This is something that may only be interesting to Ted Lasso fans who have also repeatedly watched Christopher Eccleston‘s season of Doctor Who, but Annette Badland, the actress who played the nefarious alien Blon Fel-Fotch in three episodes of the 2005 revival, plays pub proprietor Mae in the Apple TV+ comedy. Mae might not be an essential character of the show, but Ted Lasso the series and the person never treat her that way, and she’s hardly the only one. Take Hannah Waddingham as Rebecca, previously best known to American audiences as the nun who shamed Cersei on Game of Thrones, but who has truly blossomed in the spotlight, along with so many other members of the supporting cast, who have worked hard for years before getting an opportunity like this show.
I’m opening this review with all this because there’s simply something very Ted Lasso about it, talented actors and actresses getting global exposure and critical acclaim by virtue of being very good, and very willing to do the work. No show has ever celebrated the beautiful joys of an underdog story quite this way before, an energy that makes the upcoming premiere of Season 2 a complicated and fascinating thing.
After all, is Ted Lasso still Ted Lasso if it’s no longer the underdog? When it premiered a year ago, the buzz surrounding the sports comedy was low, in part because Apple TV+, as a platform, was only just beginning to find a footing here in the United States — a country not exactly known for its soccer fandom. Since then, while Apple has not released any official numbers on viewership, it’s safe to say that it’s become the platform’s flagship series, thanks to a months-long building of word-of-mouth unlike anything I’ve seen in recent memory. Maybe Stranger Things Season 1 had a similar rise from obscurity to pop culture obsession, with the key difference being that Netflix was a commonly-used streaming service when it premiered in 2016. Apple TV+, meanwhile, is still a baby streamer today, but when the Emmy nominations are announced this Tuesday it’s going to be a baby streamer with a real shot at the Outstanding Comedy Series prize. (But for the final season of Schitt’s Creek, it’d have two, not one, Golden Globes.)
While the show might be returning in a very different climate from the one in which it premiered, fundamentally very little has changed in the episodes provided to critics for review. Central as always to the series is the fate of AFC Richmond, with coach Ted (Jason Sudeikis) and owner Rebecca’s (Waddingham) bond becoming a major touchstone in Season 2, while the major new cast addition — Sarah Niles as a sports psychologist enlisted to assist the struggling players — quickly slips into the oddball ensemble with her own quirks but innate goodness intact.
Without going into spoilers, Season 2 does not pick up immediately after the events of Season 1, but there’s absolutely no period of adjustment needed to catch up on the new world order, mostly because our beloved players remain dogged by misfortune despite good intentions. (That sentence contains a terrible pun that you’ll be mad at me about, once you watch the season premiere, but I regret nothing.)
Certainly, since the beginning of Season 1, there have been big shifts for all the characters in their lives, and while there’s less of such growth in Season 2 so far, it’s still a present part of the narrative. Because if Season 2 does anything differently from Season 1, it’s an emphasis on amplification. Supporting cast members get more screen time and weightier storylines than Season 1. The overall message about looking to help others as a way of helping yourself becomes even more prevalent. And the concept of what it means to be a team is even more on display.
Sometimes Ted Lasso zigs in exactly the direction you expect it to zig, but then a few moments after zags you with a plot twist or character choice that surprises you in the best way. The producers know every trope under the sun, understand how the expected can deliver a certain sort of pleasurability familiarity, and do just enough to twist things in a way that brilliantly toes the line. There is something about soccer that makes it pretty compelling when it comes to sports drama — not only are the basic rules easy to follow, but the low-scoring nature of the game means that more often than not a game can hinge around just one lucky shot by one lucky player. (Smart move by Apple, by the way, to arrange for the Euro Cup final to air the day before the review embargo lifted; I ended up finishing up this review with half an eye on the Italy/England match, which ended up being a thrilling game.)
Core to what makes the writing of Ted Lasso worth examining on a fundamental level is how the show’s core ethos operates in conjunction with the narrative needs of a television show. One of the first things they teach you in screenwriting school is that stories are about conflict, and Season 1 in fact began with both a pretty clear protagonist in Ted and an antagonist in Rebecca. However, the show never leaned that too hard, and instead, by the end of the season, Rebecca was a committed ally of Ted’s — even when Richmond was met with brutal defeat in the season finale, she didn’t fire him, instead remaining committed to working with him to rebuild the team.
That’s not going to be easy, because Ted Lasso isn’t a show about how to be a kind person in a better world. Instead, it’s about how to be a kind person in the blunt, unkind world we’re stuck with. Sometimes, a good team with good players doesn’t get the W. Sometimes, marriages end in divorce, even if you’re a nice guy like Ted. Sometimes, your knee goes the wrong way and you don’t get back on the field again. Ted Lasso embraces the fact that life is sometimes very hard; it’s just also committed to the idea that we can still make it easier for each other.
Pain sometimes doesn’t survive in our memories, but rereading what I wrote about Season 1 for its premiere does remind me of we needed something nice so badly a year ago. We needed to see good people doing good things, out in the world. We needed a win, or at the very least a reminder that losing doesn’t have to last forever. We needed, in short, to believe. Ted Lasso Season 2 is premiering at a very different time, comparatively, but that doesn’t make it any less important or valuable or necessary. It’s hard to imagine a world where we wouldn’t need a show like this.
Ted Lasso Season 2 premieres Friday, July 23 on Apple TV+, with episodes released weekly.
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