At the moment, there are few TV series more beloved than Ted Lasso, a culture-clash comedy that became a can’t-miss sensation largely due to word of mouth. The initial reviews were strong, sure, but reviews alone don’t usually elevate a show on a streaming service that a lot of viewers aren’t sure whether they even have into the center of the cultural conversation. Something about Ted Lasso struck a chord of the sort last sounded by The Good Place. It was funny, charming, and quotable, but it also had a lot on its mind beyond making easy jokes about an unassuming Yank football coach trying to figure out how to coach an English soccer (sorry, football) team despite having no experience with the sport (and being viscerally repulsed by the taste of tea). Ted Lasso humbly asked some big questions and strived to be a show about what it means to be a good person. It did so without resorting to easy lessons or simple moralizing, and in Ted (series co-creator Jason Sudeikis) it found an avatar of goodness who was both unmistakably, goofily human and a man of unexpected complexity.
Ted Lasso’s success has allowed the series to build up considerable goodwill going into its second season, so much so that it feels confident enough to open its second season by killing a dog. And not just any dog: Earl Greyhound, the lovable mascot of Ted’s AFC Richmond. As if being recently demoted from the Premier League to the Championship League and opening a season with a record-setting seven straight ties weren’t bad enough, now AFC Richmond has to deal with a dead, adorable animal and a stadium full of traumatized fans (to say nothing of those watching online).
What’s worse, it’s the sweet, unfailingly enthusiastic Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernández) who accidentally kills poor Earl. Randy Johnson might have been able to kill a bird with a fastball, then refuse to talk about it for the rest of his career, but Dani’s a different sort of athlete. Even the world’s longest clothes-on shower can’t wash the guilt away. And no matter how many attempts Ted makes to bring Dani back down to earth with kindness and homespun wisdom, it becomes a huge crisis. Ted hitting a brick wall with the man who made “Football is life!” a mantra feels as though it may be a preview of the season to come. Are some problems too big even for Ted? And where does the man who helps others turn when he needs help?
It’s not that Ted has lost his effectiveness. In the press conference that follows the game — another tie — Trent Crimm of The Independent (James Lance) asks the tough question about poor Earl. In return, he gets a stirring reminiscence of Ted’s youth, how he became afraid of dogs after being attacked by a neighbor’s as a toddler, how he overcame that fear years later to take care of that same dog when his grieving neighbor no longer could, and how he then had to put the dog down when it became ill. “It’s funny to think about how the things in your life that can make you cry just knowing they existed,” Ted says, “can then become the same things that make you cry knowing that they’re now gone. Those things come into our lives to help us get from one place to a better one.” Ted Lasso’s still got it, in other words, and so has Ted Lasso, which turns what could have been a mean bit of dark humor into a reminder of how moving this show can be and how effortlessly it can shift gears.
Not that a few things haven’t changed in the world of Ted Lasso itself. A bit of time has passed since the end of the first season, and everyone’s still trying to figure out what their next steps will be. With the desire to use the team to exact revenge on her husband now well behind her, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) has dipped her toe into the dating waters once again, with a little guidance from Keeley (Juno Temple), who approves of her match with the amusingly named John Wingsknight (Patrick Baladi) — at least in theory. (Ted’s a bit stuck on the name. “Like ‘Monday night’s wings night down at PJ Flats?’”)
But a double date with Keeley and Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) leaves Rebecca feeling as if she’s settling. It’s not that Keeley and Roy hate John, even if he does go on a bit about Broadway shows. “He’s fine. That’s it,” Roy tells her. “Nothing wrong with that. Most people are fine. It’s not about him. It’s about why the fuck he deserves you. You deserve someone who makes you feel like you’ve been struck by fucking lightning.” A lunch date with John set to Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up” (a callback to an earlier reference to Magnolia) makes her realize Roy’s right. But how often do people get struck by lightning?
Roy’s going through his own period of transition. Having retired from football after delivering a speech that others are still talking about, he’s a bit adrift in how he spends his days. He enjoys coaching his niece Phoebe’s (Elodie Blomfield) football team (even if he does call the players “little pricks”), and he still gets a lot of hanging out with the yoga moms. But, beyond that, what’s a man who has devoted his whole life to playing football to do when there’s no more football to be played? Keeley has ideas, or at least one idea: Sky Sports has reached out more than once to see if Roy is interested in becoming a pundit. Seeing it as a “shit job for shit people,” Roy passes. That he has no ideas of his own, however, may mean trouble down the line.
Meanwhile, back on the pitch, Dani’s problems have gotten worse. After waking (between two women) from a nightmare that includes a doomed animated greyhound goalie and exclaiming “Football is death!” he finds he can’t make goals anymore, any goals, much less play at the level he used to play. When Ted’s encouragement can’t turn Dani’s performance around, the coaches realize he may be suffering from their worst fear, something they can’t even say out loud: the yips.
Higgins (Jeremy Swift) offers one possible solution: therapy. But Ted’s not so sure, expressing his attitude toward the practice as “general apprehension and a modest midwestern skepticism.” Ted’s one experience, a session of couples counseling, left him feeling burned. And yet, with a little push from Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) he agrees to bring in an outsider to help with a problem he recognizes he can’t solve.
Ted’s wariness doesn’t stop him from giving Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles) a celebratory greeting, complete with a dance, when she arrives. It is not received well by the no-nonsense doctor (not “Doc”), who lets Ted know that the yips — and she’s not afraid to say the word — is a real condition that can be treated “by discipline and not denial.”
A couple of things: First, that song-and-dance routine is really something. Is Ted more, well, Ted when he’s uncomfortable? One of the great strengths of Sudeikis’s performance is the way he lets us know what Ted is thinking even when he appears to be goofing off. Ted’s not a phony, but he doesn’t always reveal everything that’s going on to everyone all the time. Last season’s darts scene is the most extreme example of this, one in which his folksy, harmless exterior proved to be a useful façade. But it’s an element in just about every scene. Ted’s not a simpleton; he’s a deeply complicated man.
Second, “discipline and not denial” almost sounds like something Ted would say himself, or at least think and then rephrase in a nonthreatening way. Are he and Dr. Fieldstone really so far apart in their thinking? It’s also possible that Dr. Fieldstone sizes him up as someone going through his own fit of denial. We know Ted misses his son. Does he feel adrift in other ways, too? Dr. Fieldstone certainly proves pretty quickly, as she claims, that she’s good at her job, snapping Dani out of his fearful funk and expanding his thinking. “Football is life,” he now understands. “But it is also death. But football is football, too.”
So Dani’s all right for now. Ted, Rebecca, and Roy are having to rethink a few things. Nate seems to be settling into his new role as assistant coach with a little too much enthusiasm, cracking the whip at Will (Charlie Hiscock), who has taken his place, with a bit too much zeal. Higgins, Keeley, and the team members we met last season have mostly played supporting roles in others’ stories, but given Ted Lasso’s generous treatment of its ensemble cast, it would be surprising if that lasts the whole season.
Who does that leave? Oh, right, Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster). Then, just when it seems as if maybe Ted Lasso has decided the egomaniacal striker’s story has run its course, there he is as a contestant on the reality show Lust Conquers All, to the delight of the yoga moms Roy enjoys hanging out with, and less so for Roy. He may be trying to put his past behind him, but it keeps finding unexpected ways to surface.
• Lust Conquers All is not a real show, but it seems to be a thinly disguised parody of Love Island, which is (and is currently in its seventh season).
• It’s always a risk making sitcom characters too likable and having them like one another too much, too soon. Gone, in season two, are Rebecca’s scheming, Higgins’s serving as her pawn, and other elements that seemed baked into the premise of the show. But really, they’ve been gone for a while. Ted Lasso softened its edges without becoming squishy around the first season’s halfway point, and, as before, it’s making that softness work. Any tension between them long forgotten, Rebecca and Keeley have become the best of friends. And with a little primer on how it works, Ted has grown close enough to Rebecca to be a surrogate for their girl talk when Keeley’s not around. (He’s also secure enough in his manhood to be a guinea pig for new nail-polish colors.) It’s all incredibly pleasant yet never bland, finding drama less in the conflicts between characters than in their inner struggles.
• Another advantage of familiarity: The more time we spend with these characters, the more attuned we become to subtle touches. At this point, Brett Goldstein can get a laugh — and convey Roy’s mood — with a subtle shift of his eyebrows or by altering the rasp of his voice a little. Temple’s and Waddingham’s performances make a nice study in contrast. Keeley holds none of her feelings back, letting every emotion register on her face, and Rebecca rarely has an unguarded moment.
• “I haven’t seen someone that disappointed to see me since I wore a red baseball cap to a Planned Parenthood fundraiser.” “Did we really make Michael Jordan cry?” Again, it’s an incredibly quotable show.