Believe again: Thoughts on Ted Lasso (season 2)

(image courtesy IMP Awards)

If you ask anyone who has been fortunate spend some time in the company of Ted Lasso, both the person and the program, the very first thing pretty much everyone will remark on is how sunny and upbeat the eponymous character is, and how unflappably upbeat he seems to be, no matter what is thrown at him.

It’s a comforting idea that no matter how diabolically awful life is, and in Ted’s case the obstacles and challenges of being American with no football experience coaching an English Premiership side were and are considerable, you can rise above it all with a cheery disposition, folkish witticisms and a dedication to make people supremely good about themselves.

Comforting yes, and therein lies much of the show’s appeal, but not entirely realistic, and yes, even Ted Lasso, fond of absurdist moments as it is – furry slippers worn at a wake? No problem; a football team performing a choreographed farewell to the team psychologist, Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles)? Why, but of course – needs to face up to the real world now and again.

Even more so when it’s in its second season – the first season was released in 2020 when good cheer was needed more than ever – and the characters are established, the premise is bedded down and the audience is good and ready to have the veil pulled away and see what happens to Ted Lasso when life catches up to him and is none too nice about it.

In this far more serious, though still joyously whimsical, second season, Ted has to face up to some significant demons that have been hovering around ever since he was a teenager and he experienced what by any estimation is an horrifically traumatic event.

Having established Ted as the kind of guy who bakes cookies for his boss and owner of Richmond AFC, Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), who spots coaching talent in the team’s water boy, Nate the Great (Nick Mohammed) and promotes him accordingly, and who bonds with his team with the simply but persuasive catchcry of “BELIEVE”, the show’s writers quite sensibly decide to see what lies behind Ted’s smiling façade.

Turns out, there is genuinely a lot of happy-go-lucky Lasso-ness skipping around with giddy abandon below the surface; Ted is honestly a genuinely nice, caring person and the show carefully tends to that truth, which underpins its considerable while making the case, and with great insight and empathy, that there is more going on that avuncular quips and garrulous energy.

Throughout the sometimes uneven second season, which occasionally struggles, though never fatally, to find its feet after the great battle to win hearts and minds has reached a happy conclusion in season one, Ted is revealed as sometimes with feet of clay in the form of teenage trauma that he has kept buried simply because, like many of us, he has absolutely no idea what to do with it.

Watching Ted come to grips with the darkness and sadness within is beautifully handled, and inordinately pleasing to watch, because the writer’s are respectful of who Ted has been established to be and yet, have the skill and the patience to push those boundaries and flesh Ted out in ways that makes you love him all the more for his vulnerability and rich, earthy humanity.

He’s a real person, happy and sad, and even when things go south such as when someone cruelly leaks an expose of Ted’s mental health problems to the media, Ted’s reactions feels real and grounded and entirely in keeping with everything we have come to know about him in both seasons.

Ted’s growth as a character is matched by that of key players such as ex-Richmond player, Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), who is shown to be a lovingly gruff uncle to the adorably gutsy Phoebe (Elodie Blomfield), harsh but caringly instructive coach to his old team and devoted boyfriend to the team’s straight-talking, warm and extrovert PR/social media guru, Keeley Jones (Juno Temple) who herself goes on the best of all arcs.

These two characters, and others such as Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) who gets his sparkly idiosyncratic self on to winning effect in episode 9 “Beard After Hours” and black sheep, showpony player Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), team manager Leslie Higgins (Jeremy Swift) who is one those sage and quietly caring people you most definitely want in your corner, and Nigerian player on the rise, Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh), who has experiences love in the most unexpected of ways, all come alive in new and affirming ways that suggest the writer’s very much have their eye on making Ted Lasso, a fully-rounded show that is happy to grow as its season progress.

You want that in a TV/streaming show – the ability to keep what is good about it and made it so well-loved in the first place while pushing the characters and the premise along to see what else can be done in a world you come to love with such intensity and passion that you very quickly stop simply watch it and begin to live it along with the characters.

Full marks to Ted Lasso then for being the very best it can be … mostly.

Where it comes a-cropper this season, and again not fatally, quite apart from the uneven tone throughout, is with its treatment of Nate the Great.

You will recall that in season one he was elevated by Ted from the team’s water boy and equipment handler to someone who had a seat at the coaching table and as a member of the Diamond Dogs, a grouping of Ted, Coach Beard, Leslie and later, somewhat reluctantly, Roy, who was mentored and championed by the now much-accepted American coaching interloper and who found a father figure of sorts in Ted who stands in stark contrast to the snarky lack of love and care shown by Nate’s own father.

He has had a lot of things go right since Ted arrived, and by any measure, should be thrilled to be anywhere near Ted and the big, warm-and-fuzzy inclusive family that is now Richmond AFC.

And yet, in a major misstep by the show, Nate spends the episode being transformed into a furiously resentful, massive chip-on-his-shoulder a**hole who believes the world isn’t doing enough to recognise his greatness, in particular Ted who Nate believes has turned his back on him.

To a point, the arc makes some sense; even the best of us can find ourselves mired in some unhealthy reactions to even good things in our life, dragged down by past and current trauma, and in Nate’s case, a desperate need to prove his worth to his father and assuage the significant insecurities he has accumulated as a result of being treated as a major disappointment all his life.

But the show goes too far, and in attempt to add a bad guy to the mix after a couple of characters relinquished the role, quite convincingly and upliftingly in season one and into season two, Ted Lasso overplays its hand and ends up with a monster that bears no real resemblance to the character we came to love in the first season.

Quite how that manifests must be left to the viewing, though episode 12, “Inverting the Pyramid of Success” will shock you in ways you don’t see coming, but suffice to say, it’s one stain on an otherwise mostly great, though not perfectly-realised season.

Thankfully there are a lot of great and wonderful parts to the world of Ted Lasso season two, including one of the most pitch-perfect Christmas episodes you will ever see in a TV show anywhere (all hail the heart-lifting wonder that is “Carol of the Bells”; so good it is getting its onw review come December) and it is, by and large, proof positive that it is possibly to be entirely nice while still being very grounded and human and that the mixing of the two, mostly extremely adroitly, make for TV so captivating that the idea of a third season, coming in 2022, is a very welcome one indeed.

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