Carol of the Bells is the fourth episode of the second season of Ted Lasso. As an episode that was added later on to the show’s programming, it had the chance to act as both a filler and a dive into the various characters’ lives that wouldn’t otherwise be easy to do in a story-heavy episode. What follows is a deep and detailed dive into every single aspect of the slice of story it adds to the show. Spoilers galore!
Carol of the Bells – Premise
Richmond is no stranger to the rest of the world’s festivities and the arrival of Christmas makes for some surprising team-ups in this separated – but no less uplifting – episode of the dramedy. Come along as Rebecca enlists Ted’s help for a secret mission that is sure to bring joy to underprivileged children in London, Roy and Keeley embark on a neighborhood journey in search of a miracle for Phoebe, and the Higginses welcome to their home our favourite team’s players who are far away from family.
The Ted Lasso we know and love
If you’ve been here a while, you might have already seen my reviews for both seasons one and two of Ted Lasso and might already be aware that I was pretty sceptical about how Carol of the Bells fit in with the rest of the show.
Now that it’s actually cold and finally Christmas and not what I assume are the same temperatures Satan himself regularly experiences in hell, I can finally take a more objective look at the individual episode and what it brought to the show as a whole and to its own personal case. As we all know, I will take any and all excuses to rewatch Ted Lasso and have done so a – probably unhealthy – number of times so far so this is anything but a chore for me. Seriously, I must have reached the low hundreds by now but I’m always updating. Anyway, this review is not about me and my weird coping mechanisms, so let’s get to it!
Before we begin, I can already preface this by saying that I think Carol of the Bells was perfectly in line with Ted Lasso’s brand of feel-goodness we have become familiar with. It might, in fact, be on the heavier side of it and possibly breaching into cheesy territory for that very reason.
Old team, new traditions
The opening shot of the episode gives us a glimpse of the team finally working together as a family. Carol of the Bells comes right after Sam’s huge protest of the team’s sponsor and Jamie’s significant step forward into gaining his teammates’ – and especially Sam’s – forgiveness and trust.
The shot of the team exchanging presents and being generally in good cheer is undoubtedly a fan favourite, not least because of the most badass Santa King that has ever existed: Isaac McAdoo. There’s a lot to be said about the kind of presents the soccer players tend to favour, and we’ll get to that in a moment, but I would be absolutely remiss if I didn’t take a minute to talk about what a banging outfit and general do our beloved team captain is in.
He sits at the centre of the locker room, a soccer king on his throne, donning a luxurious, red, velvety Santa ensemble the likes of which not even Santa Claus himself would be able to pull off. And from atop his perch, he gives the signal for the rest of the players to exchange their Secret Santa gifts, a tradition that we later find out Ted has brought to Richmond just then along with some deserved Christmas days off.
So what kind of presents do a bunch of young and fit soccer players like to receive? Well, mostly booze.
With the exception of Bumbercatch who – bless his sweet, wholesome heart – has handcrafted a whole damn scarf (not an easy feat, experts of the craft will recognise) for Colin, the rest of the team has been giving back and forth full bottles of the most classic of spirits. It is at the same time such a hilarious detail and so incredibly fitting for the type of characters that the beautiful AFC Richmond himbos are portrayed to be: kind-hearted, goofy, confidently handsome twenty-somethings who really like their lavish lives.
Even Will, the new kitman, is in on the game. The whole team has gotten him a box full of cash, a somewhat simple but much appreciated present for someone who’s in a position we found out in season one through Nate is not so awesomely paid.
Just next to the locker room, in the coaches offices, Ted, Beard, Nate, Higgins and Keeley are exchanging presents and discussing their plans for the holiday. Nate has gotten Ted a framed picture from the first match they won in which he and Nate are hugging with a moving inscription. We also find out that Nate’s father can be difficult and that Beard’s relationship with his girlfriend – the chess sweetheart we first met in the gala episode of season one – is not going too well. On the other hand, both Keeley and Rebecca have sumptuous plans: the former is going to celebrate “Sexy Christmas” – pretty self-explanatory – with Roy, while the latter was invited to a party at Sir Elton John’s house. Higgins, for his part, is opening his home to any player away from family who wants to join in on the Higginses celebrations. Ted, quite surprisingly, is going to spend the day alone. Well, he’s gonna spend it face-timing his son back in the U.S. but functionally, he will be at home alone.
At first viewing, these all seem like throwaway details meant to further the plot of this one separate episode. It’s only with the bigger picture of the full season in mind that we realise that, aside from Keeley and Rebecca’s plans, everything that’s being said about Nate, Ted, Beard, and even Higgins’ intentions works as very subtle and early foreshadowing for future plot developments.
Nate’s gift to Ted will become a pretty serious reason for contention in the main conflict of the show caused also by Nate’s relationship with his father, Beard’s unhealthy dynamic with his girlfriend will worsen and be explored even further in his character-specific episode, and Higgins’ role as a kind of AFC Richmond parent will be employed by several members of the cast for advice throughout the rest of the season.
After this brief exchange about holiday plans, we discover that Jamie has most definitely misunderstood the meaning of Secret Santa and did not buy a present because, in his own words, he “didn’t want to ruin the surprise.” Fortunately, with the help of the broader staff, he still manages to come up with a last-minute present. A very Jamie move, if I do say so myself.
The opening theme
Since this is an in-depth analysis of Carol of the Bells, I want to take up just a little bit of the review to talk about the opening theme.
As for every other episode, we are welcomed by Marcus Mumford’s energetic “Yeaaaahhhh”, this time with a Christmassy twinkle to immerse ourselves in the holiday spirit. What is different, though, is the visual aspect of it.
The opening is, in fact, not the usual sequence of Ted picking a seat in the stadium and magically spreading his good influence all around the graffiti’d stalls (a pretty apt metaphor for the effect Ted has on the Richmond club), but rather a stop-motion animated lovely little cartoon of the main players of the cast in all their clay glory.
When I first saw it, I made an immediate connection to another iconic Christmas episode from another one of the best comedy shows in existence: Community. The whole thing is just wonderfully fitting because both Ted Lasso and Community share the theme of found family and the lovable outsider protagonist: Ted in Ted Lasso and Abed (played by love of my life and Ducktales remake alum, Danny Pudi) in Community, although the second is an outsider mostly because of his heavily implied autism and not due to his relocation. Still, both are undeniably the heart of their respective shows and make the people around them better by just being themselves.
Keeley and Roy’s plans
As explained by Keeley, she and Roy are planning on spending a day as the couple of lovebirds they are by making up a new tradition called Sexy Christmas.
This plan, however, is disrupted when Roy’s sister gets called into work for an emergency and Roy is tasked with looking after Phoebe, whom he decides to bring over to Keeley’s house. Phoebe doesn’t seem to have taken it well and soon enough, a reorganisation needs to happen.
It’s always fun to see Roy and Keeley interact in times of joy because, even though it’s definitely helped by the fact that Juno Temple is very easy to love, the way their relationship is written and the way Roy is completely smitten with Keeley is always #relationshipgoals for every romantic who’s watching – something that I will fight to death denying being.
Add to that Phoebe’s always welcome presence, and the whole dynamic takes on a domestic undertone that only further highlights Roy’s big secret heart hiding underneath all the scruff and the swearing.
This protective attitude is likewise pulled out when we find out that the reason for Phoebe’s bad mood is the fact that she’s being mocked by one of her classmates – who Roy immediately offers to beat up to protect her, an admirable but excessive reaction – because of her abnormally atrocious breath.
What begins is a neighbourhood quest in search of a dentist to determine what might be the cause for such an anomaly.
The Higginses’ unexpectedly big Christmas
All the while, chez Higgins, the family is busy opening presents while they wait for what is sure to be a measly amount of players to join for the big Christmas dinner.
In no time, though, what was supposed to be a small gathering turns into an unexpected crowd when almost every single Richmond player who’s away from their family turns up at the Higginses’ door bearing traditional food and/or drink from their home countries.
Thanks to a comment by Mrs Higgins herself, we find out it’s a welcome change from the usual turnout to their annual Christmas invite probably due to the transformed and more familial atmosphere that has been cultivated at the club since Ted’s arrival. There is, however, one problem: where will everyone be seated?
That’s a problem for Mr and Mrs Higgins that will have to be solved off-screen because we’re presented instead with a sequence of the players making themselves very much at home at the Higgins residence and perfectly integrating themselves with the Higgins offspring as if they’re all part of one big family. It’s another wonderful touch to not only emphasize how much of a family Ted’s presence has made out of the soccer club, but also of the role that Leslie Higgins himself has taken for all the players.
The result is a quirky and hilarious look at how much of a childish spirit is still present in these twenty-something professional soccer players and how important it is to be able to rely on the people around you in the more melancholic moments of the year.
The Christmas melancholy of Theodore Lasso
And that classic Christmas melancholy is certainly the defining characteristic of Ted’s story arc in Carol of the Bells.
If his plan of spending a virtual Christmas with his son seems to initially be working out, it doesn’t last very long. Soon enough, Henry Lasso gets distracted by the presents he’s received and Ted is left to end the call earlier than anticipated with a whole lot of time to spare for the rest of Christmas day. That’s how he finds himself lounging around on his sofa with a glass of whisky and a staple of American Christmas movies on the TV: It’s A Wonderful Life.
Those who are familiar with the movie (which wasn’t me until about two days ago) will immediately recognise the scene that Ted is shown watching as the protagonist’s suicide attempt he makes on Christmas Eve that jumpstarts the story.
It’s a pretty heavy subject for a Christmas movie, but specifically for a Christmas episode in a comedy show and at this point in the season we don’t have enough information yet to know that it’s even more depressing for Ted specifically because of his own father’s death.
Like many other things in this episode, it’s another bit of foreshadowing for things to come.
Luckily though, because this is still a Christmas episode in a comedy, after all, Ted is saved from his lonely holiday fate by none other than Rebecca who, upon hearing Ted’s plans for the day, has rightly predicted that they didn’t work out how he wanted them to and enlists Ted’s help to get him out of the house and onto something that could bring him a bit of cheer: helping those less fortunate than them by distributing presents to underprivileged children all over London*. Inspired by the Poverty Alleviation Charities initiative, Letters to Santa. She invites him on this mission with a sweet callback to Ted’s “Hi Boss” moment from season one, tinsel in the shape of a “Hi Ted” outside his window.
If you’re a fan of the idea of Ted and Rebecca ending up together, this is the moment when your heart starts going into overdrive. I will not confirm nor deny this is exactly what happened for me.
The coming together
All the storylines get pretty much resolved like one would expect them to. Christmas tropes are nothing if not a little predictable after all.
Keeley and Roy manage to find a dentist at the last house of the block who pinpoints the cause for Phoebe’s bad breath due to a new antihistamine she’s been taking and writes her a prescription that should help with the problem, right before we find out that the dentist is also the Ussie guy’s mother who happens to be a huge Keeley Jones fan.
After a quick photo, their quest concludes with a pretty solid Love, Actually tribute in which Phoebe visits her bully’s house with a bunch of cardstocks calling him out on his shitty behaviour and a veiled threat to not do it again lest he wants to face Roy’s wrath.
After finishing their generous rounds of the city, Rebecca and Ted share a sincere moment on what it feels to separate from a spouse and how that influences your holiday mindset. Rebecca reveals that the reason she knew Ted would end up alone on Christmas is that she went through the same thing after her divorce from Rupert and in the end, she elects to pass up Elton John’s party to spend the rest of the day with Ted and go for one last secret mission.
In the meantime, we’re treated to a moving speech on the importance of the family we make when we choose each other straight from Leslie Higgins’ mouth. He also makes it a point to remember and call out each and every player’s home country – fun fact: the countries that are mentioned are actually the AFC Richmond actors’ countries of origin – and thanks the team again for making the Higginses’ Christmas that more gay and bright. I’m not gonna lie, I shed a tear or two.
The celebration gets interrupted by mysterious music coming from outside, where Rebecca and Ted have enlisted the help of street musicians they met earlier in the episode to sing some Christmas tunes. They are soon joined by the Higginses and the team in a snowy street celebration and we, the audience, get to enjoy Hannah Waddingham’s wonderful voice once again.
Carol of the Bells ends on a shot of one of the youngest Higginses as he looks up above and notices a flying sleigh sailing through the sky. It’s all very joyful.
On second viewing, looking at the full picture
So, how does Carol of the Bells hold up when rewatched through the lens of a completed season?
My opinion hasn’t actually changed all that much. As I said in my season two review, I thought both this episode and Beard After Hours were pretty solid pieces of television that could, on their own, be enjoyed and even liked for what they brought. I might even go as far as saying that, for some reasons, I prefer this one to the Beard dive. That is mostly because episode nine not only interrupted a storyline that I was really invested in, but also because that episode is a lot more reference-heavy and it can be inaccessible for someone who’s not super entrenched in American pop culture.
On the other hand, Carol of the Bells is a pretty easy watch. Christmas is almost the same all over the western world and we are so used to its packaging of joyfulness and cheer that there isn’t anything you have to particularly force yourself to read into the episode.
That said, I did enjoy it a lot more after receiving several confirmations to the foreshadowing it did. I’m specifically referring to Ted’s father here as the way he died is hinted at all throughout the show and even more in season two, but it’s only a few episodes after this one that it gets explicitly explained.
These are a few of my favourite things
What is it that makes this Carol of the Bells work?
First and foremost, what I thought was the undisputable best part of the episode is the Higgins Christmas Dinner storyline. It’s probably the first time in the show that we see the Richmond players – or a good number of them at the very least – spend a significant amount of time together as actual friends. We get a glimpse into the shared friendship and familiarity that the team has managed to finally cement after Ted’s arrival and that was surely already building even before Ted.
It’s something that I personally wish the show would give us more of. While we’ve gotten to see some of the team hang out outside of the locker room – I’m especially referring to Jamie, Isaac, and Colin’s night out that gets interrupted by Roy -, we’ve never seen them in quite these terms of wholesome friendship and camaraderie. All of it made that more heartwarming by the fact that the one bringing them together is a character that started from a place of outsiderness and exclusion from what was not yet a family. I’m talking, of course, about Higgins.
I also loved the chance it had to slow down a little bit and develop some character moments in a slower progression. Because the episode has very little to do with the overall story arc, it has the space to breathe and experiment and really get us to look into the people we’re rooting for.
Ted’s scenes are a wonderful balance and spark for his usually optimistic demeanour – which we know can sometimes be just a mask – and for what is to come in his development throughout the rest of the season. We’ve already, by this point, seen that Ted has moments of extremely melancholic loneliness, and this further reminds us of the shortcomings of a character that everyone sees as the support for the entire team. We get to remember that Ted is as human as any of the other characters, he’s not perfect, and he shouldn’t be expected to be. In addition, his holiday melancholy is extremely relatable for many that have to spend festivities alone because their family is far away, or there isn’t one at all to return to, while also acting as a counterbalance for the opposite course that the players – who also don’t have a family they can easily get to – take during the episode.
What Carol of the Bells does well is showing us the people behind the characters, how their relationships have evolved so far and hinting at what is to come in the rest of the season.
I should also say that my summary of the events of the episode is in no way comprehensive as many of the small moments that dot its entirety simply need to be watched because they would not have the same impact and work as well on paper. I’m thinking about Roy’s little story about pooping his pants, every single entrance of the AFC Richmond players at Higgins’ house – with a special mention going to Zoreaux, and Dani’s exchange about punch with Mrs Higgins -, and Ted and Rebecca’s tender moment of understanding.
You might have noticed that I didn’t mention Keeley and Roy at all in the list of my favourite things from the episode. The reason for that is that I think that their storyline might actually be the weakest of the bunch.
I’m not saying I didn’t like it. I find any instance of domesticity that gets linked to Roy as the gruff and intense character to be wonderfully heartwarming and quite hilarious. And it was in this instance too. We get to see how easily Roy and Keeley slot together, how comfortably mutual their relationship has turned out to be and the support that they both seem to find in each other. Plus, Phoebe’s little adventure is just adorable.
All in all, though, it doesn’t really bring anything new and it’s not especially funny when you consider the broader comedy of the show. Although, in all fairness, it does include one of the funniest bits of physical comedy in the entirety of the show thanks to Brett Goldstein’s reaction to Phoebe’s breath as Roy Kent.
Something else that I can’t say I loved although I kind of understand the choice is the ending which I found a bit cheesy. The argument that has been made about it that it pushes the audience out of the plausibility of the episode’s story is also not entirely out of place. By framing the events in a magical lens it loses a lot of the realism that has been brought to a show that shouldn’t reasonably be considered realistic at all. Because, you see, Ted is not a person that exists. No one is that unrelentingly optimistic but he’s shown for the actual person that he can be time and time again, and even though it’s still hard to imagine his existence in real life, his downsides make him and the show believable. Actual Santa Claus actually existing is… a bit of a stretch.
One thing that I do consider a minor shortcoming in Carol of the Bells, but that is speaking as someone who has now seen the entirety of the season and has made a swift and abrupt 180 in my Jamie Tartt stance, is, expectedly, Jamie’s absence. And, actually, I’m gonna make a pretty good point as to why. We find out in season one – and is strongly reiterated later than the Christmas episode in season two – that Jamie does not have a good relationship with his father. Now, working on the assumption that Jamie’s mother is back in Manchester while he’s playing in Richmond, it wouldn’t have been all that far fetched for him to choose to spend his Christmas at the Higgins house, especially considering his renewed and improved team relationship. But that’s just me and my Jamie Tartt centric world.
Now that we’ve discussed every aspect of Carol of the Bells in thorough depth, what is the final impression we’re left with?
As I already mentioned earlier in this review, I still think that this and the Beard-centric episodes were a little out of place. My overall enjoyment of Carol of the Bells, though, has definitely improved. Now that the temperatures are getting colder and I can actually begin to feel the holiday spirit in the air, I can appreciate what Carol of the Bells tried to do and even the cheesiness that pervades it.
After all, we do wanna feel happy this time of year. We get to see relatives and friends that we might not otherwise get to meet and, if nothing else, everyone loves presents.
As for its own merits, the writing is pretty on par with the rest of the season so a complaint that can’t be made, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t hold up to other episodes. I think it does.
Something that I’ve said before and believe I’m right on is that this episode would definitely have worked better as a Christmas special – even better as in a longer format, a full-fledged British tradition Christmas Special -, although it’s also true that the foreshadowing would have been missed if it had aired after the completed season. If I could make a specific recommendation as to when to watch Carol of the Bells in relation to a season two rewatch, I’d probably say that it’s best to leave it as a separate puzzle piece and to watch season two without neither this nor the Beard After Hours episode, which I would look at separately.
Did you like Carol of the Bells when it first aired? Has the episode held up to the rest of the season or do you think it works better on its own? Let me know in the comments and make sure to keep up to date with Vampire’s Tears through our social media channels!