We’re nearing the halfway point in Ted Lasso’s second season, and with last week’s Christmas outing signaling the end of the first act, I expected “Rainbow” would transition the show into exploring the conflicts brewing under the surface at AFC Richmond.
To a certain extent, this is true: With the team still struggling, Roy Kent is enlisted to help replacement captain Isaac regain his smile, and by the end of the episode he’s on the sidelines as the team’s newest assistant coach. That’s positioned as a triumph for Roy and the team’s fans, but the camera lingers on a seething Nate, who throughout the episode learns to assert himself and suddenly discovers that he’s being replaced (or, at the very least, pushed aside). Nate’s spent the season struggling to discover his voice as a coach, bullying his replacement equipment manager and often lashing out in response to the various challenges they’ve faced, and now his identity crisis is only furthered by a reminder he isn’t a “big dog,” even if he is a Diamond Dog.
But on a larger level, I need to admit that the idea there was no fallout from Sam’s Dubai Air protest two episodes ago is a significant concern. Actually, technically, there was fallout: Dubai Air dropped out as the team’s primary sponsor, with Keeley’s dating app client bantr having now replaced all mentions of the airline on both the team’s jersey and stadium. But the show doesn’t even mention this development, despite the fact it seems unlikely a relatively new dating app would offer the type of sponsorship money necessary to replace a major airline. Admittedly, it’s becoming clearer why the financial operations of the club aren’t a crisis, given that Rebecca’s initial solution to Nate’s problem with the Greek restaurant was to buy it outright: by all accounts, she can comfortably cover the team’s costs while they work their way out of relegation. But it was one thing for the show to bypass any potential fallout in a Christmas episode, and another thing entirely to be moving on as though only positive outcomes came from a Nigerian player leading a massive protest against an English football team’s biggest sponsor. This is especially true in the wake of the racism faced by England players following their Euro finals loss, a cause Sudeikis himself spoke out about at the show’s premiere event back in July.
The message the show is sending is that we’re meant to just forget about the protest: Sam stood up for his people, Ted stood behind his players, and Rebecca stood behind the team instead of the fat cats of corporate corruption, all without any real consequences. It’s a troubling development on two levels. On the one hand, it kind of undoes some of the very effective work of that episode itself, which earned the right to give the characters a moment to acknowledge the good that was done but is lessened by having none of the consequences the episode itself raised come to pass. On the other hand, and perhaps more concerningly, it makes me inherently skeptical of every other story point the show raises from this point forward. It’s one thing for Ted Lasso’s “radical positivity” to resolve smaller conflicts, but this was a significant one, and to see it tossed aside connects with some of the chatter in the comments from those who fear the show’s desire to be nice means an allergy to meaningful conflict and consequences for characters’ actions (which particularly blew up around the Christmas episode, both in my review and in Erik Adams’ piece about the episode).
However, I realize that not everyone might share this concern, so let’s put this aside for a moment to say that “Rainbow” has a central storyline that mostly works. Reframing Roy Kent and football as star-crossed lovers in a romantic comedy is charming, and using “She’s A Rainbow” to soundtrack his epic journey to reunite with his one true love on the pitch is an example of the show understanding the effectiveness of forcing Roy into its whimsical world. Nothing about Roy Kent is whimsical—which is why his “You had me at coach” line crossed into schmaltz for me, forgive my cynicism—and so him coming to terms with the fact that his desire to be part of the game he loves has such a powerful hold over him provides comic contrast as well as legitimate pathos. Roy’s arc this season has been about baby steps: becoming a pundit made him realize that leaving football behind entirely was impossible, and helping Isaac get his groove back made him realize that no amount of tweets and GIFs will give him the feeling he had when he was able to made a direct impact on a player. While Ted might have been pulling some strings, the show is smart not to make this about Ted, much as it didn’t make the pundit story about Keeley. It’s simply an extension of the show’s argument that friends and loved ones are there to help you unlock something in yourself, if you let them crash your kebab lunch.
That’s essentially what Keeley and Rebecca try to do for Nate here, although I admittedly find this story a bit more complicated than I fear the show does. Throughout the season, I have found Nate entirely unpleasant, and so I’m not sure how I’m supposed to be reacting to this story where he learns to be more confident and stand up for himself. As fun as it is to see Rebecca trying to teach him to “make himself big,” am I supposed to be happy he got his win with his parents’ dinner reservation when it feels like this will only worsen his toxic behavior within AFC Richmond? To be clear, I don’t think Nate is a bad person by any means, but it was weird to see a story about how he needs to learn to assert himself that did nothing to interrogate how his way of asserting himself in the workplace has been replicating the aggression he was subject to before he became a coach. There’s a moment with Keeley and Rebecca where they realize he only has two gears—absolute submission and utter rage—but it’s mostly unremarked upon. This strikes me as a case where Nate actually needs Dr. Fieldstone’s help more than Rebecca’s strategies, and so I’m hopeful the show will dig deeper into this (and, given Nate is seething at Roy’s arrival, that certainly does seem likely).
The rest of “Rainbow” is mostly a collection of small moments tied to the episode’s “rom-communism” theme, which...look, I realize this makes me out to be a right git, but it didn’t work for me. It was a bit too cute when Ted introduced it, too on-the-nose every time it came up after, and reached a real breaking point with the homage to the couples interviews in When Harry Met Sally. As the show settles into its formula, its efforts to shake things up remind me of how Scrubs used themes for its episodes, but there J.D.’s narration and the show’s fantasy sequences created spaces for the show to explore those themes in whimsical ways that never entirely broke the “realism” of the show itself (at least in early seasons, before the middle seasons of the show veered away from it). And so while it was one thing for Ted to have his players brainstorming RomCom stars as he tries to spin a weak metaphor about trusting that everything will all work out, it was another to break the fourth wall for a pretty mediocre punchline about the plot of Titanic, and sticking to the montage of different couples settling in for the game and topping it off with Higgins and his wife’s lovely little moment would have been more effective. In other words, while I’ll forgive the appearance of Santa as an act of Christmas whimsy, none of what bothered me here has the same excuse.
I remain charmed by Ted Lasso’s micro-level whimsy, whether it’s the Sheffield Wednesday repartee or the notion that Roy Kent once dated Gina Gershon, but what “Rainbow” reinforced is that extending to macro-level whimsy as this RomCom theme did doesn’t work as well. Between the lack of fallout from Sam’s protest, the missed connections on Nate’s behavior, and the cutesiness of the whole affair, it’s an episode that I liked better the second time I watched it when I wasn’t focused as much on all that and could simply take in the show’s base-level pleasures. In other words, it’s an example of how writing about this show in this format may in some ways be antithetical to its way of being, even if I do feel like that tension reveals some missed opportunities worth digging into (at least as the season has played out thus far).
- When she’s not mentoring Nate on asserting himself, Rebecca is busy flirting with someone on Bantr that the show is definitely turning into a mystery (complete with nods to You’ve Got Mail with the usernames). My instinct? Her ex, Rupert. Open to other suggestions, based on their dramatic potential, although the episode definitely wants us to think it’s Ted based on the cut from Rebecca typing to Ted on his phone right before the game.
- I realize the ensemble cast is too wide for everyone to get involved in every story, but given that Rebecca’s conversation with Higgins and Nate’s desire to be a celebrity both speak to issues of branding, it would have an easy way to loop Sam back into that conversation and at least explain what the hell happened between now and then.
- In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, co-creator Joe Kelly—who wrote last week’s Christmas episode—explained that the episode was actually not planned as part of the season, and was only added when Apple extended the show’s order to 12 episodes after the room had broken it as a 10-episode season. And so that means that the original plan had been to go directly from Sam’s protest to this rosy aftermath, which I think would have made it worse? But it’s still a pretty glaring misstep for me, barring some type of course correction later in the season that feels unlikely.
- Higgins throws out a quick reference to AFC Wrexham, which was purchased by Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney and will soon be the subject of a docuseries. Curious if we get a crossover cameo in due time, given that McElhenney is part of the Apple family via Mythic Quest.
- Roy thought the “moustachioed surprise that would anger him” might be Wario, but I’m choose to believe that Waluigi would have actually made him happy, because frankly I feel like they’d get along. I don’t know why, it’s just a feeling.
- “Did he just say Tooting?”—I know nothing about Tooting, and thus can’t speak directly to whether this has any specific classed or racialized dimensions or if it was just chosen because it sounds funny. (When I Googled Tooting the first suggested search was “Is Tooting safe?” and reader, I giggled.)
- “Fuck you’re amazing, let’s invade France”—as I am writing this, Variety just released a cover story about Hannah Waddingham and Juno Temple’s friendship that is a delight, so this was a well-timed, great moment.
- After the conspicuous Grindr joke a few episodes ago, we get another moment for Colin, but it’s just Keeley warning him to not make his Nespresso sponcon post about Welsh independence, so still on the lookout for any kind of followup there.
- For the record, “Easy Lover” runs a lengthy 5:05, so the idea of Ted getting dressed and out the door in that amount of time is pretty reasonable.
- “I gave you an indoor whistle”—given how many of us likely rewatched the first season, I appreciate that they’re willing to let callbacks like this one go without too much explanation. You either remember Nate’s bad whistle etiquette or you don’t, and the show just moves along.
- Beyond fully licensing “She’s A Rainbow,” the music supervisor also shelled out for “Song 2,” so I still really want to know their music budget.
- “I believe you have a ticket under Reba McEntire”—fun payoff to Roy’s tickets being under the name of country singers.
- I’ll be honest and say that the first time I watched this episode, I didn’t bother to look up what “piles” means in the U.K. because Beard’s refusal to go along with it was very persuasive. Now that I’ve actually looked it up? He’s right, that’s dumb.
- While the episode’s not necessarily a huge showcase for Kola Bokinni despite Isaac’s prominence, he nailed both the sullen anger of his slump and his just absolute joy when he sees Roy walking onto the pitch.
- On a personal note, a couple weeks back I had the pleasure of attending my first professional football match, as the Halifax Wanderers of the Canadian Premier League took on York United. And while the highlights show that is was sort of a heartbreaking result as a Haligonian, I had a wonderful time in the “Kitchen” among the diehard fans, even if every time they set a chant to the same melody as “He’s Here, He’s There,” I had to suppress my instinct to end with “Roy Kennnnnnt, Roy Kennnnt.” But I hope that the show is getting more North Americans out to support their local professional soccer team, both men’s and women’s.