Ted Lasso, season two: between ambition and delivery
Ted Lasso just concluded its second season run and brought to the story a slightly different approach that left fans – and non-fans – with conflicting opinions. In the following review, we’ll be taking a broad look at the show so far, wondering what did and did not work, in a spoiler-free conversation.
Where were we?
At the end of the first season (SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THAT ONE! IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT YET, STOP READING NOW! I’M SERIOUS… WHAT ARE YOU DOING?! STOP RIGHT NOW AND GO WATCH SEASON ONE), AFC Richmond had just been relegated, Rebecca had come clean to Ted about her shady plan to tank the team, Roy and Keeley’s new relationship was well underway – with Roy having to face his soccer-less future -, and Jamie was seemingly going to become a constant antagonist to the team with his return to Man City.
Not undeservedly, the show became popular seemingly overnight, attracting a broader, newer audience with its positive outlook and hopeful message. But with a wider public so comes the criticism, and some didn’t quite find Ted Lasso’s (both the show and the character) optimism all that believable.
Season two, however, is all about flipping expectations.
The new and latest season of Ted Lasso is a controversial one. While some of the criticism we mentioned was predictable – especially when coming from people looking to get some easy hate-clicks for going against the current of something hugely comforting -, some of the fans who’ve been there since day one were also slightly dissatisfied with the new episodes for not living up to the expectation and the quality level that the first season offered, especially at the beginning of the second run.
Even though I could understand where some people were coming from, I refrained from forming and expressing an opinion on the matter until the season was more than halfway through for several reasons, first and foremost the fact that I had binged season one and therefore couldn’t be entirely objective about the anticipation season two built toward the core of its story and conflict, and secondly because I could tell very early on that the real weight of the story was slowly building up to somewhat of an explosion that needed time and patience to come to a head later in the season – as it tends to happen for most stories anyway.
The building elements were all there: the arrival of a new presence on the team and Ted’s resistance to accept them, the big Jamie Tartt question, the speculations about Roy’s future after soccer, who Rebecca is without her resentment, the team’s position after their relegation, and the new and unpredictable developments the ensemble cast was sure to go through.
Did Ted Lasso manage to deliver on all of its promises? We’ll get to that in a second.
The welcome back
Season two begins pretty straightforwardly. Already in the first episode, we can see the building blocks of the challenges to come being set down, especially for Ted. One of the biggest plot points of the season is the arrival of a team psychologist, Dr Sharon Fieldston (played astoundingly by Sarah Niles), for whom Ted immediately shows unexpected reservations considering his very positive stance on helping others be the best version of themselves.
It’s subtle but very clear that there’s a story there, one that season two slowly sees unfold in ways that are somewhat new, but not unwelcome, for the comedy that Ted Lasso purports to be. With season two, the show takes a decisive turn for the dramatic.
Playing the drama ball
Even considering that Ted Lasso never really loses its comedic bite – episode two is one of the funniest of the entire show, with neverending beats of comedy that leave you heaving in air for how hard and how constantly you’re laughing -, it is almost an injustice to only call it a comedy. It definitely is one, and I’ve been the first to define it as such, but while its humour is seamless, lighthearted and silly, its drama is clever and well-constructed even beyond the traditional uses that TV dramas tend to make of it.
Having already introduced and established the core of its characters, Ted Lasso now has to face the challenges of bringing them somewhere significant in their stories.
In many ways, it’s much easier to create a baseline than to keep the effort going, and it would have been understandable if the show had decided to keep being the comedy it promised to be, to keep the few and far between bits of drama it already had on the low, and aim to make laugh, something that the audience already knows it can do perfectly. But already in season one, Ted Lasso brought up subjects that TV still has trouble dealing with today.
Their handling of when love ends, of what it means to be hurt and the effects it has on the people around us, of vulnerability making us better people and better people to be around, and the importance of togetherness and trust are all subjects that only one other show comes to mind for dealing with in equal quality, coincidentally enough also a comedy, and that is The Good Place.
They’re all subjects that comedy rarely deals with in such depth, and almost never with such mastery. Instead, Ted Lasso embraces the test and goes through a definite change, also mirrored by the extension of some episodes run-time starting around the halfway mark of the season. As the story becomes more drama-driven, so does the episode length start resembling that of mainstream drama television, capping off with a 50-minute long season finale.
Season one lures you in with candy floss and laughs, season two sits you down and asks you “And how does that make you feel?”
Some beloved returns
Season two has a slew of incredible character moments. As they become more familiar, their personality beats turn more subtle while maintaining their strikingness and, in doing so, producing a seamless narrative. That means the audience is in on the joke now, they know what the rhythm of the comedy expects of them and for this reason, they can be part of it.
In complete contrast with its characters, the storylines are way more unpredictable this time. While the setting is foreseeable – the elements are all immediately there – the development is not as easy to anticipate. For one, there are a lot more difficulties coming and even if we know the characters enough to be attached, their reactions to the new conflicts make the show a lot more interesting and slightly concerning. Something as good as the optimism of Ted Lasso could go bad very fast, especially in uncharted territory, and it is when things are most calm that you know something’s gotta give and come to a head eventually.
Some build-ups, some take-downs
Season two raises several plot starters: a Sponsor ethics storyline that grounds the show in reality, several threads about people finding who they are as it relates to the romantic relationships they pursue, plot points about the way persons react to trauma and how that changes them permanently, and an incredible, fantastic, discourse-inducing conundrum about what happens when not even the best of intentions can prevent the worst from happening that will surely carry into season three.
This is where things get choppy.
Remember how we said that even some of the most die-hard fans were a little baffled by how the season was carried out? Well, now’s the time to delve into that.
Aside from the very obvious criticisms about timing that were brought up especially at the beginning of the season – some justified, others maybe a bit rushed -, there is the question of delivery that needs to be addressed.
Rhythm and events
Though it is wholesome, and mature, and optimistic, Ted Lasso, just like its titular character, is not flawless.
Is the criticism that season two has received about its slower plot that doesn’t seem to be able to get to the point caused by the habit that recent TV has gotten into of making every conflict just about plot and not about characters? Yes, and no.
The season definitely takes longer to develop its central themes and therefore conflicts, but this new story does need the space to breathe and to build up, something that would have worked a lot better if the payoff had been greater. Season two of Ted Lasso abandons the traditional environmental conflict structure and takes a huge risk in moving it from the external to the internal. The conflict is within the characters and therefore more subtle but that doesn’t mean it’s not there. Characters, after all, drive stories not the opposite, and if they’re afflicted by personal issues, it will inevitably have consequences on the story, too.
This, the show understands well. Its comedy works because it relies on the specific characters’ traits. However, this season often simultaneously felt like it didn’t have enough time to expand on its themes and was wasting the time it did have instead of doing the legwork. The storylines are ambitious, but there is too much implying. Most of the huge developments of this season’s story lack consequence on-screen, events that should leave craters in the characters’ relationships barely make a blip and the bigness of the actions deflate by the time you realise you’ll have more luck forgetting there needs to be some payoff.
I realise my words are extremely harsh and at this point, you must be wondering why I keep recommending this show if this is what I think of season two. The thing is, this show is good. It is! The developments I said I wished had more consequences in the story? They were unbelievably good. In many ways, my favourite episodes from this season exceed my favourite episodes of season one by a long shot, but the things I didn’t like felt that much more prominent because of it.
I’m not unhappy with what season two tried to do, on the contrary, I was unbelievably excited because I know these ambitious stories are in very good hands. That is what made the disappointment that much more bitter.
The good is good, the bad is sad
What remains a shining beacon of light in Ted Lasso’s methodology is its character work. Even more than season one, the writers are very good at making the relationships feel intimate with the smallest of gestures even when we haven’t directly seen every single instance of them developing.
Moreover, it’s still true that Ted Lasso crafts its storylines with the bigger picture in mind, which sometimes only becomes obvious upon rewatches. The sad difference there was that the overarching themes, at final stock, are a bit scattered. The building blocks are all there, but the development needed some more work. This timing issue was also not helped by the insertion of two filler episodes in what is already a pretty short season.
The news of two episodes being added to the ten-episode run of season two was initially taken as a net positive as it was thought it meant the story would have more time to be fleshed out and developed but, in the end, what was brought to the screen had very little to do with the overarching plot.
Even knowing that this addition was made only after the season had already been written to spread out over ten episodes, I hesitate to completely justify the disconnect there was between them and the rest of the season.
Admittedly, as much as I tried, I could not get behind a Christmas episode in August. Although I did enjoy several of its moments, the Christmas Spirit was the last thing I was feeling while lying as motionless as possible in a puddle of my own sweat with a fan pointed directly at my prone form in the middle of what might be the hottest summer Italy has ever seen (so far, thanks climate change!). It left me wondering if, perhaps, it would have made a lot more sense to release it as a special in December during the show’s hiatus so as to keep interest up while fans waited for the new season. In the same vein, the Coach Beard-centric episode was an interesting dive into character work and cinematographical weirdness, but it came after a shocker development that most fans had subconsciously been waiting for a long time and ended up disrupting the rhythm of the story, which is why these two episodes got very mixed reactions. Generally speaking, they’re not bad, but they are a little out of place.
All in all, some episodes are, at first watch, a bit clunky, perhaps because they were not released all at once, and the fillers only highlighted this issue in season two’s airing schedule. They might have made people a lot less mad if all the episodes were released at the same time. We already get so little of Ted Lasso and just once a week, only to sit down and be met with two episodes that didn’t really advance the story all that much.
And then the good
That said, some elements of season two deserve high praise.
When it comes to character spotlights, few others have seen as amazing a progression as Roy Kent has. His wonderful family moments gives us a look into Roy’s insecurities and his new relationship with Keeley is sure to provide more strife to explore in the next season. Brett Goldstein couldn’t have made a better call when he offered himself for the role as well as excelling in the writing department with one of the best episodes of the show so far: episode six, The Signal.
Sam is finally getting the development he deserves after becoming an immediate and easy favourite with his relentless kindness in season one, with compliments going to the continued authenticity of Toheeb Jimoh’s performance. Other acting highlights need to be saved for Kola Bokinni and Billy Harris who manage, with extreme ease and thanks to the writing too, to make us forget very quickly all the not-so-nice things their characters did in season one (although still nicer than some others). Season two, as a whole, manages to let all its secondary characters shine a lot brighter and from that, there’s a lot to be gained.
Last, but absolutely not least, if I had prizes to give for acting, they would definitely go to Nick Mohammed for his reprisal of Nathan Shelley, and Phil Dunster with his new and improved Jamie (fockin’) Tartt.
Nathan’s storyline is an absolute bombshell. The character, as many others on the show, was at risk of becoming narratively moot after his promotion because that seemed like a rounded-out end to his arc but he was given an even more prominent role this time around and Nick Mohammed completely knocked it out of the park (or should I say shot it straight to the back of the net? I’m getting my sports metaphors mixed up) with his unbelievable acting.
And Phil Dunster can just straight-up get my heart because I don’t think Jamie will ever be unseated from his unexpected place as my now absolute favourite character on the show (but I did think I would never like him during season one so I might be completely wrong here, who knows).
If I were to make some honourable mentions, I would simply have to include everyone else too, Jason Sudeikis first and foremost for so masterfully juggling heartbreaking drama and stitches-inducing humour, along with Hannah Waddingham (that’s why she has an Emmy, folks!) and Juno Temple, especially for her performance in the seventh episode of the season.
So, where does that leave us? Was this season good, was it bad? Was it just good enough to not be bad?
The truth is, this show gives me too many f*cking feelings. It was good in the sense that it was still that comforting, complex, well-crafted narrative that pulled me in in season one and it was bad because I knew it could do better.
Some things are, unfortunately, glaringly absent. I’m specifically talking about the lack of queer representation (and no, two throwaway comments do not representation make) which deserves a conversation of its own especially after that embarrassing show of the Predatory Lesbian Trope, and missing marks with some of the weight of the storylines that didn’t quite land.
In the end, any critique I could advance is driven by my love and high- nay, astronomical expectations of what I know and has been shown this show is capable of achieving. I will still be missing it every Friday it doesn’t air until it’s back and I’ve been planning a rewatch since before it even ended, especially now that I’ve exhausted enough people into watching it – and loving it! – with my insistence.
Should you still watch it? HELL YES. That was never in question.
As usual, if you’ve watched this season of Ted Lasso, let me know what you thought in the comments and if you haven’t, what the hell are you still waiting for?! Go watch it and then come scream to me about it!
1993, bisexual. Split between drawing and writing. Too many ideas not to waste a few. Amateur translator.