The reveal that Ted’s father died by suicide was a critical turning point in Ted Lasso’s second season, and a reminder that the show is not afraid to put silly comedy alongside heavier drama. Overall, I would argue that Ted Lasso is objectively good at calibrating its various tones, but it is also very much invested in testing the boundaries of what it can accomplish, and embracing the excesses of the emotional swings to maximize their effect. But as we saw with the Christmas episode, some viewers have natural limits: no one could ever argue that the DNA for a sappy Christmas special wasn’t part of Ted Lasso’s first season, but it’s only natural that some felt there is such a thing as too much sentiment. And while I was fine with the Christmas episode, I experienced something similar last week with the sweeping romanticism of Sam and Rebecca, which—even if it eventually gets complicated—seemed to flatten their story arcs to that point.
There were a few comments last week that framed this criticism as “being mad the show didn’t do what you wanted it to,” but I would argue that it’s instead a reminder that Ted Lasso’s tonal mashup creates varying understandings of what type of show it is and what its goals are, and in any given week it will position itself relative to those different wavelengths. The Christmas episode triggered this in particular because it was added to the season after Apple asked them for two additional episodes, and they chose to find space to add “bonus” episodes as opposed to re-breaking the season arc they had planned. Thus, while most of the season’s episodes were designed as part of a larger balancing act, the Christmas episode was conceived outside of that framework, and was more clearly able to indulge in the holiday spirit as it saw fit.
This is why I’m so curious how viewers will respond to “Beard After Hours,” which is almost certainly the second of the two episodes that Apple requested be added to the season. Because while the Christmas episode indulged in well-worn tropes of holiday specials to test the limits of the show’s schmaltz, “Beard After Hours’’ is far more experimental, both in isolating its focus to a single character and in sending that character on a reality-bending journey into London’s nightlife that’s far afield from the show’s regular tone. Struggling to shake off the sheer scale of the loss to Man City, and weathering his latest breakup with Jane, Beard stumbles through a series of misadventures that give us our first real insight beyond his inscrutable demeanor as he loses his pants, squabbles with an imaginary Thierry Henry, and eventually finds religion with Jane and a hula hoop.
Although not quite as ubiquitous as Christmas episodes, the “POV shift” is nonetheless a recognizable episode structure, and one that on the surface would seem like an easy way to “pad out” the season without having to disrupt the narrative flow. POV shifts are meant to be revealing, either focusing on a character’s perspective to reorient our understanding of the story as a whole, or by delivering a side story for that character that reorients their place within the main narrative (or, in an ideal world, both). In an interview about the Christmas episode, Rob Kelly—who wrote that episode and co-wrote this one—said that their goal was to position the standalone episodes between “when shit goes down and is about to go down,” which is naturally a point at which the audience is reflecting on the season thus far. And so going into “Beard After Hours,” my expectation was that his journey would be a bridge between the Man City loss and whatever the fallout will be, and that our new understanding of his perspective would shape those events.
Unfortunately, though, that never materialized, and I regret to say that I found “Beard After Hours” to be almost shockingly dull. Some of this has to do with specific creative choices made within the episode. For one, it’s at least ten minutes too long: the idea that we needed as much time to explore Beard’s night out as we did to tell the stories in last week’s episode is absurd, and I don’t really understand how this wasn’t trimmed down either in the original script stage or in editing. The pacing is glacial, and there are scenes—like his failed attempt to convince the hotel desk clerk to let him use his phone—that are entirely irrelevant to even the minimal plot details supporting this meandering narrative. I realize that the spiraling of the story—the femme fatale, the jealous boyfriend chase scene, the fist fight with Jamie’s father—is meant to be like he’s trapped in a never-ending cliche of movie tropes, but the episode lacks the forward momentum to make that feel thrilling instead of a bit of a slog.
However, it’s important to acknowledge that it’s impossible to divorce our experience of this episode from its place within the season, which is a far more difficult spot to justify this type of narrative diversion than even the Christmas outing. Early in a season, each episode carries a smaller burden in terms of extending or building on the overall narrative, but “Man City” dramatically raised the stakes of the season, and the meandering quality of “Beard After Hours” is hard to accept in that context. The episode begins with the suggestion that we’ll be unpacking Beard’s relationship with Ted and the team, as the imaginary commentators reveal his insecurities over allowing the team’s offensive plan to move forward, and he’s trying to chase away his memories of the game throughout the night. But all his quest to avoid the game did was remind me how I really wish the episode wasn’t avoiding the game, and that this episode needed to do more to connect with the show’s other stories from Beard’s perspective for it to feel like anything other than a waste of time at this point in the season.
I might have felt differently if the episode had actually revealed much of anything about Beard, but it ended up having very little to actually say. Brendan Hunt’s performance as Beard has always been built on mystery, and it’s an important part of the show’s dynamic. The scene in the first season where he loses his cool with Ted and reminds him that they’re dealing with professional athletes now is one of the few instances where it feels like we’re getting a glimpse of something beneath the public presentation he’s chosen. And while we get a bit more of an unfiltered look at Beard’s mind as he gets philosophical with the barflies and stumbles through his misadventures, the episode never commits to revealing anything significant that would reorient our understanding of his choices, and certainly not enough to justify how much time is spent on the endeavor. When he’s in the team meeting with coffee the next morning in his shiny new pants, the goal is to create a moment where we know a story that his fellow coaches don’t, but what does knowing that story really add to our experience of the show?
Of course, this is in some ways unknowable: if a goal of a POV shift is to reorient us for the story that’s about to come, we don’t know that story, and thus it’s possible some piece of what we saw here in “Beard After Hours” could be vitally important in the remaining three episodes of the season. But given how much story there is left to tell with the conclusion of the Championship League season, and the fallout from everything that happened in “Man City,” it’s hard to wrap my head around how 40 minutes of Beard is the best use of the show’s time. I don’t know if it’s that I’m less interested in Beard’s character than others are, or if I’m just at a different place with regards to the season’s story arc, but I constantly felt like the story was isolating itself in an unproductive space throughout the episode. And yes, because it wasn’t working for me, I did start brainstorming other options, if they wanted to shift perspective. What if we had gone home with several different players who usually remain in the background? What if Beard had split time in the episode with someone like Higgins as a point of juxtaposition?
I realize this kind of armchair-rewriting is considered poor form, but the issue with “Beard After Hours” is that we know the episode was a solution to the problem of Apple’s late request for additional episodes, and that the writers had to make a decision about what to add to the season without actually changing the season. And while the ultimate judgment on their choice will be when the season concludes and we see whether anything here adds value to what’s still to come, the episode fails to justify the time spent on this diversion given the important stories that were left unaddressed for an extra week.
However, while the isolated nature of “Beard After Hours” is its biggest problem, it also minimizes its impact on the season as a whole. Whereas the show’s handling of Sam’s protest and his subsequent relationship with Rebecca have eroded some of my trust of the season’s storytelling, the same isn’t true of this episode, because it was “extra.” While I didn’t connect with the strategy they chose for adding this to the season, the reality is that the show is going to reset to its “normal” self next week, and we’ll see how the show intends to pay off its various story threads and bring the season in for a landing. I’m just a bit perplexed as to why the plane took this particular detour at this particular time, and so we can add that bit of confusion to the list of story points in need of resolution in the remaining episodes.
- “Would you BELIEVE they did such a thing?!”—although I don’t think it was worth the episode being as long as it was, I did appreciate the extra time with the barflies from The Crown and Anchor, and appreciated that Beard helped them cap off their epic evening.
- Beard’s confrontation with Jamie’s father and his goons is the closest the episode gets to directly tying into the “real world,” as it were, so I’m intrigued by whether it’s something that ever materializes again or if this whole affair really is effectively written off as a fever dream if not for his fancy pants and mild facial abrasions.
- Martin Solveig and Dragonette’s “Hello”—which soundtracks Jane and Beard’s reunion—is one of those songs that I imagined would have been licensed by a lot of movies and TV shows, but a search brought up only a handful, but one of them was Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, but I regret to inform you that it was not a song performed by either the eponymous trio or their counterparts the Chipettes. I’d be linking to it if it was.
- Speaking of music, I appreciate that they did remixes of the show’s theme song for both of the stand-alone episodes, and the melancholy version used here—with vocals from Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy—was a nice way to signal a shift of pace even if it didn’t fully match the rest of the episode.
- And yes, I love that the barflies on the pitch scene was worth enough that Apple shelled out for “We Are The Champions.”
- Although the screener for this episode was only released this week, the special effects were still in an early state, which was mostly fine except for that when Beard entered his apartment, he did his ritual to a set of visual effects reference dots, meaning that as I write this I have no idea what they super-imposed into that location. I’ll report back after the episode goes up at midnight. (Update: Okay, I thought it would be a person, but it’s some kind of building that I don’t recognize? Please advise.)
- “Look, Gary - the man has no va va voom”—I don’t know if any of the show’s football cameos have been star turns, per se, but they’re effective collectively speaking, and I enjoyed Henry mistaking Fight Club for Moonrise Kingdom. [EDIT: And now I realize misheard this line going over my notes on the episode and missed the part BEFORE he said Ed Norton, which I now realize was about curb stomping and thus American History X. My bad.]
- Revisiting the early parts of the episode, I’m not sure which parts of the story we’re meant to see as real or not: when Mae attacks Beard about the offensive strategy, for example, I presume the first ribbing is in his head, but the return attack was in his head? Or was she really just that angry?
- “One night is good. Two nights are perfect. Three nights is too many”—Beard, on Vegas.
- I admittedly didn’t really catch the significance of the blue moons—the one in the sky, the sign on the club—the first time through, but then I figured out that they used “Blue Moon” as the soundtrack for the rout by Man City in the previous episode.