clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The ‘Ted Lasso’ Season 2 Postmortem

Two television writers have an open and frank discussion about the so-called “Ted Lasso discourse” and what comes next for the Apple TV+ hit

Apple TV+/Getty Images/Ringer illustration

On Friday, Apple TV+’s buzzy sitcom Ted Lasso wrapped up its second season. AFC Richmond has been promoted back up to the Premier League, though not without losing their increasingly hostile assistant manager, Nate, to fellow top-flight club West Ham United—which is now owned by Rebecca’s sneering ex-husband, Rupert. Here, The Ringer’s Miles Surrey and Alison Herman convene to take stock of Season 2, discuss whether the show endured a sophomore slump, and consider where Ted Lasso goes from here.

Miles Surrey: While I’d normally lament bidding farewell to one of my favorite shows until (presumably) 2022, the only emotion I’m feeling about Ted Lasso is overwhelming relief. Even though the series took up the “heartwarming sitcom” baton from Schitt’s Creek—whether Ted Lasso really is that uplifting, well, more on that later—Season 2 has also been subject to an exhaustive discourse, ranging from incisive critiques and impassioned defenses to utterly bizarre asides about Coach Lasso’s [clears throat] giving ways.

Heading into its second season, Ted Lasso was always going to have a target on its back—such is the nature of garnering 20 Emmy nominations, winning Outstanding Comedy Series, and riding a wave of goodwill that implies the show was some faultless work of art. (In fairness, that first season did arrive in the middle of the pandemic, and we were collectively in a dark place.) But just because Ted Lasso has picked up some naysayers at the height of its popularity doesn’t mean their reservations should be overlooked. With apologies, and the understanding that we deserve the blogging equivalent of a red card, let’s wade into the discourse.

Alison, I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to suggest you’re “anti-Lasso,” but it’s safe to say that, between the two of us, you fall into the more skeptical camp. (Conversely, I may or may not have an AFC Richmond jersey hanging in my closet.) Now that all the episodes have aired, what did you make of Ted Lasso’s second season?

Alison Herman: Good morning, Miles! I’m ready to break down this season of Ted Lasso the way that Roy Kent’s former colleagues debate a match—minus the insensitive comments about a certain coach’s mental health.

When I last wrote about this show, at the season’s midpoint, the Great Discourse Tsunami of 2021 was largely focused on Ted Lasso’s perceived lack of conflict. Somewhere around the candy-cane-sweet Christmas episode, which we now know was inserted as a deliberately low-stakes, stand-alone story when Apple upped the episode order from 10 to 12, we cynics started to wonder: Was Ted Lasso high on its own relentlessly positive supply? Because that’s the risk you run with shows like this, Schitt’s Creek, or the Mike Schur school of sitcoms, including Parks and Recreation. When you get a reputation for niceness, servicing your fans means leaching your show of meaningful story lines. There’s a reason that “no hugging, no learning” served Seinfeld so well as a guiding philosophy—and Ted Lasso has a whole lot of both.

Eight weeks later, parts of that critique still land. Ted Lasso did, in fact, hand-wave away a promising plot about the stakes of social protest, in which Sam’s conscience effectively cost the team its presenting sponsor. (All those foreboding chats about Richmond’s financial woes for naught! Apparently, an upstart dating app provides the same resources as an airline.) And Jamie Tartt has completed his redemption arc with lightning speed, going from Love Island redux to mature conflict resolution—the opposite of what gets you cast on a reality show!—in the space of a few episodes. But Jason Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, and the writers also revealed their long game: two plots that put an asterisk on Ted’s cult of can-do optimism. First, Ted went to therapy and dug into the source of his anxiety; second, his protegé Nate felt abandoned and betrayed by his mentor, taking Rebecca’s lessons about power posing entirely the wrong way. Sudeikis may have deemed this season the show’s take on The Empire Strikes Back, but the prodigal son feels less Darth Vader than Kylo Ren.

Personally, I think one of these arcs was better executed than the other, though I’ll leave you to guess which is which. But before I pass the ball, I’d like to point out one reason I think this season proved surprisingly controversial, beyond underdog-turned-overdog syndrome or knee-jerk contrarianism. For Season 2, Apple didn’t just up the installment count; it also opted for a full-blown weekly release, a pivot from the demi-binge strategy (three episodes, then week-by-week) of Season 1. More time between episodes means more time to pick apart perceived flaws, or just sit with nagging concerns. And the episodes themselves take up more time! Not a single Season 2 installment dipped below the 30-minute mark, with most of the back half going well past 40. The more the merrier, some might say, but I’m a believer in concision, especially when it comes to sitcoms. Did Ted Lasso make the most of all that extra room, or do you think a bit of editing might have taken off some of the heat?

Surrey: Much like Coach Lasso employing trick plays in an effort to eke out a favorable result against Manchester City in the Season 1 finale, it felt like Ted Lasso tried to become a 40-something-minute drama without anyone noticing. I didn’t mind the extra breathing room, even if some of it could’ve gone toward chronicling AFC Richmond’s ascent up the English Championship table. (If I have one quibble with Nate going to the Dark Side, it’s that the back half of Season 2 could’ve focused more on how his tactical acumen both helped the team succeed and went largely unnoticed by Ted. Then again, maybe that’s a point unto itself.)

One thing the longer episodes might’ve helped with is the show’s release strategy. While I agree week-to-week isn’t the best approach for most comedies, the backlash seemed to wane when there was a little more meat for viewers to chew on between episodes. Granted, the weekly release model isn’t that different from what Ted Lasso was doing in Season 1 (the demi-binge, as you call it), but that doesn’t account for how the show was discovered. While I was supporting Ted Lasso from the jump, that was because the series was literally assigned for me to review in August 2020. Anecdotally, it seemed to take months for the show to find a wider audience through enthusiastic word-of-mouth. By that point, I assume a decent portion of the Ted Lasso faithful had inhaled it as a binge—heck, there were viral Twitter threads from people freaking out about the series as recently as June.

This does not absolve Season 2 of some pacing issues—the Coach Beard stand-alone episode, while enjoyable, seemed oddly timed after a major revelation about Ted’s father dying by suicide. But I think the pacing didn’t irk some Ted Lasso fans as much as the show’s implication that Ted’s full-on kindness offensive could be self-defeating, and in the long run, not a cure-all. It’s not that the show still doesn’t have many feel-good qualities baked into its DNA—that Christmas special is pure cheese—but much of the ensemble continued to struggle with deep-seated insecurities. I especially appreciated how Ted Lasso latched onto paternal figures in so many of its emotional conflicts—Jaime’s dust-up with his dad in the locker room was hard to watch, to say nothing of Ted’s feelings of resentment over his father’s suicide. (Thankfully, not all the father-son dynamics were so negative; shout-out to Sam Obisanya and his dad.)

Of course, that’s the great tragedy of Nate’s betrayal: He also looked up to Ted as a father figure, and in his eyes was abandoned by him. If I remember correctly, you’re a big admirer of Kylo Ren—before the shitshow known as The Rise of Skywalker, at least—so I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that was the story line that worked best for you? Lest we get caught up in too much negativity, what else worked for you this season?

Herman: That’s correct! Though explaining why may require some ventures into negativity. I’m doomed to be a Dr. Sharon in a world of Teds.

Speaking of Dr. Sharon, though: I did love Sarah Niles’s performance as the team’s no-nonsense in-house psychologist. Where I think this season often struggled in turning other characters into facsimiles of Ted, his charm offensive with Sharon thrives on contrast. And unlike the antagonists of Season 1, Sharon doesn’t resent Ted or wish him ill; she simply suggests, by being herself, that constant uplift isn’t the only way to support someone. It’s a subtle way for Ted Lasso to challenge its main character and fan base alike, and one I appreciated. (Plus, it’s great to see Niles get more airtime in the U.S. after her excellent turn in I May Destroy You.)

As for what Ted reveals in his sessions with Sharon, I have to be as brutally honest as Jan Maas—I found the reveal about Ted’s father both clumsy and a bit forced. It’s as if the show challenged itself to “get dark” and add depth, only to drop an anvil without organically incorporating it into the rest of the show. (See also: the Beard episode that follows right after.) But to spin a negative into a positive, that’s actually what I enjoyed about the slow heel turn from Nate. We don’t see much of Ted’s literal father-son relationships, while the slow rift between two main characters gives the same theme real stakes, not to mention some A-plus work on Nate’s salt-and-pepper situation by the hair-and-makeup teams. Now that’s what I call a visual metaphor! Though I agree with your point about developing conflict among the coaching staff by showing more actual coaching. I can’t believe that I of all people am asking this, but: Wouldn’t a sports show have benefited from a bit more sports?

Don’t answer that—I’m definitely not the target audience for references like West Ham United, though maybe you’ll explain that one. Instead, I’d like to bring up the 800-pound gorilla, or rather 30-year age gap, in the room. I love both Sam and Rebecca as individual characters, and especially the work Ted Lasso put in to make Sam a major presence this season. But I just can’t buy them together, both because she’s his powerful older boss and because I can’t feel the chemistry. I’m curious how you feel about the big romances this season, given that Sam and Rebecca feel off and Roy Kent’s bond with Keeley seems headed for rough waters. Did that side of the show work for you?

Surrey: Roy and Keeley aside—and like you’re saying, their relationship isn’t heading in a promising direction—I find that Ted Lasso works best when the show leans on the friendships that have developed over the first two seasons rather than the romantic entanglements. I was relieved, for instance, that Rebecca’s dating app admirer wasn’t Ted and that they’ve maintained a loving and supportive friendship during their respective hardships. And even without the knowledge that the actresses actually became friends from working together, Rebecca and Keeley’s relationship continues to feel authentic.

This is a roundabout way of saying that I’m with you on Sam and Rebecca, a relationship that was uncomfortable in terms of both workplace dynamics and the massive age gap between them. But I do hope that the great work the show did with Sam as a character this season will extend to some of the other players on the team. The spat between Jamie and his dad was a promising start, but there’s loads of potential outside of Dani Rojas being a human golden retriever. Since, as Dani is always happy to point out, football is life, I’m hopeful that incorporating Rupert and Nate at West Ham means a renewed focus on the sports side of the show. I’m obviously biased as a soccer fanatic, but those moments were mighty effective in Season 1. (As for West Ham: They’re a Premier League mainstay, but it’s hard to take them seriously as an antagonist when the club’s anthem is “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” and they literally release bubbles at London Stadium when matches kick off.)

Beyond sticking to sports (kidding), I’m even more curious about what the big-picture plan is for Ted Lasso. When speaking to The New York Times in July, cocreator Bill Lawrence said that “this particular journey of Ted Lasso and the people around him will be done after the third season.” I can’t imagine Apple will be thrilled about parting ways with one of its biggest hits that quickly, so I’m a little skeptical that will remain the case. Maybe Ted will move on to a new team (and sport?) or the show will focus on other characters in a spinoff.

But if the Ted Lasso we know and love were to be done after just three seasons, it’d be a major departure from the feel-good sitcoms the show’s been frequently compared to. I guess I’m curious what you think would serve Ted Lasso better, based on what we’ve seen over these first two seasons. Should Ted Lasso wrap up what would amount to a three-act story, or coast on good vibes long enough to match the runs of, say, Schitt’s Creek and Parks and Recreation?

Herman: It’ll say a lot about the creators’ integrity if they’re able to turn down a terabyte’s worth of Tim Cook money to stick to their original vision! On the one hand, three seasons is the kind of run you expect from heavy dramas like The Leftovers, perhaps signaling Ted Lasso’s ambition. On the other, the nonstop camaraderie could put a handicap on its ability to generate more story. (Though I’d happily watch a spinoff show about Edwin Okufu’s all-African Casablanca team. Clearly that guy doesn’t subscribe to the Ted school of patient understanding—and I’d like to test the limits of Sam Richardson’s Ghanaian accent.)

I’m totally with you on wanting to dig deeper into Dani Rojas, even after the closure on the whole greyhound slaughter debacle. I’m a little less with you on Rebecca and Keeley, a relationship that epitomizes how the show can lose narrative potential by forcing good cheer. It is possible to have a strong, mutually supportive female friendship that’s more than constantly reiterating how much they love each other—just look at Tuca & Bertie! I’m not saying that Rebecca should’ve started a war over Keeley striking out on her own. I just think there’s as much tension to mine there as there is for Keeley and Roy, and to mine that tension is to honor the relationship for the platonic romance it is.

Zooming out from story gripes, though, I’m fascinated by what it means to treat a sitcom like a prestige drama—or maybe, as we’ve discussed, turn a sitcom into a prestige drama, one panic attack at a time. (Though Trent Crimm’s horrible journalistic ethics felt like one last nod to rom-communism.) That’s what struck me about the vitriol that critics like myself got for expressing reservations, even well-meaning ones. We’re now used to the idea of Bad Fans, who take the Archie Bunkers and Walter Whites of the world as role models. What happens when the nicest of nice guys gets his own Bad Fans? In a way, it’s an honor to be misinterpreted. Whether or not the Greyhounds win the Premier League next year, Ted Lasso will always have its Emmys.