Ted Lasso S2

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Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso.
Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso.
Photo: AppleTV+

SHOW:

Ted Lasso S2

WHERE TO WATCH:

AppleTV+

OUR RATING:

4/5 Stars

WHAT IT'S ABOUT:

The second season of Apple TV+'s surprise smash hit sees Ted and the Richmond team on the up and up as he has well and truly settled into the role of coach of a team that may not be setting the sports world alight but are steadily making a name for themselves in the big leagues. Beneath this hot streak, however, mental health issues, descent in the ranks and new relationships rise up to threaten the hard-earned success and good fortunes of Ted and those around him.

WHAT WE THOUGHT:

The first season of Ted Lasso was, almost inarguably, the surprise entertainment hit to come out during the pandemic. It had enough of an edge to win over more cynical viewers and to give its comedy a sharper feel, but it was its boundless optimism, gigantic heart and easily loveable characters that really struck a note with audiences desperate for some light in an ever bleaker world.

This second season certainly doesn't entirely reject this formula – which is pushed arguably beyond breaking point in its endlessly sentimental Christmas episode – but by amping up some of the underlying darkness that already existed in its freshman year and by taking a looser but often more ambitious approach to its storytelling, it has proven to be far more divisive and less readily embraced than its freshman year.

This is both a bug and a feature, however, because season two was explicitly intended by its creators – that still includes Jason Sudeikis, Scrubs' Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt, Joe Kelly and about half a dozen other comedy heavyweights – to be the Empire Strikes Back of the show's planned three-season arc. It's more complex, darker, and more morally grey by design, and for all of its goodness, optimism, warmth, and boundless humour, it doesn't always make things easy on its characters. Most crucially, it has a turn to villainy by one of its once most loveable supporting characters that is both far more shocking and far more organic than Anakin Skywalker's turn to the Dark Side in another, rather less brilliant Star Wars movie.

Season 2 may not ultimately end up as the best of the three seasons of Ted Lasso (assuming they keep it to three seasons) in the way that Empire is the best Star Wars movie, but it may well end up as the most fascinating.

Ironically, the first few episodes of the season certainly don't reflect this new direction. There's not much conflict in the first batch of episodes, and what there is, is resolved pretty quickly. Even Jaime Tartt (doo do doo do) proves to be not much of a villain even before the end of the first episode. As for that Christmas episode (episode 4), it and another episode, later on, are basically bonus episodes as they were written and shot after Apple extended the season by two episodes, so it can't have any actual conflict by design. Plus, combine Ted Lasso and Christmas, and you get pretty much exactly what you expect: a big, gooey pudding of an episode. Some may find it just a bit too sweet, but I like it even if it's far from substantial.

The only real spanner in the works during the initial parts of the season – not including opposing football teams – comes in the form of Dr Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles), a psychologist who is brought in to help the team adjust to playing in the big leagues. Ted (Sudeikis) is immediately suspicious of her, as he quickly lets both her and everyone around him know how little he trusts therapists and sees her as an undermining presence in his life.

As it turns out, to no one's surprise but Ted's, she's no antagonist, but her presence in the show as a regular member of the cast does point towards exactly where the conflict in season two actually lies: the mental health of numerous characters in the show, but most especially Ted himself, and in how their own baggage reflects in their relationships - even the most steady ones like Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley (Juno Temple).

It's brilliantly handled as new shades to these already familiar characters are revealed in a way that is never anything less than entirely true to how they have been written since the very first episode. Aside from a new romantic relationship later in the season that doesn't entirely work, the character dynamics are similarly believable, and the season's preference for smart character work over shallow, soap-operatic melodrama pays off in spades.

And the characters are still these absolutely brilliant creations that mix smart, nuanced writing with exceptionally empathetic and nuanced performances that are a pure joy to spend twelve hours with, even when some of them reveal some very unsympathetic sides to themselves as the season goes on. Even the guest stars and recurring bit players, though much more broadly painted, are terrific. Anthony Stewart Head once again makes the most of his short appearances as Rebecca's (Hannah Waddingham) gleefully slimy ex-husband, Rupert (who I just now realised shares the same first name as his most familiar – and polar opposite – role of Giles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer), while Sam Richardson plays on his loveable comic persona perfectly as a billionaire from Ghana trying to poach Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) for his new Pan-African team.

Sam himself actually has a much greater role this season, as we get to know him quite a bit better as the season progresses. We also get a surprising but fittingly strange dive into the life and mind of Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) that plays out like Martin Scorsese's After Hours as directed by a restrained David Lynch in the second of those bonus episodes. It's a whiplash-inducing shift in tone and feel from anything else the show has done, and, unsurprisingly, it proved to be the most divisive part of the season. Personally, I question its placement so late in the season when various plot points are coming to a head, and I don't think it works overall, but more time with Beard is always most appreciated, no matter how truly bizarre and melancholy it proves to be. 

There are many changes and unexpected directions this season, in general, but one thing that remains constant is that this is one "dramedy" where the drama doesn't completely overshadow the comedy. It's not quite as relentlessly funny as pure comedies tend to be, but its laughs are both abundant and incredibly consistent at hitting their target. Once again, Goldstein's Roy Kent is responsible for at least half of the season's biggest laughs even as he, once again, provides more than enough humanity to a role that is so broadly comic that some people actually wondered if the ever-gruff Roy Kent was actually a CGI creation! He isn't, and they somehow rather missed all that humanity, not least in his beautifully rendered romance with Keeley, but it probably wouldn't take much to turn him into a Muppet.

Either way, he remains an ever-present reminder that no matter how much Ted Lasso, the show, may have gone off in edgier, more dramatic directions this season, it is, at heart, an unabashed comedy that loves its characters even when they don't love themselves – and even when we don't love them much either. It puts some of our favourites through the wringer, sure, but that doesn't stop it from being, once you get right down to it, one of the least cynical and pessimistic pieces of art/entertainment/media/whatever-you-want-to-call-it out there right now. And pandemic or no pandemic, it's still the perfect panacea for troubled times.

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