Watching Ted Lasso for the first time is meant to be disarming. The Apple TV+ series puts a character in front of us that we instinctively read cynically, because everyone around him—the news media, team ownership, his players, the fans—treat him as a joke. The fact the character originated as a commercial only increases the likelihood we’ll think of Ted as a walking punchline, a football manager Michael Scott for us to cringe at. Our relationship with the show is shaped by at what point we, as a viewer, embrace Ted’s endless positivity; its storytelling, meanwhile, is shaped not by AFC Richmond’s wins and losses, but by how each of the show’s characters accept the “Tao of Ted.”
I honestly don’t remember at what point I let down my guard and accepted Ted’s earnestness, but rewatching the show when you’re tuned to his wavelength—which I’ve done twice, because *gestures at state of the world*—really lets you focus on when each of the show’s characters turns the corner. Nate is first, because Ted is the first person to bother to learn his name, and Keeley follows shortly after because she’s a positive person and sees a kindred spirit. But while some characters like Higgins just can’t resist Ted’s charms, you have others—Roy, Rebecca, Jamie—whose character arcs are defined by the hangups they need to get past in order to accept Ted’s advice. And whether it’s Roy begrudgingly seeing himself in A Wrinkle in Time, Rebecca coming clean with Ted about how she had sabotaged him from the start, or Jamie poetically relegating Richmond by finally taking Ted’s advice to pass the ball once in a while, the show is built around us anticipating each character “waking up” to Ted’s philosophy like we did at some point in the earlier episodes.
Now, if you’re reading this as someone who has either never seen Ted Lasso or remains decidedly Tednostic, this probably sounds preposterous. And it’s safe to say that the show’s second season return is not going to turn you into a convert, as the world of Ted Lasso is not a safe space for those resistant to his charms. When Ted enters Rebecca’s office early in “Goodbye Earl,” he’s greeted with a chorus of “Ted!” from Rebecca, Keeley, and Higgins like he’s Norm entering the bar on Cheers, and I have to be honest: even as someone who was thrilled to return to this world, and who had excitedly hit play on the screener, this moment worried me. It’s one thing for everyone to be on Ted’s side; it’s another for the show’s characters to be channeling the same energy of someone who just binge-watched the entire first season. I felt similarly when just as I was about to add “The Independent” after Trent Crimm introduced himself, all the other journalists did it as well, as though they were just as in on the joke as I was.
These may be brief moments, but they were enough to make me question whether I was still tuned to Ted Lasso’s wavelength. “Goodbye Earl” bypasses the aftermath of AFC Richmond’s relegation to jump forward to the team working their way through their season and caught in an endless string of ties, and I couldn’t shake the idea that the episode was similarly stuck. The episode’s central problem—Dani Rojas getting the yips after accidentally killing the team’s greyhound mascot with a penalty kick—isn’t a huge departure, and the jokes and their rapid fire timing are about on par with the show’s norm. But while there’s nothing in the episode that I would point to as a grievous misstep, as the episode progressed I worried that the first season’s narrative arc transformed the show into a pastiche of itself. What if, absent the journey from skeptic to believer and the backdrop of (the first round of) pandemic quarantines, Ted Lasso is just a pleasant-enough comedy about likeable people solving problems? What if it is, like Rebecca’s prospective suitor we’re introduced to in this premiere, just “fine?”
By the end of “Goodbye Earl,” though, I came to two conclusions. The first is that I believe there’s no way the show can recapture the energy it had at the end of last season, and I do wonder if the writers—here Coach Beard himself, Brendan Hunt—felt the pressure of recreating that energy given how some of the premiere feels just a tad bit off. The second is that a lot of what I was responding to is sort of the point of the episode, and seemingly central to the thematic goals of the season as a whole. Ted puts a positive spin on Richmond’s string of draws and successfully taps into his personal history with dogs to handle the aftermath of Earl’s tragic death, but the truth is that there is tension under the surface. Ted’s asked at what point he’ll hit the panic button amidst the team’s inability to break through with a win, and while he isn’t there yet, there is a cost to maintaining endless optimism in the face of adversity, and Ted Lasso’s second season seems poised to explore at what point those costs come to bear.
This is particularly true for Ted personally, as Dani’s struggle with the yips leads to a logical solution—Higgins brings in a sports psychologist, Dr. Fieldstone (Sarah Niles)—and a complicated response from Coach Lasso. One of the first season’s tricks was how the show undercut Ted’s external optimism with a glimpse of his sadness surrounding his divorce, and so it’s not surprising to see him bristle at the idea of therapy. Even before he explains that he had a bad experience with his ex-wife Michelle, and even if we discount the autobiographical dimensions for Jason Sudeikis that are hard to ignore, it makes sense that Ted would resist the idea of someone else coming in to fix a problem in his locker room. The whole point of Ted’s philosophy is that belief—it’s on the sign, after all—in the power of positive thinking is enough to overcome even the most stubborn of problems, whether it be a cursed physio room or a curmudgeonly veteran. And even when that breaks down, as it did for him as he was processing his divorce, you don’t go to someone else for help: you rely on the people around you, like when Rebecca talked him through his panic attack. Having to bring in someone else to solve your problem is, to Ted and others who resist going to therapy, admitting your failure at solving it yourself.
It’s a storyline that solves the immediate problem—Dani realizes that football is life and death, and also just football—while creating a host of others. Ted’s reaction to Dani getting his head together is part jealousy and part envy: he’s jealous someone else solved a situation he couldn’t crack, and he’s envious that someone else was able and willing to get help he struggles to ask for. He goes upstairs intending to talk to Dr. Fieldstone himself, either to learn how to do what she does or ask for the help he knows on some level he needs for his own issues, but he finds a group of his players seeking guidance, pushing his jealousy to the surface. Ted’s vulnerabilities may no longer be revelatory, but the extent of them is something that his players—and the outside world—don’t have any awareness of, and based on the premiere the season is building to the moment when the “real” Ted Lasso breaks through the public-facing positivity.
Showing people your real self is inherently challenging in all circumstances, but it’s particularly true when you’re convinced that doing so will destroy the tenuous balance of your existence. It’s why there’s an inclination to accept an endless string of ties, because despite the fact you aren’t winning, you aren’t losing, and isn’t that really the concern? Rebecca’s story here is built around the idea that she’s dating again, and has found someone who Keeley agrees ticks all the boxes: Age appropriate! Financially appropriate! Not shy! But once Roy gets a look at him, he correctly identifies him as the human equivalent of a tie, and Rebecca realizes that she’s been looking at the idea of relationships wrong. She’s been protecting herself for so long that she was willing to accept a fairweather football fan who tells nothing but stories about Broadway just because he isn’t an abject embarrassment, and the support structure she had formed—positive reinforcement at the expense of honesty from Keeley and (briefly) Ted—was equipped to let her continue getting away with it. I am hopeful that Hannah Waddingham isn’t limited to Rebecca’s dating life for the entire season, but her moment of revelation in the coffee shop gives the story more gravitas than it maybe deserves, and hopefully sets her up for a more fulfilling journey.
When Roy isn’t dispensing with the “girl talk” and telling Rebecca the truth, he’s ignoring making big decisions about his retirement. Given that Sarah Niles is a series regular, I have to presume that she’ll eventually be enlisted to help address everyone’s problems, and I am already anticipating a possible showdown between her and Roy. In the wake of a retirement speech that apparently went viral (and which we don’t see here, although presumably we’ll see it eventually), Roy is actively avoiding his old life: he isn’t joining Keeley at AFC Richmond’s home games, he refuses to talk to Sky Sports about becoming a pundit, and he’s content for the yoga moms who have no idea he’s a footballer to be his only friends. And while Keeley is right to apologize for trying to pressure him into the Sky Sports gig, there’s no question that he’s yet to come to terms with his retirement, insofar as there is no way he can ever run away from it entirely. At episode’s end, his last football-free haven—the reality TV he watches with the yoga moms—is poisoned by the presence of Jamie Tartt, and Roy seethes as his former rival stars on Lust Conquers All. While Roy—unlike Ted—is able to release his anger on a regular basis, there’s still a deeper insecurity tied to his retired life, and it feels possible that both Dr. Fieldstone and Ted will be putting their philosophies to the test in order to help him confront that.
And in this way, “Goodbye Earl” is meant to disarm us: we’re presented with an overly cheery version of AFC Richmond’s status quo, where everyone is happy even when the team is no closer to escaping relegation, and where none of the characters have resolved any of the inner struggles that were revealed over the course of last season. And so while Dr. Fieldstone’s arrival is positioned to solve those and other struggles, her sudden arrival disrupts the honeymoon vibe the show entered by the end of last season, and creates a foundation on which the show will hopefully build a new journey for these characters worthy of their journey thus far.
- The largest breadcrumb that the premiere doesn’t have time to delve into is what’s happened to Nate in the gap between the end of the previous season and where we pick things up: he’s treating his replacement like dirt, and intends to motivate Dani by throwing his salary in his face, and you can see Ted and Coach Beard raising their eyebrows at his loss of perspective. Feels like another problem for Dr. Fieldstone.
- It feels a little formulaic to see every issue as a future Dr. Fieldstone story, but Sarah Niles—who I last saw as the detective on I May Destroy You—has a disarming presence that I’m sure the show will want to use with every character combination possible.
- I suppose we’ll know better once we actually see Roy’s retirement speech, but it’s fitting that he has his own viral moment not unlike Ted’s, in terms of linking their circumstances together. Definitely interested in seeing Retirement Roy interact with more of the show’s characters as he gets pulled back into the team’s orbit a bit more.
- In addition to the return of several of last season’s players, we’re also introduced to Jan, the overly honest Dutch person, who gets most of the player punchlines with his blunt assessments of the problems afoot.
- “Biscuits with the Boss” is still a thing, lest the show’s new merch be immediately out-of-date.
- I legitimately don’t know if we’re meant to interpret Dani Rojas waking up from his cartoon dream with two women in his bed to be a sign of his emotional distress or just his normal life? Open to opinions on whether Dani is normally a threesome kind of guy.
- “Tom Cruise was rocking a tiny little ponytail in both those films”—I don’t know why I thought I wouldn’t be on the show’s wavelength anymore, given how often I’m a step ahead of Coach Beard or Ted when they get into their pop culture banters. (See also: the Gin Blossoms argument).
- “And remember, this is when tickets to STOMP were hard to get”—Rebecca deserves extra biscuits for staying attentive for as much of that date as she did.
- I’m presuming that Jamie is hurt if he’s on Ted Lasso’s version of Love Island? I imagine the second episode will give us a bit more insight into what Jamie’s been up to, given that Phil Dunster remains part of the regular cast.
- This is only for some of you, but the two times I rewatched the show it most reminded me of the experience of rewatching the Lost series finale and waiting for each character to wake up from the Flash Sideways, but with waiting for each character to realize that Ted was actually great.
- Welcome to our weekly coverage of Ted Lasso! Will digging deeper into how the show works suck the fun out of it? I’m a little worried about that, to be honest! But I am entering into this process believing that the show will both stand up to this scrutiny and become richer for being subject to it, and thus I hope you’ll join me in the comments to explore this next stage in Ted and AFC Richmond’s journey. If you have something specific you want to address and would prefer to bypass the comments, you can reach me on Twitter.