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Halftime report: How’s Ted Lasso holding up in season 2?

As the second season passes the halfway mark, we check in with AFC Richmond
Brendan Hunt, Jason Sudeikis, Roy Goldstein, and Nick Mohammed in Ted Lasso
Brendan Hunt, Jason Sudeikis, Roy Goldstein, and Nick Mohammed in Ted Lasso
Photo: Apple TV+
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In its first season, Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso was one of the finest purveyors of sweet, life-affirming comedy. But not long after its highly anticipated second season debuted, the series became a lightning rod for online discussion. Things started off simply enough, as some viewers wondered if Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) and the rest of AFC Richmond were showing signs of the sophomore slump. Soon, there was talk of a backlash to the streaming favorite, then a backlash to the backlash. The feedback loop threatened to drown out constructive criticism of the show, including from our own Myles McNutt.

Those of us (including The A.V. Club’s TV editor Danette Chavez) who have always regarded the show as a lovely bit of escapism—nothing more, nothing less—are still a bit flummoxed as to how we got here. So, we turned to the Ted Lasso viewers on staff to get their thoughts on season two, kindness as an ethos, and whether a Christmas episode can be a bridge too far for a show like Ted Lasso. What followed was thoroughly in the spirit of being “curious, not judgmental”—but not without a few taunts.

What do you think of Ted Lasso season two so far?

Erik Adams: I’m enjoying it! And I think its game is now explicit after last week’s episode: As Dr. Fieldstone pushes the Richmond FC crew to get in touch with their feelings, Ted Lasso is trying on the formal trappings of a romantic comedy. Which probably explains why the season’s strongest material is in Roy and Keeley’s corner of the show.

Matt Schimkowitz: I’m having a very similar reaction to this season as I did to the first. I tend to enter every episode of Ted Lasso with my arms crossed, rolling my eyes and poking holes. But by the end, I find myself won over. I think first acts on Ted Lasso put me on edge (a play on words like “Rom-communism” or killing a dog are surefire ways to get under my skin). They always stick the landing, though. However, I’m not buying Ted’s one fear being therapy. They’ve built him up as too much of a worldly, cultured, open-minded, and open-hearted guy to be so thrown off by something as normal as therapy. It feels forced.

Shanicka Anderson: I’ve been loving it. Season two has been moseying along towards (and sometimes directly around) the conflict in a way that season one didn’t, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. In the world of K-dramas, the word “healing” is used to describe a show that is mostly lighthearted and makes you feel cozy and warm while you’re watching it and that’s how I feel about Ted Lasso; it’s my healing show of choice. Although… I do hope Ted finally peels back some of his oniony layers and deals with his emotional baggage. Because there’s potential for the show to explore really important storylines about mental health, and I hope it follows through.

Tatiana Tenreyro: I’ll admit that when I watched season-two screeners in one sitting, I sobbed for hours because of how incredibly wholesome it was. That’s in part because of Roy Kent and Sam’s storylines. I love that there’s a bigger focus on them this time around, and I’m a sucker for seeing Roy show his vulnerabilities. And yeah, it does make the show slightly less interesting to not have a big conflict this time around; I definitely thought the sponsorship storyline would create more chaos for the team. But one thing I realized is that regardless of whether there’s a new big challenge for Ted Lasso and the rest to overcome, that’s not why I want to watch the show. I’m tuning in because I love the characters so much, and I want to see them happy.

Alex McLevy: Count me among those who are finding season two to be a dip in quality, though nowhere near the strange “Ted Lasso is bad now” contingent that seems to have sprung up. (I get not caring for it from the start, but acting like it’s had some sort of cornball-heart transplant between seasons? Genuinely baffling.) The lack of sustained drama is hamstringing its effectiveness a bit, turning the warmhearted humanism into a sop, rather than a tonic; without the contrast provided by ongoing narratives of antagonism and conflict, all the feel-good vibes start to lose potency. If the show keeps dropping its potential sources of tension before they develop (the sponsorship, Jamie’s return, etc.), it’ll still be charming, but it won’t be great.

Saloni Gajjar: I already praised season two’s creative risks in my review, but I’m enjoying the slow build to Ted finally confronting underlying issues hidden under the guise of his extreme optimism. Halfway through the season, Ted Lasso is done with setting up the “conflict” everyone is talking about, and it’s more internal than external for almost everyone. The show has always been character-driven, so it doesn’t surprise me, and I’m excited to watch what comes next.

Did you enjoy the “Carol Of The Bells” episode? Why or why not?

EA: I’ve had my say on the topic already, so I’ll yield the floor to my esteemed colleagues.

TT: I have so many mixed feelings about the episode. I love the scenes featuring the team spending Christmas at Higgins’, and there’s something so sweet and hilarious about Roy knocking door-to-door seeing if there’s a dentist who can help his niece with her very stinky breath (though the Love Actually bit felt too corny). But I absolutely loathed the Rebecca storyline. It makes no sense for her character to spend every Christmas doing charity work. It’s like the writers forgot who she was in the first season, and the immense character growth she’s been through. Her scenes with Ted felt like a Christmas Lifetime movie—and certainly not in a good way. It was also extremely cheesy to end the episode with the buskers performing for the team in front of Higgins’ home. I get that Ted Lasso is supposed to be a feel-good show, but this episode was too much for me.

SG: I quite liked “Carol Of The Bells.” It’s properly saccharine and in line with the show. Ted Lasso still made it fun. Mainly, it was a way to show the evolution of characters and relationships, like Roy, Keeley, and Phoebe’s comfortably weird spin on Love Actually or the role reversal with Rebecca cheering up Ted for a change. I’m used to Christmas episodes being cheesy as hell, but I will concede that actually showing Santa Claus at the end was a little too much even for me.

MS: As an unabashed lover of Christmas and Christmas episodes, I didn’t see what was so controversial about “Carol Of The Bells.” The episode recalled classic sitcom Christmas episodes I watched growing up, like the kinds that hint at Santa Claus being real, such as Family Matters or Home Improvement. It was nice to take a break from season-wide concerns and watch the Higginses host the team. That’s enough for me. It was fun and light and emotional about togetherness—everything you want a Christmas episode to be. That said, the show definitely has some magic because Roy, Keeley, and Phoebe selling me on a Love Actually parody in 2021 is a Christmas miracle.

SA: I liked it a lot. When the episode started, I was a little disoriented because I expected us to pick up from the aftermath of Sam and the Dubai Air sponsorship. But once I realized that they were doing Christmas, I was fully onboard. I’m such a sucker for holiday-themed episodes. I feel like this is partly an inescapable byproduct of growing up in the Harry Potter era and also loving Doctor Who, but holiday episodes really give me that same cozy feeling I described above. I also appreciated how the addition of a Christmas special was a heartwarming little nod to British television tradition.

AM: Time to play Grinch, because I definitely didn’t care so much for the Christmas episode. There were parts I really liked—Higgins’ family Christmas with all the players was far and away the best part, for me—but the sacrifice of the show’s normal reality in favor of some hokey magical realism felt a step too far off the path that the series has defined for itself. I would’ve honestly preferred if the whole thing was Ted’s dream (and for a second there, it seemed like it was), rather than the coal in my stocking I took it as.

Ted Lasso, “Carol Of The Bells”
Ted Lasso, “Carol Of The Bells”
Photo: Apple TV+

Is kindness really getting in the show’s way this season?

TT: Here’s my theory on what went down with this season: I think the writers saw that the main point of conversation about Ted Lasso’s success was how wholesome it is. So, with that in mind, they decided to lean into the escapist quality of the wholesomeness, taking it a bit too far. It’s not really an issue about kindness getting in the show’s way, but rather the writers seemingly trying to give people what they believe they want, rather than delving deeper into Ted and the other characters’ challenges and shortcomings.

EA: But the show is delving into Ted’s shortcomings, in ways that demonstrate what kindness actually is. It is not, for example, the ludicrous display Ted puts on as he arrives to work in “The Signal,” the score and Jason Sudeikis’ performance working overtime to indicate that he’s laying it on a little thick. But a lack of aggressive spirit doesn’t necessarily equal kindness, either: You might’ve been tempted to label Nate one of the kinder characters on the show in season one, but his meekness disguises a mean streak. Fitting for an underdog sports story, you need some practice to achieve genuine kindness—and while others might think that makes for a roadblock, I think it gives Ted Lasso a worthy destination for season two (and beyond).

MS: No. The show’s ethos or tone, to my mind, hasn’t changed at all. What’s changed is the Discourse™. The easy read or meme-ified take on Ted Lasso is that it’s a nice show where good things happen to people. But that’s not what the show is. It’s a show where people face real challenges (divorce, oil spills, self-doubt), and characters meet those challenges through empathy and understanding. I think that’s a novel approach to storytelling and conflict resolution, but it’s very easy and inviting to be cynical about. And it’s very easy to take something as sincere as Ted Lasso down a peg.

SG: No, but the show’s examination of its kindness is possibly getting in the way. Not that Ted Lasso is doing a bad job of it; in fact, it’s the opposite. The slow burn reveal of Ted’s background is adding tension, especially after episode 6. It might be disorienting for viewers used to being comforted by Ted now that we’re digging into his trauma. But if Ted was aspirational before, he is far more relatable now. The ingrained kindness is present in varying degrees throughout the characters, and Ted Lasso is still about how it’s possible to overcome challenges with optimism. But I guess it’s easier to be cynical about such a simple concept. I also think most people binged season one, so season two’s weekly schedule, which means not getting all the answers immediately, is what’s throwing them off.

AM: Kindness has never gotten in anything’s way, least of all a television show. But kindness looks a lot less compelling when there’s not something to balance it against, and for the first half of the season, that was little more than a succession of dropped plot threads and temporary nullification of larger issues working against Ted and the team. But that’s sometimes the fun of a series—the waiting game. And it seems like the show is smart enough to know things need to get tough; it doesn’t mean the first half of this season is necessarily going to look any better in hindsight, but its fairly lightweight nature will need to be weighed against what comes next.

SA: The only thing kindness is getting in the way of is apparently Jamie’s ability to land an impressive half-pitch goal. But while I definitely don’t think it’s getting in the way, the show should continue to wade into deeper, more well-rounded subject matter without a fear of losing its “wholesomeness.” Now that Ted is seemingly ready to take care of his mental health, hopefully we will get to see that he can have trauma and baggage and still be the Ted (most) viewers have grown to love.

Now, look over at the other team, and tell them why they’re wrong.

MS: I don’t see that much of a change between seasons. Maybe we lost the nonsensical Major League-esque story arc about the mean owner lady wanting to tank the team, but I wouldn’t say we’re missing it. While this season does have some problems (mostly with Ted), the loudest criticisms are misplaced. They’re reacting to the general “you have to watch and love Ted Lasso” atmosphere that led up to season two. Now, the show lives in that Schitt’s Creek zone: easy to mock and hard to defend because sincerity isn’t and never will be cool. But to echo McLevy—whom I otherwise vehemently, in the strongest language possible, disagree with (sorry, Alex, just trying to juice this up)—I’m “genuinely baffled” by the people who think the show had a “cornball heart transplant.”

EA: The conventional release schedules for streaming television series have made you soft and impatient, and you have forgotten how to wait for a show—which, it should be noted, is run by someone whose experience is almost entirely in linear TV—to unspool a story one week at a time. Keep your pants on, take solace in your regularly scheduled delivery of grumpy Brett Goldstein reactions, and maybe find some pleasure in the way season two is spreading the storyline wealth to supporting player MVPs like Toheeb Jimoh.

SA: I just don’t get why the anti-Lasso crowd can understand why people watch shows like Succession and Gossip Girl (where everyone is rich, horrible, and mean to each other), but it’s so hard for them to wrap their brains around someone wanting to watch a bunch of characters being nice and affectionate. I think people have just decided to write the series off for being too sickly sweet with no substance, which is such a maddening disservice to Ted and the rest of the characters.