“Man City” is the eighth and final episode of Ted Lasso’s second season that was made available to critics ahead of the premiere, which means that it’s been nearly two months since I first experienced it. As I’ve noted before, I wrote my reviews one-by-one as I went through the screeners, stopping to settle my thoughts so that there was no point where my review was out of sync with you as readers. And outside of making some small adjustments to reflect conversation that’s happened in the comments, I’ve left those reviews as they were written, even though in editing them I’ve known where stories were headed.
I offer this preamble because I’ve thrown out much of the introduction to this review as it was originally written, as I wrote it from a place of anxiety that criticizing the nicest show on television would make me public enemy number one. I had no way of knowing at the time I wrote it that the internet would have exhausted itself hashing out the backlash to the backlash, and that we would have come out the other side in an environment where it feels safe to criticize Ted Lasso so long as you’re not doing so in absolutist, preemptive ways. And so rather than spending three paragraphs implicitly asking you not to yell at me, I feel we’ve reached a point of maturity in the Ted Lasso discourse that I can spend some time detailing how frustrated I am with Sam and Rebecca’s storyline in “Man City” without derailing the great conversations we’ve been having so far this season. Because while the episode overall does some good work to transition the show—and Ted especially—into the season’s third act, the resolution of the bantr storyline just didn’t work for me on any level.
To start with, let’s get it out of the way: Toheeb Jimoh and Hannah Waddingham are charismatic and skilled performers, and I understand the show’s argument that two hot adults who have forged an emotional connection on an anonymous dating app that apparently featured no filters regarding age should just go ahead and shag already. I also realized rewatching the first season over the summer that the seed of this is when Sam invited Rebecca to the burning ritual in “Two Aces,” and I’m not saying there’s not a pleasant energy to their interaction there. Additionally, while I may not necessarily be able to personally grapple with the idea of a 25-year age gap, I don’t think that Rebecca is a “pedophile” as she suggests, or that she was “grooming him” as she worries. And to be honest, while the show highlights the age gap—with Sam having to correct her that he’s actually 21, to put an exclamation point on it—that isn’t really as much of an issue for me as the messy workplace dynamics that the show briefly mentions but mostly ignores, although even there I think the show could make a decent argument for this.
But they haven’t, as I don’t have a clear grasp on what this story is trying to accomplish, or how it serves either characters. In particular, I struggle with how much Rebecca’s story arc this season has been reduced to her romantic life, outside of her “boss ass bitch” moment when dealing with Sam’s protest. Although Ted Lasso is ostensibly a workplace comedy, Rebecca has had almost no role whatsoever in the actual operations of this football club, which has robbed the character of the depth Waddingham spent last season developing. When she and Keeley were mentoring Nate in “Rainbow,” she talked about the stress of being the only woman at league ownership events, and it underlined how little her actual job has been a part of the season thus far. Whereas we’ve seen nearly every other character exhibiting a degree of work/life balance, Rebecca is regularly in her office but rarely doing any work, and this restricts the character’s goals and motivations to finding true love rather than intersecting those goals with her day-to-day involvement with the team. I realize that part of her story arc in the first season was learning to demand something more from a relationship after Rupert’s garbage, but this season this has been her entire story arc, and it serves neither her character nor the show well.
Additionally, I don’t really understand how it’s serving Sam, either. Although the Dubai Air protest elevated him out of the ensemble, the show has never fully anchored us in Sam’s perspective, and that becomes an issue as they rush forward into this story. The show positions his confidence with Rebecca as a consequence of the news his protest of Cerithium Oil led to their departure from Nigeria (which confirms that there were somehow only positive consequences from his actions), and admittedly an Isaac haircut does seem like it would be transformational in this respect. However, I struggle to reconcile a player who has always seemed very careful not to ruffle feathers with someone who is in no way freaked out by the idea he has matched with the team’s owner on a dating app. “Man City” acts as though it’s paying off an arc of growth for Sam, but that arc wasn’t a legible part of the season, and his sudden transformation into a romance novel character who’s on Rebecca’s doorstep when she decides to go see him feels forced.
In other words, I don’t necessarily think that the idea of Sam and Rebecca in a relationship is an inherently bad one, but the show has failed to put the pieces into place for it to work, and in the case of Rebecca the show didn’t do enough to integrate such a story into the workplace dynamics that define the rest of the show. Even if I account for the fact I am probably on average 30% more resistant to relationship storylines in sitcoms than an average person on account of my base cynicism levels, the dots aren’t connecting here. Jimoh and Waddingham do their level best to sell it, but I’m struggling with how these two anonymously connecting over a dating app plays out as an earnest love story about how Rebecca owes it to herself to try dating her employee.
Now, as always, I can’t speak in absolutes: perhaps something in the next four episodes will convince me that this storyline works better than it is right now. But at this moment, it simultaneously distracted from the work being done in this episode and highlighted some ongoing concerns about the show’s character arcs, which feels like a pretty significant misstep. Whereas my past concerns around Sam’s protest or how the show has handled Nate’s heel turn felt somewhat insulated from the rest of the show, this is a more foundational concern, even if I acknowledge that I would be even more confounded if they had paired Rebecca and Ted as some predicted (and hoped for).
Despite these reservations hanging over the proceedings, the rest of “Man City” fares better, albeit within the very well-tread theme of “Daddy Issues.” Higgins—who I was admonished for not highlighting last week, but is always a highlight—jokes about how they should write songs about fathers and sons, but you could tell the same joke about TV shows, which regularly use the kind of conflict Jamie has with his father as a shorthand for any character’s insecurities. The elder James Tartt is a right git, to be clear: we saw that at the end of last season and it lingered in our minds much as it has in Ted’s, given he thought about it right before his most recent panic attack. Jamie admitted to Ted it was the reason he abandoned Man City to film a reality show, but the show bypassed the story during its Christmas episode (the most logical time Jamie would have been with his family), and for the most part the show has suggested Jamie was adjusting well in his return to Richmond. But this changes when his Dad starts bugging him about tickets to the team’s FA Cup Semi-Final against his former club, and it comes to a head in the locker room after Richmond’s embarrassing defeat. Based on his jeering in the stands during the game, it’s not shocking that Jamie’s father is horrible to him, or that Jamie decks him, but it’s alarming to see it happen in such a public fashion, and it clearly impacts those in the locker room whose own relationships with fatherhood are currently front of mind.
One of these men is Roy Kent, who uncharacteristically moves forward to embrace Jamie in the wake of the altercation, and allows his former nemesis to cry into his shoulder. Coming off of a failure to communicate with Keeley, Roy is still very much someone who prefers not to express his feelings, as we see when he and Beard express their mutual appreciation that they don’t even need to speak to reject Keeley’s endorsement opportunity. But when he’s called away to Phoebe’s school and learns his swearing is rubbing off on her, he is faced with the fact that he is her father figure. Her father might be alive—”a living piece of shit,” specifically—but he isn’t part of Phoebe’s life, and throughout the season we’ve seen how much Roy has been taking on the responsibility of not just being her uncle, but rather stepping in as a full-time parent when her mother is busy at work. The image of Roy Kent in a child’s chair is a purposefully comic one, but it reinforces that it’s a space where he is uncomfortable, and yet he has never once hesitated doing what was necessary to support Phoebe. It’s echoed in the way he steps in with Jamie, as he’s channeling his evolving understanding of that relationship into his coaching. He’s not going to suddenly try to be a father figure to Jamie, but he knows enough to realize what he needs in that moment, and it’s a reminder that for all his consternation he is very willing and able to modulate his emotions when a moment truly requires it.
The other person who reacts to this moment is, of course, Ted himself, and it leads to the therapy breakthrough Dr. Fieldstone was waiting for. This episode technically begins with Dr. Fieldstone, but it doesn’t really become a character study for her: we hear her teletherapy session with her own therapist, and learn how she uses her intelligence to deflect much as Ted uses humor, but her cycling accident is mostly an excuse for the relationship between therapist and patient to break down enough for Ted to be comfortable opening up to her when he was ready to do so. What glimpses we get of Dr. Fieldstone’s life are mostly there for Ted’s benefit, as her vulnerability regarding her accident gives him the space he needs to realize someone needs to understand the fear lying at the heart of his mental health struggles. And so after Jamie’s altercation with his father, Ted heads outside Wembley Stadium to call Sharon and tell her that while he’s not sure if it might explain what he’s going through, she should know that his father died by suicide when he was 16.
It’s a devastating revelation—albeit one that many of you predicted in the comments over the course of the season, forcing me to bite my tongue—that both lines up with Ted’s ongoing struggles and adds new layers to some of the show’s most pivotal moments. We knew Ted had lost his father when he was 16 because he talks about it in his “Darts” speech in season one, which now carries much more weight when you realize how the circumstances of his father’s death reshape their father-son rituals. Rewatching that scene knowing what we know now is heartbreaking, as he’s tapping into so much pain in the interest of helping a friend, hiding the truth of his memories as part of an ongoing effort to survive. His concerns over abandoning his son also take on a different meaning, and his belief that “bottling things up” could be healthy now seems especially self-destructive given what he knows his own father went through. We still don’t have all the details of his father’s death, and it’s possible that we won’t get them, but it speaks to the show’s skill at portraying Ted’s demons that this doesn’t read as a “shocking reveal”: it rather gives specific meaning to things we’ve already understood, and which Sudeikis has portrayed so expertly.
The FA Cup semi-final in “Man City” isn’t the moment of triumph that AFC Richmond wanted it to be: they lose badly, and in the process lose momentum as they go back to their regular season to try to get promoted back to the Premier League. And unfortunately, when it comes to Sam and Rebecca, I struggled to accept “Man City” as the triumphant romcom moment that the writers imagined it to be, either. However, while it may not have sold me on that development, the episode nonetheless reinforced that the season continues to find purpose in a nuanced exploration of what lies underneath Ted’s positivity, and I can only hope that the strengths in those areas of the season will either rub off on the romance I don’t buy or else continue to offset it as it (mostly) does here.
- Curious how people are feeling about these extra-long episodes: this is basically an hour-long episode of television by any standards, and while it mostly works, rewatching it before this review did feel like it dragged a touch for me.
- The show made good use of having access to Wembley Stadium during the most recent FA Cup, although the best thing to come out of that filming experience was still definitely this news reporter who thought the actors from the show were regular people and that Dani Rojas was in fact an actual footballer.
- I was distressed to find Nate facing no consequences for his actions at the end of last week’s episode, and even getting endorsement opportunities, but I have trust that the show will get there eventually. It was notable that despite the fact he just threatened Will, his “disclosure” after Ted opens up about his panic attacks to the coaching staff is just about how he pretends to think up ideas on the fly, which is hardly on the same level as what the other coaches share. But then you have Roy congratulating him for getting a yellow card for lashing out at the ref, so it’s real mixed signals and does need to be addressed before too long.
- I know why the show skipped over so many games in the season, but I wish they’d release sideline footage of Beard on mushrooms as a bonus episode.
- In this week’s “Adventures in Music Licensing with Apple $$,” the show paid for like 30 seconds of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” to transition into Rebecca and Sam’s final scene, before then shelling out for “Somewhere Only We Know” for the scene itself. The sheer excess of their music licensing remains a wonder.
- It’s possible this will be more clear in the released version of the episode, but when Sharon asks how Ted knew she was in the hospital, the suggestion is that Voice Notes are somehow responsible? Is the argument that the medical staff found her phone, and noticed she was recording voice notes about Ted, and so they called him? I didn’t follow that logic, as much as I appreciated Sarah Niles’ take on “Tonight.”
- I wasn’t sure what to take away from the fact Sharon is a rage cyclist who, after yelling at someone to mind their dog, insulted their sweater. Struck me as a bit aggro.
- It feels a little suspect that Sam would be caught off guard by his father’s news about Cerithium Oil. I wish they had done more to thread that ongoing story into the season so it would be clear that Sam only missed the news because he was busy with training, and not—as it risks seeming—that he wasn’t paying much attention between now and when the story happened.
- Between his Santa suit and his haircutting outfit, Isaac’s fits are really shining this season.
- “So we all just stand here?”—Jan, continuing to get good mileage out of “Dutch people are unfailingly honest” as a sole character trait. I know some of you in the comments have disagreed, but I think they’ve used him effectively.
- Dani Rojas isn’t using his Isaac haircut until he gets married, or when he gets circumcised.
- I won’t pretend I didn’t learn something about Wembley Stadium’s pitch from Ted learning about its history. Sometimes I don’t relate to his befuddlement, but the idea pitches are different sizes really is wacky as all heck.
- “You’re all fancy now, drinking tea?”—it’s telling that despite the mushrooms, this was the part of Beard’s story that hurt Ted the most.
- The announcers made a big deal about how the loss must be most devastating for Jamie, but it was strange that we saw so little of him during the game, such that I didn’t really feel that narrative registered. That said, I saw this episode with the semi-final in a very early state without finished visual effects—and a Wembley Stadium scoreboard that said 4-0 before the match even started, which sort of spoiled it—so maybe the finished version registers that better.