Updated: Oct 25, 2021
1. The reason viewers are exerting so much effort to analyze Ted Lasso is that the Apple TV+ show has done a remarkable job of making us care about a lot of people. It’s extraordinary for a more-than-a-half-hour/not-quite-an-hour-long show to bring so many characters to vivid life.
Ted, Rebecca, Keeley, Roy, Sam, Jamie, Coach Beard, Nate, Dr. Sharon, Leslie, Dani, Rupert, Trent Crimm—you feel like you know these people. You'd like to be friends with these people, whether that entails joining Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) and Keeley (Juno Temple) on the couch or howling with the Diamond Dogs or confiding in (or maybe take a bike ride with) Dr. Sharon (Sarah Niles). Ted Lasso does a beautiful job of portraying friendship. Even the barkeep and fans populating the AFC Richmond-rooting pub are distinct characters. Like the sign above the clubhouse door says, you Believe.
That's a rock-solid foundation, and much of the rest is frosting. (Yes, there are SPOILERS coming up.)
2. If you’ve studied long-form storytelling—novels, screenwriting, what have you—you’ve likely heard about long and short arcs. The long arc is the overarching drama: Will the rebels destroy the Death Star and defeat the Empire? The short arcs are the more contained conflicts that crop up along the way: Will Luke or Han win Princess Leia’s heart (even if one of those scenarios turns out to be icky)? Will they escape the trash compactor?
One of the challenges of Ted Lasso Season 2 is that, especially early on, it went heavy on the short arcs while paying less attention to the long arc. There’s a natural shape to each Lasso season as it mirrors a football/soccer season. In Season 1 Richmond's performance on the pitch was important because team owner Rebecca had hired Ted (Jason Sudeikis) in the hope he would fail so she could get revenge on her ex-husband, Rupert (Anthony Head). Ted’s fate appeared tied up in the team’s, so the games carried some weight.
In Season 2 the football question was whether Richmond would play well enough to reverse the demotion that came at the end of Season 1, but the show didn’t care all that much. Little game action was shown, even when highly skilled, reforming prima donna Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) rejoined the team. Richmond tied a bunch of games, lost some and rebounded, but the stakes never felt high. Season 2 was far more interested in interpersonal issues.
That’s a worthy choice; it just meant that much of the season lacked forward propulsion, as characters battled inner demons more than external forces. The emergence of true adversaries didn’t happen till late in the game, which brings us to…
3. Nate (Nick Mohammed) had the most developed arc of any character this season. He’s the hero and villain, the savior and saboteur, the bullied and bully. Just as Nate feels overlooked much of the time, Mohammed turns in highly nuanced work that plays at a lower volume than, say, Brett Goldstein’s endearingly explosive Roy Kent.
Ted promoted Nate from equipment manager to assistant coach in Season 1, and Nate shed his timid shell as his suggested strategies paid off. But he still can’t win his father’s approval and feels belittled by Ted despite the coach’s openness to his ideas. He’s a raging mass of insecurities and overconfidence, his hair turning white all the while. After he kisses Keeley, he’s aggravated that boyfriend Roy forgives him instead of viewing him as a worthy threat and pummeling him.
By the end of Season 2, Nate has completed the journey from Anakin to Darth, eviscerating Ted and tearing up the beloved “Believe” sign on the way out. But has the show adequately paved the way for this transition? Actor Mohammed posted a lengthy analysis on Twitter of his character’s evolution that points out several details you may have missed.
That said, some of those details may have been too subtle, at least for this viewer, to pick up on the first time. I hadn’t noticed the lack of Ted-and-Nate-only scenes in Season 2 or didn’t consider that they were due to anything more than the show’s creators trying to cover so much other ground at the same time. I initially assumed Nate’s betrayal of Ted stemmed from his insatiable ambition more than his transference of his dad issues onto his coach, though I see the logic now.
Turning Nate into the heavy is a surprising choice on many levels, and it makes more sense the further away from it that I get. The first half of the season seemed at risk of getting swept away on all of the characters’ good intentions. By the finale it was clear that such intentions haven’t carried the day.
4. In the writing and in Temple’s and Goldstein’s performances, Keeley and Roy have been presented as about the most loving, mutually supportive couple as could be. Roy is Keeley’s biggest cheerleader, backs her ambitions and takes criticism well, such as in his romantic response to her complaints that he’s always around. And you couldn't count the number of adoring gazes that Keeley has shot Roy as she encourages him to be the best version of himself.
So the writers’ attempts to wring drama out of their relationship feel a bit forced to me. The season’s penultimate episode struck an unsettling note as they made confessions to each other: she that Jamie had proclaimed his love to her and that Nate had kissed her; he that he’d told his niece’s teacher that he wasn’t married, with no further explanation. But Keeley was reporting what others had done, with no reflection on her behavior, and Roy’s crime was a misdemeanor at best, his mentioning it underscoring his trustworthiness.
In the finale Roy buys the two of them plane tickets for a six-week vacation, but Keeley feels like she can’t take it before she starts her new business, so she tells him to go without her, and she’ll see him in six weeks. I buy the first part but not the second. Not to impose my own values on the situation (as I do exactly that), but if he gifted her this romantic getaway, he’s not going away for the entire six weeks alone, and she wouldn’t ask or want him to.
How about they go away for a week or two instead? How about they at least have that discussion?
This conflict feels manufactured to me.
5. I feel like this show doesn’t know what to do about Rebecca and Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) despite the actors' great charm and intelligence. It strikes a swoony, romantic tone and dances around not only the age disparity—she’s in her mid-40s, he’s 21—but also the power disparity—she owns the team on which he plays. There’s so much here that feels like it’s being avoided.
For instance, the entire locker room was wrapped up in Sam’s romantic online exchanges with his then-anonymous correspondent. How have they not tried to pry the woman’s identity out of him since he actually met her? For all of Sam’s talk about wanting to live his life in the open, how have the writers not allowed him to spill this news to anyone, if only to ramp up the stakes?
Ted has been made a passive bystander in all of this. Sure, people must follow their hearts, etc., etc., but he must know the potential impact on the team if it comes out that one of his stars is sleeping with the owner. Even acknowledging this dynamic out loud would have raised the tension.
Here’s an example of the kind of opportunity being missed: As Ghanian gajillionaire Edwin Akufo (the wonderful Sam Richardson of Veep and Second City) tries to woo Sam to join his new team, Rebecca’s response is to hold her breath and wait, viewing his decision as a referendum on how he feels about her. But an active sports owner and coach likely would work aggressively to retain a standout player such as Sam.
They could promote him more, offer him more money, make clear that he’s the face of the franchise, perhaps to the disgruntlement of Jamie and others. Maybe Sam wonders whether Rebecca is doing all this for the team or herself. Maybe the players discover Rebecca’s and Sam’s relationship and raise hell.
OK, it’s not the viewers’ job to rewrite the plot lines as we see fit; that's called fan fiction. These writers are very talented and had reasons for making the choices they made. It’s an excellent show, after all, and their focus this season on mental health has been an admirable one.
It’s just that Rebecca’s and Sam’s relationship is a giant hornet’s nest, and the writers appear to be ducking away from it instead of whacking it with a big stick. Let the hornets out, I say.
Bonus thought: No, the Trent Crimm (James Lance) situation didn't make sense. Yes, revealing the anonymous source to Ted was bad, but the greater journalistic crime was not contacting Ted for comment before publishing the story.
On to Season 3…