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After two seasons, the fantasy of Ted Lasso endures

  • It's undeniable that Season 2 of the Emmy-winning Apple TV+ comedy was, structurally and stylistically, not as good as Season 1, says Sophie Gilbert. While Season 1 benefited from having a tangible plot arc, "Season 2, having reformed all of its villains via Ted’s contagiously sunny disposition, had a harder time homing in on an animating tension," says Gilbert. She adds: "The decision to transform Nate (Nick Mohammed), the formerly mild-mannered kit man turned assistant coach, into a gray-haired model of seething incel resentment was an obviously manufactured heel turn that negated the show’s central tenet: that Ted as a leader brings out the best in people. But more curious are the arguments that Ted’s optimism is empty, his shtick annoying, and his philosophy fundamentally flawed—because the show occasionally seems to agree. Season 2, for all its plotting woes, engaged in a thorough deconstruction of its own hero....For a series to present its primary character as a kind of superhero whose powers are his amiability and positive thinking, only to reveal that those powers may have been an illusion and a crutch, is a fascinatingly counterintuitive thing to do. If it hasn’t quite worked, that’s because Ted remains nearly as enigmatic as he was at the start of the show. We know next to nothing about his childhood, the sports he played in college, his marriage, his interests, his hobbies. Apart from his encyclopedic knowledge of cultural references, he’s a cheerfully blank slate. What most defines him is his ability to shape other people, which is why the revelation about his father’s death didn’t feel fully conceived. Marrying the fairy-godmother role that Ted plays with a fully grounded backstory (or any kind of realism, at that) is a tricky act to balance. And yet the fantasy of Ted Lasso—the idea that an unabashedly loving, kind, committed male role model and father figure can change the paths of the people he encounters—abides."  Gilbert adds: "One character alone can’t fully rid pop culture’s masculine paradigm of violence, cruelty, and destruction, a millennia-old model. (Although Gareth Southgate exists, so anything’s possible.) But the impact the series has had among viewers is pronounced because Ted is such a unicorn in a landscape of TV fathers and father figures who torture their children, murder their mistresses, cheat with interns, or fail their family altogether. The very quality that makes Ted Lasso the character and Ted Lasso the show feel so distinctive—their rareness—underlines how necessary they are."


    • Season 2 proved Ted Lasso is still one of TV's best shows: "In the normal world, readers might disagree with critics and keep it moving," says Elamin Abdelmahmoud. "That’s the normal circle of life. But Lasso was different: Its fans felt the need to organize a defense. Criticism of its earnestness felt like an attack on the necessity of earnestness itself. The tension was already brewing at the launch of the second season, but reached a fever pitch — or as Vulture put it, became 'supercharged' — after the fourth episode, the Christmas episode. For Lasso detractors, the overly sentimental episode exposed the limits of the show’s sunny outlook (“so indulgently saccharine that it made me feel paranoid,” wrote the New Yorker). For the show’s defenders, it’s exactly what’s right with the show: It’s unafraid to double down on schmaltz, during a deficit of sweetness. The trouble is: The heightened internet Discourse around the validity of Lasso’s sweetness took up all the air in the room, and left little space to fairly evaluate a solid second season that quietly went about subverting some long-standing TV tropes and methodically challenging the thesis of its first season while delivering fully fleshed out, complicated characters. Look beyond the binary reception of its second season, beyond the heightened expectations of fans and the jaded eye of critics, and you’ll find Lasso is one of the best shows on TV right now. The second season of Ted Lasso takes a moment to get going. This is a trap of the writers’ own making: By the end of the first season, its most identifiable villains — club owner Rebecca Welton, played brilliantly by Hannah Waddingham, and star player Jamie Tartt — have been fully humanized, each one won over by the Lasso approach to life. It’s a nice conclusion that leaves us with no obvious source of tension to drag the show forward. So the second season eases into a different tension: an inner one."
    • Ted Lasso writers found themselves stymied with their ambitious plans for Season 2: "The creative team wanted to expand its focus beyond the Ted-Rebecca core, and to dig deep into both the impact Ted’s positivity was having on the team and the limits of that positivity," says Alan Sepinwall. "That’s admirable ambition, and a lot of it worked very well. But despite two additional episodes (albeit ones inserted very late in the process, and largely disconnected from everything else) and longer running times every week, there wasn’t always enough room to successfully execute those goals. And that struggle was palpable in these last few episodes. The believing is great, and vital to the experience of watching and loving Ted Lasso. But having a sound strategy mapped out in advance helps a lot, too. Nate’s an as**, but he’s not wrong about everything."
    • Season 2 finale brought a stellar season full circle: "Callbacks aside, Season 2 ultimately felt like the very thing non-soccer-loving Americans have trouble wrapping their heads around (including Ted): a winning tie," says Ben Travers. "What makes it a tie is both obvious and complicated. The team ended up back in the same league as Season 1. On the romantic front, there were no huge couplings or break-ups — unless you count Keeley (Juno Temple) quitting Rebecca’s (Hannah Waddingham) club to start her own firm. As for Ted, the verdict’s still out on his big move to 'leave my family and take a job halfway around the world.' (Oof, those texts with his ex hurt to watch.)" Travers adds: "For as well as the finale sets up next year’s revenge arcs, what made Season 2 a victory overall is that it focused on internal struggles, sans second-party opposition. The team’s success or failure played out in the background, as the players, coaches, and staff’s mental health took priority. The arrival of Dr. Sharon (Sarah Niles) forced Ted to confront long-dormant feelings about his father, and how his parent’s suicide changed the coach’s outlook on life. (Perhaps even more substantial: The revelation made him question the benefits of unrelenting optimism, which resolved itself nicely in the Diamond Dogs’ final meeting. Instead of telling Roy what to do about his relationship or even encouraging him to look at the bright side, Ted took a lesson from his 'girl talk' with Rebecca in the premiere. Sometimes you can just blab away about stuff and nothing has to change, and no one has to solve anything. Listening and sharing: That is cool.)"
    • Season 2 really needed a great penultimate episode: "I know Game Of Thrones has become something of a joke after the response to the final season, but one thing it modeled very effectively was using the penultimate episode of each season as a climax, allowing for a finale that would simultaneously reflect on the season that came before it and gesture toward the future," says Myles McNutt. "And that’s what Ted Lasso really needed, because across the board the actual resolution that comes after Richmond’s promotion is rushed and frankly confounding. This is perhaps most true with Roy and Keeley, whose story in this episode is a bit chaotic throughout this episode but reaches a new level of confusion in the epilogue. Last week, many argued that the show wasn’t actually setting up a love triangle for the characters, and that it was just testing their connection. And sure enough, despite leaving them in a very tense moment on the sofa during the photo shoot, they’re basically operating as normal when the episode starts, which really underlined how much the pileup of complications was a narrative ploy more than an organic character development."
    • Ted Lasso Season 2 clearly has a Very Important Message about what it means to be a good man: "In the Ted Lasso universe, good men share common traits," says Rebecca Ruiz. "Empathy, vulnerability, a sense of humor, playfulness, self-compassion, and inner strength are words you might use to describe not just the titular character portrayed by Jason Sudeikis, but also most of the men who surround him. These guys are no heroes, stripped of their flaws and propped up as caricatures of role models. They make mistakes. They get angry and lash out. They miss important emotional cues. But they also reflect, connect, and apologize. Sometimes the redemption comes a little too easy. On the other hand, the writers make admitting wrong and accepting forgiveness look attainable for men who've traditionally learned that doing so is akin to showing weakness. Ted Lasso is resonant because of its goofy, clever humor, and its optimism about the human condition. We can choose to be the best of ourselves, and when we fail, we can make amends. That's a lesson every viewer, regardless of their gender, can embrace. But the series gives men explicit permission to explore the most virtuous aspects of their inner lives. These personality traits are typically stigmatized in a culture that rewards stereotypical shows of masculinity like dominating the room or field and winning at all costs (hello, Nate and Rupert!). Ted Lasso succeeds when it offers viewers a study of contrasts and lets them (mostly) draw their own conclusions. On the show, a good man isn't a single ideal."
    • The Nate Shelley storyline has been an asset to Ted Lasso Season 2: "What’s wonderful about all these dynamics is that they complicate the accepted narrative about Ted Lasso, which is that it’s a show about kindness and uplift and a man who teaches everyone else to become better versions of themselves," says Jen Chaney. "Except that’s not entirely true, and it wasn’t even totally the case in season one. As Mohammed pointed out in this interview, there were signs even in season one that Nate is capable of selfish and nasty behavior. While Ted might have softened Rebecca’s edges and made his players more considerate toward one another, he ultimately brought out the worst in Nate, albeit unwittingly. The fact that Nate could feel rightfully mistreated throws a whole bucket of cold water on the notion that Ted Lasso is a show about a nice man with a nice mustache who makes other people nicer. If we were surprised to see Nate turn into a 'bad guy' at the end of this finale, it’s because we weren’t looking hard enough at Nate and fully considering him. Which makes us as guilty of neglect and dismissiveness as Ted and everyone else who has condescended to Nate. The other neat trick of the Nate arc is that his issues with Ted make him the human embodiment of a lot of the criticisms about the show. Nate is angry because he feels as if Ted has lost his focus on coaching, which is exactly what has bugged a lot of Ted Lasso fans who wish the show had stayed more engaged with the actual football this season. A key reason Ted’s eye has gotten off the ball, so to speak, is that he has been struggling with panic attacks. Now, part of the point of the whole season is that mental-health issues should be discussed openly and not perceived as weaknesses, but Nate exploits Ted’s anxiety as if it were a weakness, perhaps because he feels that’s how people have responded to him when he came across as uncertain or scared. Why does Ted deserve a pass when Nate has never gotten one?"
    • Nick Mohammed: "I’m as distraught as I think some of the fans of the show are feeling": "I’ve been quite overwhelmed by the amount of people who have been reaching out," the Nate Shelley actor, who posted a lengthy statement reacting to the season finale, tells the Los Angeles Times. "Whenever I scroll through comments, I’m aware there’s an element of life imitating art, because that’s exactly what Nate does in the show. But I’m so grateful, because they’ve stuck out what has been quite a rocky path for Nate. I feel like one of the fans, really, because the reactions people say they’re having are absolutely the reactions that I had when I first read those scripts or when we first started playing with those scenes. I’ve never been involved in a show that’s garnered such a public reaction, positive or negative, in terms of people really feeling for all of these characters as if they’re real people, which is an absolute testament to the quality of the writing. Like when Nate says to Will that he’ll 'make his life an f— misery,' I got contacted by quite a few people, saying, 'This was really triggering for me, I’m finding it really difficult.' They’re reacting to quite difficult subject matter, not just a storyline, but I guess it means that people are taking those moments seriously. We didn’t want to do the same story as Season 1, and I think the show is all the better for having gone down a different route." What were Mohammed's thoughts on the criticism that Ted Lasso ignores Nate’s cultural background? "I get why people wonder why the show doesn’t dive into the cultural significance of his relationship with his dad or why he sees himself as a bit of an outsider. Nate is mixed race because I’m mixed race; my real parents are Trinidadian and Cypriot Greek, and they’ve tried to match that as much as they could through casting. Speaking as an actor and a person of color, it’s quite refreshing to play a guy who’s called Nathan Shelley, where there’s no hint to his ethnicity through his name, and to do a show where your ethnicity isn’t even mentioned. Don’t get me wrong, it’s sometimes incredibly important for that to be front and center, but the fact that it’s not in this never struck me as something that they were either avoiding or that was a failing on their part not to dive into that."
    • Mohammed on Nate's grey hair transformation: "We discussed it quite early on," he says. "I’ve got flecks of grey hair on my temples, but they actually painted those black in Season 1 to give Nate a slightly more youthful quality. But we really liked the idea, and I remember chatting to Jason (Sudeikis) about it, and then to our makeup designer Nicky Austin, about how cool it would be to track Nate’s descent — the stress, the guilt, the anxiety, the shame… You hear often about all of that affecting someone’s physical appearance, and we liked the idea of using that to track his transformation. So yes, it was absolutely in it from the start. You can really start noticing it from Episode 5 onwards, as we were painting in gray hairs. It was a continuity nightmare, but it was worth it, and something that people have only just started to catch onto in the latter end of the season."
    • Kola Bokinni says being part of the Ted Lasso experience is "crazy and I love it" and "a bit of a whirlwind"
    • Toheeb Jimoh and Cristo Fernández describe their Season 3 hopes for Sam and Dani

    TOPICS: Ted Lasso, Apple TV+, Cristo Fernández, Jason Sudeikis, Kola Bokinni, Nick Mohammed, Toheeb Jimoh