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TV TATTLE

In Season 2, the Ted Lasso phenomenon has not yet consumed Ted Lasso

  • "With such a lofty status come exaggerated expectations for the follow-up, and Ted Lasso Season 2 acknowledges the pressure its under by putting its titular coach (played by SAG Award winner Jason Sudeikis) on the spot," says Ben Travers of the Apple TV+ series. "His team, AFC Richmond, has been relegated to the EFL Championship division after last year’s season-ending loss, and now they find themselves stuck in a historic streak of ties. (Ted does acknowledge the irony in his predicament, seeing as he routinely forgot ties were even possible during his first season in soccer.) All of this has happened since the new coach came to town, so no matter how many skeptics he’s charmed, the buck has to stop with him. Toss in the lingering pain from his recent divorce as well as a young son living an ocean apart and Ted’s unflagging optimism faces its toughest test yet."

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    • Ted Lasso avoids playing it safe in Season 2: "What Ted Lasso realized is that the original premise of Ted Lasso wouldn’t work forever; Ted Lasso’s folksy optimism loses a tiny bit of its charm when there’s no conflict, and we even see a bit of this play out in the season 2 premiere," says Michelle Jaworski. "Instead, what Ted Lasso does is peel back that sheen of its cheerful exterior to make us examine the limits of that optimism. As a result, it’s thoughtful and existential but no less of a delight." She adds: "In season 2, the writing is just as sharp and the cast has an even better grip on their characters, often resulting in surprising yet delightful team-ups and the delivery of hard truths. In typical holiday fashion, Ted Lasso’s Christmas episode (a staple of British TV) is a perfect example of how it blends the cheer with the bittersweet melancholy. The show takes aim at everything from British TV and more of soccer’s more inane rules to dating apps and it highlights the importance of the family you’re born with as well as the family you make. There are plenty of wins and losses in Ted Lasso, some of which arrive in unexpected places; it’s not just on the pitch. But even if the optimism of Ted Lasso might be a bit more complicated now, the show is still, at its core, about trying to become a better person in a world that’s indifferent or tries to discourage it—and even having a bit of fun along the way."
    • Ted Lasso is among a crop of fantasy male characters who are weirdly too perfect: "Ted is hardly the only idealized male specimen in entertainment made for grown-ups, of course, but I’ve never seen another fictional character who seemed so deliberately constructed to teach other adult men how to behave in the world," says Judy Berman, adding: "There’s something weirdly brittle about the way these characters are constructed. They’re simply too perfect, their personalities so meticulously designed to balance macho cred with sensitive masculinity that they can withstand no external pressure. Why is TV so desperate to create not just a good man, but the best man? Why, when Ted Lasso’s separation comes up, is the only explanation provided that his wife finds his optimism exhausting? Would the whole character crumble if, say, he was just a workaholic? It might. Because, even in the early episodes of a second season that begins to delve deeper into his psychology, Ted isn’t a real person. He’s a role model, like Harry Potter or Mary Poppins or Superman. And there’s something depressing about how Ted, (Parks and Rec's) Ron (Swanson) and (Schitt's Creek's) Johnny (Rose) come off as teaching tools more than as funnier versions of actual men. It’s hard to address a crisis in masculinity when, as a culture, we can’t imagine what a decent, unexceptional guy might look like. No wonder the entertainment media has gone to such lengths in recent weeks to position Sudeikis as not just a nice person—which, by many moving accounts, he is—but a real-life Ted Lasso."
    • Ted Lasso manages to improve upon itself in Season 2: "One of last year’s most acclaimed shows, Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso is designed as an antidote," says Daniel Fienberg. "In a TV landscape dominated by darkness and irony, Ted Lasso follows its protagonist’s example and enters every room with the thematic equivalent of a carefully wrapped box of homemade biscuits. It’s sweet, hopeful and obstinately corny — and it’s easy to see how, premiering in the middle of a global pandemic, the show struck a chord that nobody, including the good people at Apple TV+, possibly could have anticipated. But speaking of anticipation, it’s nearly as easy to imagine how, with expectations raised by a heap of Emmy nominations, the second season of Ted Lasso might struggle to reproduce that stealthy charm. Maybe you can walk into a locker room with no understanding of the offsides rule and inspire a group of cynical professional athletes with inspirational mantras and folksy wisdom once — but what are the chances of doing it again? Through two-thirds of the comedy’s 12-episode encore season, the returns are, like Ted Lasso himself, unreasonably positive. I can easily point to plotlines that have me wary, if not concerned, but the sophomore season of Ted Lasso thus far is an admirable mixture of repeating — and refining — the elements that resonated so well initially and expanding the show’s ensemble and tonal reach. Eight episodes and the smile rarely left my face, so Ted Lasso is clearly back."
    • Season 2 takes the leap you often see at this stage of ensemble comedies like The Office and Parks and Rec: In Season 2, the audience and the creative team have a better understanding of what makes each character tick and why they’re funny in various combinations, says Alan Sepinwall. "It’s a more consistently amusing show this year without selling out any of the characters in search of a punchline." Sepinwall adds: "Confronting the fundamental flaws within a vibe that made Ted Lasso — both man and show — so beloved, without ruining that vibe in the process, is an incredibly delicate task. The start of Season Two stumbles occasionally — there’s a conflict with a sponsor that should be a much bigger mess, but instead gets forgotten instantly — but for the most part, the creative team handles this tough new assignment with the kind of aplomb that would merit enthusiastic attaboys from Ted, along with an obscure pop-culture reference from decades past."
    • Season 2 subverts its premise by questioning its optimism: "The show’s first season embraced, with humanity and heart and excellent wordplay, the most optimistic elements of sports," says Megan Garber. "Its second season, to its great credit, questions all the optimism." She adds: "The new season of Ted Lasso pushes back on its own protagonist. It suggests that Jamie, louchely egotistical, might have had a point. Jamie, chastened by his dismissal from Manchester City—and by a father who treats him as little more than a business prospect—has come around to Ted’s lessons about the 'I' and the 'we.' He might have, in fact, overlearned the lessons. He passes the ball, all the time. He supports his teammates. But he has lost his swagger. It takes Roy Kent, the retired Richmond player who knows something about the interplay between ego and sports performance, to make things plain: Jamie is a lesser player, Roy observes, because he has become such a team player. In a show that has argued so eloquently for the benefits of teamwork, that development is a fascinating plot twist. And the second season of Ted Lasso is full of such subversions. Nate, the kit man who spent much of the first season defined by his meekness, has been promoted to assistant coach—and, making sense of his newfound fame, flirts with power trips and selfishness. Sam, a player with perhaps even more innate kindness than Ted, becomes an activist—one who ends up taking on DubaiAir, the team’s (fictional) corporate sponsor. Ted himself, in what might be the show’s most radical move, battles with his own defining optimism. He resists going to therapy. He sees Dr. Fieldstone as a threat not just because her job overlaps with his, but also because the role gives her unique insight into the limits of his positivity. The panic attacks that Ted had occasionally during Season 1 have become worse. They hint that Ted’s cheerfulness might be a kind of feint. Ted Lasso, this time around, also weaves its considerations of individualism into its story structure. The show’s first season, though bolstered by an excellent ensemble cast, was squarely focused on Ted: his move, his job, his relationship with his estranged wife and beloved son. But Ted is now more of an ensemble player; the new episodes devote more attention to the people around him."
    • The plucky, can-do spirit endures in Season 2, but there is a mournful, uneasy feel: "Season 2 has a mournful, uneasy feel to it overall; it’s almost like an emotional hangover after last season’s sugar high," says Dave Nemetz. "Nearly every character has hit a rough patch of some sort: Former rivals Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) and Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) are both humbled by various setbacks and are in the process of building their way back up to their former glory. Even the relentlessly upbeat Ted is haunted by demons that he hasn’t fully processed yet. If Season 1 was all about Ted winning everyone over with the power of positivity, Season 2 is more like, 'OK… so now what?' But don’t worry: The plucky, can-do spirit that made last season so special still endures. It’s tough to pick a favorite performance from this deep roster of supporting players — they’re all so good!"
    • Once again, Jason Sudeikis is firing on all cylinders: "But he’s not the only one: Waddingham’s Rebecca continues to be one of the most well-rounded female characters in comedy, and her chemistry with both Sudeikis and her assistant, Keeley (Juno Temple), is key to the series’ success," says Ani Bundel. "Brett Goldstein’s now-retired Roy Kent is the show’s secret MVP, as he relearns how to live a life no longer centered around a game. Both Fernández’s Rojas and Phil Dunster’s egotistical player Jamie Tartt are similarly delightful. Every streaming service needs an organic, word-of-mouth hit. Ironically, it seems like it’s never the show the service was angling for. The same is true for Apple TV+. The streaming service launched with serious dramas like The Morning Show and For All Mankind but has found both fan and critical success with a sports comedy preaching kindness. After a historic 20 Emmy nominations for its first season, the most for a freshman comedy in history, Ted Lasso has officially put Apple TV+ on the streaming map."
    • Ted Lasso avoids a sophomore slump: "The good news is Ted Lasso is still the best comedy on TV. In the six episodes sent to critics, the show’s iconic blend of heart and humor were still omnipresent in every scene," says Meghan O'Keefe. "However Ted Lasso Season 2 does make some bold swings straight out the gate, whether we’re talking about some surprising plot developments, a standalone Christmas episode (that reeks of BBC and ITV’s chummy holiday specials), or one episode that stretches episodic run time and the rom-com clichés. And some of those swings? Well — to borrow a baseball metaphor — are more bunts than hits. But through it all, Ted Lasso remains Ted Lasso, a virtuoso work of art that puts humanity first in its storytelling."
    • It's totally fine that Ted Lasso is a fantasy, but it's also okay to not buy what the show is selling: "It is, of course, totally fine that Ted Lasso is a fantasy; most fictional series, and many nonfiction works for that matter, eschew verisimilitude or complicating realities," says Inkoo Kang. "But it’s also wholly fair to not want what Ted Lasso is selling, which is where I often find myself while watching this lovingly crafted, impressively written and acted series. Given the international makeup of AFC Richmond, I would’ve preferred a show about soccer culture in the U.K. that deals more directly with the racial dynamics within its fan base, for example — an issue that Sudeikis himself recently addressed off-screen. And while the mutually admiring friendship between Rebecca and Keeley was a highlight of Season 1, it made me wonder if the writers had the stomach to dig into the potential tensions between the very different women — especially as now employer and employee — for Season 2. Based on the first eight episodes (out of 12), the answer is no. Based on the first eight episodes (out of 12), the answer is no. If you were a fan of the energetic wholesomeness of the first season, the follow-up offers much of the same."
    • Ted Lasso is one of the few TV comedies where we see men being vulnerable with one another: "Knuckleheaded and ridiculous. But vulnerable," says Nina Metz. "There are many in Hollywood, Judd Apatow among them, who have built entire careers exposing this soft underbelly in the name of comedy, often with sour results. The creators of Ted Lasso — which include Sudeikis, sitcom veteran Bill Lawrence (Scrubs), Joe Kelly (a longtime writer on Saturday Night Live) and Chicago native Brendan Hunt (who plays Ted’s right-hand man Coach Beard) — have other things in mind. The show isn’t particularly interested in validating the man-child archetype, and the writers seem to actually like the women who populate the show’s universe. All of which makes space for comedy that’s rooted in recognizable human absurdities. Heavy is the head that wears the visor. That would be Ted, the Preppiest Man Alive, who is managing a team that can’t seem to win or lose, it’s a draw every time. But the focus isn’t on the team’s record but its individual components, and one of the brilliant things about Ted Lasso is that it is deeply curious about the dysfunctions and neuroses that take root in childhood and follow us into adulthood. We all want validation. We’re all a little bit lonely. We all need a best friend. To the show’s enormous credit, it treats its characters (even its minor characters) as three-dimensional humans who are neither all good nor all bad."
    • There are two versions of Ted Lasso on display in Season 2 that speak to the show’s larger priorities: "On the one hand, there are the familiar feel-good moments that have no real bearing on the plot, where Ted Lasso is coasting purely on vibes," says Miles Surrey. "The pinnacle of the 'just vibes' approach is a Christmas-themed episode that essentially boils down to the entire ensemble doing very nice things for each other over the holidays—it’s the TV-viewing equivalent of being wrapped in a warm hug. (It’s no surprise that Apple didn’t have any 'do not reveal' notes for the episode, because what’s there to spoil about a full-on kindness offensive?) But it’s the other side of Ted Lasso slowly building over the course of the new season that perhaps draws more intrigue: the challenge of living up to the Lasso-ian ideals of compassion and accountability, day in and day out, within a cutthroat industry that seemingly demands ruthlessness and winning above all else."
    • Too many TV shows lose their charm after a winsome debut, but Ted Lasso is back and better than ever: "The praise feels redundant at this point, but every cast member is a delight," says Proma Khosla. "Waddingham and Sudeikis have a natural chemistry, getting a second crack at Ted and Rebecca's friendship (now that she's not destroying Richmond from within). The writers clearly revel in Ted and Beard's quippy rhythm, packing in pop culture references, puns, and everything else. Goldstein is literally and figuratively the Roy Kent of this show, a foulmouthed and physical comedy legend, and we must protect Jimoh at all costs. The first season introduced a new kind of masculinity, built on communication, empathy, and kindness as it dismantles notions of 'locker room talk' and male friendship. Season 2 doubles down, no longer sneaking in the subversion. Ted tells the team he believes in 'rom-communism,' the feel-good movie notion that everything works out while music swells and butterflies soar in your heart. We feel that exact sensation over and over this season, when the players support each other or Rebecca and Ted share a moment or the Diamond Dogs ride again. Who wouldn't want to believe something so wonderful?"
    • Ted Lasso's success is even more baffling in Season 2 than Season 1: "My unwillingness to believe Ted Lasso could continue to be so tender is exactly why I can't stop watching it," says Jeva Lange. "Part of me keeps waiting eagerly to see it fail, for it to take that easy, mean-spirited punchline or, conversely, to become so obnoxious with its 'be nice and do good' philosophy that I have to bail out of self-respect. Instead, the show does things like commit to a mid-season Christmas episode that does nothing to especially drive the plot forward, but seems to exist solely to celebrate good deeds, good times, and the grace that comes with forgiveness."
    • This season, Ted Lasso has built an even more formidable adversary for the mustachioed coach in Sarah Niles' Dr. Fieldstone: "Therapist Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, who is brought in to help the team work through some issues on and off the field," says Maureen Ryan. "Played with exquisite subtlety by Sarah Niles, the storylines involving her quietly weave together two sources of tension within the show. First of all, no matter how emotionally evolved these people become, if Richmond doesn’t win a lot and make money, everybody’s careers will hit the skids quickly. Last year Richmond was relegated to a less prestigious and less profitable division, and the 'we’re a family' talk doesn’t erase the fact that the team is a business, one in an industry that exerts enormous pressure on everyone inside it. Secondly, Sharon, who hits it off with the rest of the club, does not have time for Ted’s attempts to win her over. She’s far more interested in why Ted feels the need to charm her, and Jason Sudeikis does an exemplary job of conveying just how much panic is induced by her curiosity about his social strategies. Ted performs his 'niceness' around her somewhat frantically, which she quite rightly finds both telling and intriguing."
    • Season 2 is richer and sweeter: "That level of expectation could damn a show like this as it goes into its sophomore season, 20 Emmy nominations notwithstanding," says Melanie McFarland. "The comedy's creative team obviously anticipated this, responding by amplifying every morsel of feel-good fuel while revealing some of the darkness growling behind its perfect sunshine. Uplift might be Ted Lasso's brand, but sorrow is the baseline that gives his story a symphonic heft. Not many shows can maintain that emotional equilibrium over the long haul, but Sudeikis, Brendan Hunt (who plays Coach Beard), Bill Lawrence and Joe Kelly manage to incorporate the right dose of sadness into the story's warmth and sweetness without dragging down its energy."
    • Ted Lasso keeps finding ways to enrich its characters and push the story along in new directions: "Ted Lasso kicked off with, in sports terms, a miracle season," says Keith Phipps. "The show also felt, at least at first, like something of an underdog. Developed by Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt (who co-stars as the enigmatic Coach Beard), and Joe Kelly from a character Sudeikis created for a series of NBC Sports commercials, it sounded, in bare description, like a simple culture clash comedy in which an achingly earnest Midwestern rube is forced to fumble his way through a world he doesn't really understand. It is that, but it's also a series that subverts expectations at every turn. Sure, Ted hates tea and trips over British slang, but the real clash with his new home is philosophical. Ted Lasso takes seriously Ted's embrace of inspirational thinking, treating his homey words of wisdom as locker room clichés but as to-the-point demands to live a better, more compassionate, daring life. (All while still finding room for goofy exchanges about fettuccine alfredo or Toy Story or the Gin Blossoms or whatever else passes through Ted's mind at any given moment.) There's a problem with miracle seasons, however: How do you follow them up? The television landscape is littered with series that sputtered after their first explosions of creativity. Fortunately, Ted Lasso's sophomore season not only picks up where Season 1 left off without skipping a beat, it keeps finding ways to enrich its characters and push the story along in new directions now that the issue of AFC Richmond owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) trying to sabotage Ted's efforts to revive the team has fallen by the wayside (not that it ever felt like that much of a threat). That starts with Ted himself. Where last season saw him using his upbeat attitude to fight off doubt, a crumbling marriage, and the occasional panic attack, Season 2 finds him smiling but struggling, with the distance from his son among other issues."
    • One of the beauties of this season of Ted Lasso is how much room it gives for characters other than Ted to shine: "Ted Lasso is one of those shows where every ingredient comes together but, like the performances by Sudeikis and so many of the other actors, seems so effortless that you don’t notice at first how many instruments are playing in harmony," says Jen Chaney. She adds: "While Ted Lasso may be a believer in rom-communism, it manages to avoid the pitfalls that a lot of rom-coms don’t, by never becoming too cloying, too clever, or too sentimental to be believed. The show embraces optimism without feeling false. It celebrates the better angels of human nature, without flying too far into unbelievable fantasy. Anyone who appreciated season one and hits play on season two will feel the following sentiment, partly borrowed from another Tom Cruise movie, almost immediately: Wow, Ted Lasso. Once again, you have me at hello."
    • Presenting recipes for a Ted Lasso watch party: From British shortbread to molten peanut butter chocolate cakes
    • How Sarah Niles offsets Ted in her new role as sports psychologist in Season 2: "I have no idea. I think it's like the balance of things, isn't it?" she says. "It's like a seesaw. Ted has all this joy and a bubbly, upbeat personality and is just so hyped -- what are you going to do with that? Are you going to try to match it or are you going to just try and simmer it down a bit?"
    • Juno Temple was cast after Sudeikis saw her in HBO's short-lived Martin Scorsese series Vinyl, co-starring with his then-partner Olivia Wilde
    • How Brendan Hunt and his collaborators first conceived of Coach Beard and his place in Ted’s world: “The main thing — and Joe Kelly realized before we did — was that Ted was clearly going to wax poetical and be loquacious and monologize," says Hunt. "Therefore, the strongest contrast would be someone who speaks as little as possible.” As for Beard’s name: “When Jason was on Saturday Night Live, one of his favorite things was to give people a regular first name and then a noun for a last name, which is how Ted Lasso came to be. And just looking at my picture, well he’s Beard — first name unknown (laughs).”
    • Hannah Waddingham says Ted Lasso has given her catharsis from a real-life verbally abusive relationship: "The greatest thing about this job is that it has allowed me great catharsis from a controlling, verbally abusive relationship that I'd had (in real life), that people looking at me wouldn't think that I'd experienced," she says. "So when it got to those scenes in the gala, when (Rupert) is saying, 'Very brave choice' with the dress, I've had that in the past. And also the bit outside the gala when Ted comes to find her... There's the bit about '(Rupert said), 'Eat this, wear that, and I listened,' that monologue that Jason was tweaking up until the last minute, informed me more than anything else about where I needed to take Rebecca."
    • Hannah Waddingham and Juno Temple hit it off on-screen and off: "It was the most strange thing,” says Waddingham of their immediate connection. “It was just completely natural and effortless … and it’s been like that ever since, both on screen and off.” In fact, she admits, her job “would have been far harder if we’d been pitted against each other. I would’ve actually found that quite distressing.”
    • Jason Sudeikis on why it was necessary to embrace Ted Lasso's dark past: "We had to work backward, because if you’re going to play this nice guy at a certain age who’s married, then why does he take this job?" he says. "Well, things must not be great at home. It was always about revealing. I’m going to butcher the Mark Twain quote, but every person’s life is a comedy, a drama and a tragedy. So we had to honor those other two elements, because the comedy part was baked into the premise of the fish-out-of-water, bungling idiot who doesn’t know what he’s doing. And the mustache, obviously."
    • Ted Lasso won over not just viewers, but the soccer world, too: Paul Arriola, a D.C. United and U.S. national team winger who binged on Ted Lasso while rehabbing a torn ACL, appreciated the makeup of a Richmond squad that’s populated with clashing personalities from across the globe. "There’s so many different cultures, so many countries represented within a locker room,” said Arriola, who played on loan for English Championship side Swansea City this winter. “They made it seem as real as they could have without filming an actual locker room.”

    TOPICS: Ted Lasso, Apple TV+, Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt, Hannah Waddingham, Jason Sudeikis, Juno Temple




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