Ted Lasso always faced an uphill battle as it entered its second season. Not only was season one a critically acclaimed darling as well as a word of mouth favorite by viewers, but it also arrived in the middle of the first stage of lockdown, becoming a welcome and bright weekly light with its easy optimism and likable characters. The show was presented with the challenge of both maintaining that lighthearted spirit while simultaneously allowing the characters to grow in a natural way that both fit them as well as moved the series forward. In the end, despite some true, delightful highlights, it was in the handling of its characters, their motives, and then ultimate payoff that provided the show most of its weaker moments. Decisions made by the characters and the conflicts that were left unresolved created a segues into season three, resulting in many loose threads that failed to resonate as thoroughly as the season one finale that offered both closures and set up.
Still, the highest points of season two were some of the best comedy had to offer so far this year, and actors such as Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham, Phil Dunster, and Nick Mohammed delivered tremendous performances as their characters – for better and worse – faced new challenges and character crossroads. Here were some of the best and not-so-best parts of season two.
What didn’t work
Like many viewers, season two of Ted Lasso has left me torn on the treatment of Nate (Mohammed) and the overall effectiveness of his storyline. Regardless, Mohammed delivers a tremendous performance and one that, in the finale, manages to elicit any last ounce of empathy we’ve held for the character in the past.
Nate’s misdirected anger and feelings of abandonment aren’t meant for Ted, but his father, which honestly makes the sting of it even worse. We know that, objectively, what Nate did was terrible. He betrayed the trust of someone who considered him a friend and he consistently belittled his team and those he believed held and deserved less power than him throughout the last season. And still, when we look back to season one, we can see where his belief of being left behind was born. It becomes increasingly clear when we think of Ted’s struggles with mental health and his history with his father who committed suicide when he was still a teenager.
Ted, as we’ve come to know him, focuses on immediate problems and obstacles that require immediate fixes. Nate was his season one project but once he got him to a place that, to Ted, seemed like relative even footing, he moved on to whoever was his next special project before finally having to reckon with his demons. Nate doesn’t know any of this and doesn’t possess the context we do, and while it’s easy to brush him off and say that as an adult he should still know better, anyone who has ever had the feeling of being less than will understand the fear of being left behind – especially if they’ve been given the chance to taste what it’s like to be fully seen.
Unfortunately, the writers may have pushed the character past the point of reasonable redeemability, and not just because he leaks the story of Ted’s panic attack to the press. Instead, his “nice guy” attitude, his quick condemnation of women, and his bullying antics, not to mention his spitting in mirrors of public places when his emotions get too much of him, has made him generally unlikable. For a show that places such weight on the idea of positivity and the capability for change through it, it would be surprising if we’re left to believe that Nate is now to be as cruel as Rupert, and I’m hoping that isn’t their ultimate plan, but it will require clever writing to allow the character the kind of redemption arc he deserves.
Rebecca was also a character who didn’t benefit from this season by having a tremendous amount of her story being centered on her discovering her self-worth through dating. All of the pieces of how the show ended up having Rebecca and Sam’s (Toheeb Jimoh) hook-up make narrative sense on paper and, honestly, have been set up since season one. There’s always been a potential for flirtatious energy between the two actors. However, sometimes it’s alright to leave the chemistry there, especially when the alternative is to act oblivious to the myriad of reasons why this relationship should have been frowned upon no matter how well the chemistry is delivered. A storyline where a post-Rupert (Anthony Head) Rebecca grows to understand her value, either with or without a man, is engaging and Waddinham continually delivers even when the script underserves her. It’s the show’s willful refusal to acknowledge the unethical power imbalance between Rebecca and Sam that leaves a sour note.
Jimoh possesses a graceful charisma and is a born onscreen romantic interest – but he too is sold short in a storyline that ultimately would’ve been served better if it had been allowed to end after one misjudged night. Instead, it’s worrisome to think that they’ll most likely be continuing the storyline into season three.
And while Keeley (Juno Temple) and Roy (Brett Goldstein) spent much of their season navigating the struggles of their relationship the strengths of both characters existed outside of it, perhaps because we can see the strains the writers are taking in showing potential ripples in what’s only been shown as a mature and mutually loving and respectful relationship. However, Temple is often a comedy goldmine as the well-intentioned and ambitious Keeley shares her best scenes with Rebecca in a friendship that is a secret heart of the series. Roy, meanwhile, still has his best moments of growth as he learns through his niece or, in the season’s most moving moment, his action in comforting Jaimie (Dunster.) Goldstein remains an easy favorite as the gruff but loving Roy, and it’s that rougher exterior that makes his moments of comfort all the more poignant.
What really worked
Who would’ve guessed following season one that Jamie Tartt would become such a highlight, even when he was underused in season two despite having some of the more pivotal moments? Credit is due to Dunster who, even when Jamie was written to be outwardly awful, gave him a level of vulnerability that hinted at more behind the gaudy clothing and arrogance.
Still, the episode “Man City’ remains a series highlight for several reasons, one of which being Jamie’s confrontation with his drunk and abusive father after an enormous loss for the team, serving as a culmination of growth from the character who has learned to be a team player while still embracing the competitive nature that made him such a star player, to begin with.
“Man City” was a tremendous episode on all fronts as it both swang into its narrative crescendo as Ted finally opens up to Dr. Fieldstone (a warm and charismatic Sarah Niles) about the death of his father in his teenage years, to the aforementioned Roy and Jamie hug and the hints of what’s to come as Ted opens up to his fellow coaches about the panic attack he’d suffered mid-game. It encapsulated all that the show can be in a single episode as it didn’t skirt around playful and fun moments while also landing the emotional punch that was so crucial to the continuing storylines.
Sudeikis was in fine form this season as a whole and he and Niles shared such palpable energy that could’ve fueled an entire show. It’s through Ted’s character that perhaps the strongest element of the season came to light as it aired the toxicity that comes from forced positivity. We first see this when Roy reasons that by declawing Jamie he’s made him a worse player, telling Jamie himself that it’s ok to sometimes be a prick when playing in a competitive sport. However, it also follows up in Ted’s relationships with other characters (see: Nate) but also in how he’s so buried his lingering trauma that it only threatens to resurface now, decades after the inciting event, as he continually tries to run from facing less than ideal and sunny situations.
Ted is ultimately still a kind person, but he’s a flawed one too who hasn’t always used his innate kindness for the good of others but as a distraction for himself. Sudeikis has proven in the past his capabilities in handling drama but as Ted, a character that so easily could become grating and/or a caricature, he marries all of his strengths into a character whose greatest aspect is how human he is.
Season two of Ted Lasso, despite some missteps, is largely successful because of the tremendous work of the performers as well as the relationships built between the characters. Its message, not that positivity can cure anything but that kindness is easy and worthwhile, is unflappable. The second season may have lost the thread when it wasn’t firing on all cylinders, but it kept its attitude and love for the characters, resulting in a strong, uneven, follow-up.
Ted Lasso season two is available to watch on Apple TV+.