continues to dig himself into a hole and lose the friendships he has made. It’s an ending suitable to the overall themes of empathy and consequences of one’s actions that have been explored time and time again throughout the show.
The main idea of Ted Lasso’s second season is that it is difficult to be a good person, and sometimes it’s difficult to simply want to be a good person, even for the characters we grew to love in the first season, like Ted or Nate. At its core, the second season is about the meaning of empathy: towards others, towards oneself, the ways it can transform a person or a group, and what happens when you can’t access it. This message was expressed time and time again throughout the season, with the exception of a few subpar episodes.
The two episodes that failed to capture this message (and viewer appreciation) were episodes four (the Christmas episode) “Carol of the Bells” and nine “Beard After Hours”. Although these two episodes weren’t originally supposed to be written, as Apple requested more from Lasso’s writers room, it’s fair to say that both failed to move the plot along and were two random missteps on an otherwise wonderful journey for the crew at AFC Richmond. The Christmas episode was sweet and showcased Rebecca’s (Waddingham’s) lovely voice, however it springs up at an awkward point in the series when things are going poorly for the team. The random insertion of a Christmas episode takes the momentum out of the story. As for episode nine, the bumbling attempt to show the reader a little bit of Beard’s (Brendan Hunt) ‘interesting’ life outside of coaching fell flat. Instead of being a straightforward, well written episode, “Beard After Hours” seemed more like a bad fever dream that left many wishing to wake up. Even though those episodes were missteps, they were the keys to solving a greater problem with the show: the problem of expectations. As Ted Lasso grew in popularity during Season 1, it became synonymous with softness and comfort, an easy-to-watch show with beloved characters. Labels like these create expectations for how the show will make viewers feel, maybe expectations that the writers never intended to convey.
The show did remarkably well with critics. It was nominated for a Golden Globe and won the Peabody Award for Entertainment. Following that, it received 20 Emmy nominations, seemingly unheard of for a new comedy, for which it won seven, including Outstanding Comedy Series.
Even with notable wins and award nominations, can a show succeed to consistently deliver a plot with no true antagonist apart from the ones within ourselves? Can a few poorly-written episodes in the midst of a well-written season be overlooked, while the finale succeeds in delivering its main message to the viewers? Based on overall critic statements, viewer comments, and award nominations, the answer is yes. Distractions aside, Ted Lasso once again meets the acclaim of Season 1 with thunderous applause. Here’s hoping for a great Season Three.