I braved the delta variant this past weekend to travel to beautiful Lake Arrowhead outside Los Angeles to attend a fantasy football draft. It’s an annual event with a bunch of great guys that I only get to see once a year. We usually spend the time joking and laughing, guys get drunk and high, and we escape the confines of the day-to-day grind for a few precious hours while we argue about the Ravens backfield or the projected timeline for the ascendance of Trey Lance.
This year, however, the big debate wasn’t about football. It was about Ted Lasso, specifically season two and how out of sync I was with the other guys in the league, who are still ride or die for the show.
Don’t get me wrong: I love Ted Lasso. It was my favorite show of 2020. But I’m not in love with Ted Lasso anymore and it bums me out. It’s like when you look over at the other tables in a restaurant and everyone is laughing and joking with their Ted Lasso, while you and your Ted Lasso sit quietly, maybe a smile now and then, but mostly just staring at your phones and hoping the entrées get delivered to break the silence.
I am Ted’s jilted lover.
But why? You might ask.
You might be like my friends this past weekend. They rose shoulder to shoulder to defend the show against my perceived onslaught. They stood united around the conceit that the second season is every bit as good as the first season and that if there was any fault in the world, it was on me and not Ted.
“Guys, I’m not being judgmental! I’m just trying to be curious, you know? I’m not saying it’s not good, I’m saying it used to feel great. I’m just trying to figure out why the show is landing for you and not as much for me this season, that’s all.”
Maybe, I posited, it was the absence of a discernible season-long arc to tie it all together.
“They’re not writing the show for you!” They yelled when I maligned the season-long arc. “Maybe that’s the show you want, but that’s not the show this is.”
See, I thought we had a tacit agreement, Ted and I. When he was sitting with Rebecca all businesslike at the very end of last season, offering to tender his resignation, I took him at his word. Rebecca didn’t fire him. Instead they resolved to double down and go win the hell out of the Championship League.
So, yeah. That’s what I expected. That’s what I thought we all had agreed to.
I also knew that there would only be three seasons. I imagined they’d play out something like this:
Season One: They get relegated.
Season Two: They earn their way back into the Premier League.
Season Three: They win the whole goddamn thing, just to spite Rupert.
But when this season opened with a streak of ties and everything was just fine and dandy, I wondered where the urgency was.
That was my fault, the gents told me. I wanted a show about soccer and this is a show about life.
Okay, I said, but season one was most certainly about both! The A-plot was about whether or not they’d get relegated. Trent Crimm wrote about it. Rebecca hired Ted based on it. The finale was all about the tie and then eventual loss where they became relegated. Yes, there are subplots about all of the various contributors. The last hurrah of Roy Kent. The hiring of Nate the Great. Ted’s panic attacks and how his divorce contributed to them. Jamie’s arc, Isaac’s arc, Colin’s arc. They were all amazing and all in service to the greater good, which was the A-plot. See? It’s right there in the episode description of episode 10.
Their fates are inextricably bound to their performance.
It was, in essence, a Viking ship with all hands pulling in the same direction, regardless of their particular ailments.
This season doesn’t feel that way to me at all. Not only do I not understand where the Viking ship is headed, but people seem to be pulling in very different directions.
I expected the A-plot for season two to be a victory in the championship league, but I’m not even sure what’s going on there. Last week we found out we were actually in the FA Cup tourney, which just sort of appears out of nowhere. Okay, cool. But where’s the intensity from last season? The wins and losses (and ties) all feel tangential to me, just like when Dr. Sharon asked if 8 ties on a professional sports franchise signified that it “ain’t broke.”
Where is Beard this season? Where’s the speech where he’s fed up and wants to win? The only reason in hell Ted Lasso is anything is because he led the Wichita State Shockers to an NCAA championship in his very first year. That means he didn’t even have a real say in the recruiting. That means he took whatever lumps of clay Zeus plopped in front of them and shaped them into champions.
Which presupposes that The Lasso Way of coaching is something special.
We saw some of that last season, but it didn’t translate into wins, which begs the question: is The Lasso Way transferable? Is it only for American Football or can it be used in futbol as well?
Because this season, I don’t even know what The Lasso Way is. I was so irritated by the fact that Beard had to explain what Sheffield Wednesday was to Ted. Is he doing his homework? Is he trying to learn the sport? Or is he just relying on the fact that Beard will read manuals and crib the notes to him?
“He was doing a bit!” my friends insisted. “He knows exactly what Sheffield Wednesday is! He was just messing with Beard!”
Really? It didn’t seem that way to me. Beard seemed actually annoyed, but okay. A bit is a bit is a bit.
Moreover, Ted didn’t win a game until Roy showed up. Then they won four in a row.
“It was his decision to hire Roy!” my friends screeched. “He gets the credit for that!”
But does he? What good is Ted Lasso on a soccer field when Roy Kent is on the same soccer field? There’s no comparison. One is a football noob who spouts platitudes dressed in kitschy song lyrics and the other is here, there and every-fucking-where. I’ve played soccer in 12 countries on three continents and I’ve never once heard Ted say a single thing that would improve my game. And I suck. And no, “kick the ball into the green area over there” and getting into a Jimmy Buffet lyrics contest don’t count, despite being what I assume are the key elements to Messi’s game.
Which segues into a larger problem I’m having with the season, outside of the lack of stakes. The writing feels a bit rushed to me. Last season, there was no looseness in the script and the editing. Everything was airtight. Never a wasted beat.
This season, conversely, seems less… disciplined. I’m acutely aware of the time limitations and the fact that there’s only three seasons and now we’re more than halfway to the finish line OF THE ENTIRE SERIES and the subplots that don’t interest me feel like they’re taking up so much of the precious remaining time.
My friends tell me that whomever the season opens on in a close up is who the season is about. It’s not really about the Greyhounds at all. It’s not a soccer show any more than it is an English show. These are just accoutrements, they tell me. The show is about people. It’s about growth. Season one was about Rebecca’s awakening. Season Two is about Nate’s.
But I’m not 100% on board for that because I find I don’t care about Nate as much as I used to. He had these moments that were so amazing in season one: When he made the boxes with his niece. When Ted remembered his name. The moment when he called out The Great Roy Kent.
God, it still gives me chills.
That Nate? I’m all for that Nate. But this one? This abusive prick? The show can’t seem to decide if he’s a dick or a lost puppy. His speech to Jade wasn’t believable to me at all. It was basically: “let us have the table because we’ll eat fast and be gone soon” and then he corrupts the whole thing by asking Jade out, which my friends said was just him getting carried away with his newfound confidence, but I found icky. I also didn’t buy ANY of the Jade interactions and I’d bet a million dollars that in that exact situation a real Jade would have been like “dude, I’ve told you three times now, no.” He wasn’t winning or convincing or charming or persuasive. Jade only said yes because the script made her do it. And we only went along with it because we love the show and we get carried away with the amount of goodwill we have for it. None of it rang true to me.
Nate’s spitting? I get it conceptually but I’m not a fan. Rebecca has her thing and Nate has to have his thing and someone thought spitting would be a good choice. He spits on the mirror before he confronts Jade, and leaves it there for the next customer to be delighted by. He spits on the ground before he makes the substitution in the game. Yeah yeah, it’s a gimmick. I get it but I’m not crazy about it. I’m curious about most of what Nate does these days.
Nate’s behavior toward Will, for example, is reprehensible, and has been all season. And yet no one redirects him.
“Yes they did!” my friends brayed. “When Nate said that they should show Dani his paycheck, Ted said that’s a little aggressive but I apologize for bringing an umbrella to a brainstorm. That was him redirecting!”
Was it, though?
If you were the head of an organization and your direct report treated someone that way, would you just whistle past the graveyard or would you be like “knock that shit off, tout suite.”
Yes, Nate has daddy issues. Yes, Jamie has daddy issues. Yes, Ted has daddy issues. Great. This is the show now, my friends tell me, and it’s brilliant. It’s every bit as powerful as season one.
But I’m not as invested in Nate this season. I was THRILLED when Beard overheard Nate’s interaction with Colin and showed up to course correct (and hopefully scare the shit out of) him. But here’s the thing: anyone who could talk to Colin or anyone else with the abject cruelty that Nate did is difficult to keep rooting for. If I ever spoke to anyone with that coldness, that willful malice, with the intent of inflicting pain, I’d feel so guilty I’d throw up blood. Nate just sighs and turns back to his social media, irritated at having been interrupted.
Nate is also the prime beneficiary of the tenets of The Lasso Way. The previous manager, George Cartrick, didn’t even know who he was. Not only did Ted Lasso remember his name, but he elevated him from groundskeeper and kit man to coach, based on one play. Nate should be the ultimate acolyte of the kindness and sincerity and inclusion featured in The Lasso Way. Instead he comes off as a Joffrey. One tiny glimmer of power and he punches down. That’s the thing about both money and power: they don’t reveal some hidden character, they just make you more of what you already are. If you’re an asshole and then you get rich, you’re just a rich asshole.
The most difficult revelation for me is that after Beard coerced Nate into an apology and Colin gave him a hug instead of a handshake, and then the team all hugged him, that should have been the true wake up call for Nate. That’s where the worm should have turned. His team instantly forgave his sin and not only moved past it, but cleansed him with affection. He should have been baptized in that moment: in the sheer evolutionary kindness of it. But he wasn’t. He got away with it. Colin forgave. If someone spoke to me the way Nate spoke to Colin I wouldn’t have such an easy time clearing the air. I’d more likely be like Ving Rhames at the end of Pulp Fiction. But the Greyhounds huddled up and accepted Nate back and his way of repaying them for that kindness was to threaten Will later that day.
So, it’s tough this season with Nate.
I also feel like I don’t adore the other characters the way I used to.
Rebecca, for example. Last season she was a conflicted mess, but I felt like she had at least a motivating desire. This season I’m not sure she passes the Bechdel test. It’s all about her trying to find a man.
“Doesn’t she have the right to be happy?” my friends probed. “Doesn’t she have the right to chase love after suffering through a lifetime with Rupert?”
Of course she does! But not at the exclusion of all else. I didn’t care for the Nora stuff this season. Didn’t buy it at all, but at least I thought it was a tool to re-focus Rebecca on her J.O.B. I hoped that we would see her thrive in her new vocation. I hoped for a subplot where there was actual, on-screen fallout for the Dubai Air fiasco, and that Rebecca would have to use her connections and wake a heretofore dormant business sense to dig the team out of the morass and secure a new sponsor.
She just cares about snapchatting with boys.
And conveniently, ever-so-conveniently, the new sponsor happens to be a tech startup with enough money to fund a Championship League team. That was a shame. Why have shit happen off-screen when you can use it to build tension on-screen? Seemed like an odd choice to me.
Also, every time Rebecca drives off in the back of her chauffeured Rolls Royce, I mentally disengage from her. There’s nothing at all relatable about that to me.
“This is who she always was!” my friends point out, and they’re not wrong, but I feel like it wasn’t as in our faces last season. Poor little rich girl, all alone in her five hundred thousand dollar car! Driven daily to hair care and facials and pedicures! Won’t anyone love her? That’s the song that I fight off in my head. I can’t get over the fact that there’s ostensibly a chauffeur on duty all day, sitting around, waiting to be summoned, and yet we’ve never seen him or her. They’re a phantom. Like the car. So weird on a show where they feature groundskeepers and barmaids and celebrate people who work in restaurants and as kit boys.
Jamie has been great this season but we don’t get anywhere near enough of him, and by making him more or less “fixed,” you lose any dramatic tension he once had.
Higgins is now Leslie. Even though we establish this season that he’s still a klutz who knocks over his pencil cup on the reg, he’s also a constant cocktail entity in his boss’s office, a fount of relationship wisdom and someone who gives rousing speeches. We established him as the comic relief last season, rife with retching and face gags but now he’s an elder statesman.
Sure, whatever. But Higgins is also the Head of Player Personnel who never brings in any personnel. You never see him working over contract issues or getting loaners from Arsenal. Let’s be honest: I love Higgins but vocationally, the guy might not be the most effective executive. We just give him a pass because we love the show and he’s a hoot most of the time. We hear the story about him pouring beer onto himself and marrying the one person who gave him a bar towel and people go awwwww and think it’s romantic, but I thought it was sad and a little depressing. Yes, it’s wonderful to see the portrayal of an older couple who truly love each other, but I don’t buy that Rebecca and Mrs. Higgins get along. They just seem like two very different kinds of people.
Keeley has nothing to do this year. She has a great job and a great partner, if one who hangs out with her too much. She exists as a plot robot to try to move the ship of state forward by asking Rebecca about boys. There’s nothing for her to do in the writing this season, and the lack of it is hanging her out to dry. In season one, she was a revelation. This year, she’s a doormat. And look no further than her reaction to when Roy walks out after Sex and the City to see how hard she’s pushing to try to create drama where there is none.
Roy is great. I love him and he’s the only thing that feels reminiscent of season one. Some of The Gist staff feel like he’s too good. Too funny. Too Roy Kent. But he’s the only thing keeping me fully interested. I perk up when he’s in a scene.
Isaac has all but vanished.
Ditto Dani and Colin.
Sam looked like he was going to take on a bigger role and he’s gone too. Organize one protest and they silence you, apparently. At least he swears now. Oh and he’s also been reduced to a girl-crazy texter.
Beard is hamstrung between his loyalty to Ted and his desire to date crazy, co-dependent women. His taste in undershirts is a war crime. I love him so much, but where is he this season and who is he this season? People don’t seem to notice, but season one was Ted & Beard against the world. When they jeered Wanker at Ted, Beard was by his side. When Ted had a decision, Beard was there eating with him. When Ted needed a wake up call, it was Beard who would wake him up. When Ted needed scolding, Beard would scold him. When the divorce was final, Beard was there to hand him a pint and quietly drink with him.
But where is Beard now? Ted eats alone. Beard is presumably off with a woman who buys terrible hats. And we’re supposed to care… why? We have no scenes with Jane outside of her scaring Beard in the parking lot. What are we to make of that? Did the scene where no one but Leslie would tell the truth to Beard about his relationship strike anyone as odd on a show where the foundational structure of everything is honesty? What kind of lesson is that? It felt like a cop out to me. Ted Lasso, as a show, has always zigged where other shows zag. It makes choices that are wholesome and generative and honest. But the lasting relationship advice it wants to impart is butt out? I’m not even saying that they’re wrong, in a practical sense, I’m saying that butting out and letting people sink doesn’t really seem like The Lasso Way to me.
I don’t particularly care for the character of Dr. Sharon Fieldstone. I will concede that she’s getting more relatable, but when she closed the door in Ted’s face and didn’t wave to him, that rubbed me the wrong way. My friends contend that she’s just putting up an artificial barrier to keep everything professional, but the rudeness of it bothered me. She barked at Ted for barging into her office and then she barged into Rebecca’s office in the same manner. Since then, she has certainly seemed to warm up, but I feel like she’s the least nuanced character on the show. She can feel like a bit of a cipher, but only because the writers haven’t fully decided who she is yet. I’ll tell you this: riding a bike is not natural for her. The first few steps when she rode away from Ted she looked like she had the balance of a toddler on Ritalin.
Right now she’s a bit confusing to me. I liked it when she spoke up to defend her profession, but is anyone buying Dr. Sharon merch? Is anyone like “What Ted Lasso really needed was an indecipherable therapist!” She claims to be better at her job than Ted is, which is a devastatingly low bar seeing as we’ve only seen him tie or lose since the show started. Perhaps in the last five episodes she’ll make miracles happen for Ted in therapy. I’m a huge believer in therapy and other forms of self-care and so I’m rooting for her character, even if the particular role is a bit of a shoulder shrug to me.
Which brings us to Ted himself. The hero of the show.
“Not so!” my friends caw. “Season One was about Rebecca. Season Two is about Nate.”
Silly me. Thinking Ted Lasso was about Ted Lasso.
I am Ted’s cavitating destiny.
If Ted’s skepticism around therapy gets even one viewer to seek professional help, it will have been worth it, as I hear Lin-Manuel’s voice over-enunciating in my head. The world is broken. People are suffering with mental illnesses they’re not even remotely aware of. People are plagued by internal demons they didn’t invite and don’t know exist. We’re all focused on the Covid pandemic but the mental health pandemic has been raging for 60 years and we all need to wake up and address it. So if that’s the hidden point of this season of Ted Lasso, then color me fine with it. People need help.
But can Ted also, y’know, coach? Can Ted go back to interacting with townsfolk? (That may be a limitation of shooting during Covid, whereas season one was shot before it – I don’t know.) What ever happened to these dudes, who functioned as the de facto Greek chorus?
Can Ted focus on turning himself off when he should be connecting? It’s exhausting dealing with people who are always “on.” Just shut it, dude. Think. Watch. Listen.
When Dani is in the shower, Ted doesn’t know what to do. It takes Dr. Sharon to fix him.
Ted has no idea that anything is even wrong with Colin and Zoreaux until they walk out of Dr. Sharon’s office.
When the team forgives Nate after his apology, Ted has no idea what’s going on.
Ted still doesn’t seem to understand the intricacies of the sport he’s being paid to professionally coach at the highest level, instead opting to relegate his input to cutesy names for plays like “midnight poutine.”
“That, of course, is the great secret of the successful fool – that he is no fool at all.”
–Isaac Asimov, Guide to Shakespeare
But, what if he is? What if that’s all he is and the Shockers were a complete outlier. What if The Lasso Way is just a fantasy that belief alone can provide results. This is what set Beard off. You have to do the work, too. A coach friend of mine tells his players “you wanna be good but you don’t wanna get good.” What use is naked belief in the absence of planning and execution? How is The Lasso Way different than any organized religion that suggests that a higher power will reward the faithful for their belief?
And what does that belief get you? Eight ties in a row? Is that the golden chalice? Is that what Ted’s coaching nets you?
So what is Ted, really? If he’s not a coach?
Is he an alcoholic? Because I don’t think I’ve seen him (or anyone else) drink a bottle of water since the show started. Beers with every meal. Beers when he gets divorced. Cocktails in Rebecca’s office at midday. Whiskey on Christmas. Does anyone on this show drink H2O? When Ted wanted to solve a dispute between his players in season one, his solution was for them to all get drunk together.
I can’t imagine how hard it is for Ted to be away from his son, and it’s clearly bringing up some buried emotions from his past. We seem to be moving toward the darkness that is his relationship with his father, and what appears to be a suicide. Again, if even one person is aided by that revelation and they seek help, the season will be a success.
But I just miss the old Ted. I don’t mind all the Ned Flanders stuff if it’s in service to a larger mission. When it’s a standalone yuk, serving to only kill conversations, it brings out the Roy Kent growl in me. Put a cork in that shit. I didn’t know my career would end being coached by Ronald Fucking McDonald.
There are five episodes left this season and maybe the show will stick the landing. I have nothing but profound respect for this team and all they’ve accomplished, so I root for them, but at this point, I don’t know what a stuck landing even looks like. I can’t remember ever hoping Sam and Rebecca would have a love connection, but that seems to be a pretty important plot point. Maybe that will be handled so deftly that it will change my impression of season two. I do remember hoping that F.C. Richmond gets back up into the Premier League but I’m not sure that’s in the cards, either. You automatically get a berth to the Europa League if you win the F.A. Cup. Is that where season three is taking us?
And now I’m wondering, dreading really, who the person will be in the very first shot of season three. Will it finally be Ted? Or will it be yet another forgettable away team member who had no business being elevated to the Bridge crew?
Five episodes remain and I want to believe, but like Beard said in the first season: it’s not enough to believe. You have to win, and the wins my friends see are apparitions to me. The plots they’re crazy about are irritants to me. The goodwill this show has rightfully earned has turned off their ability to watch it critically. The writing isn’t as good. The acting isn’t as good. There’s more air and more tangents and fewer laughs.
I wish, like Michelle Lasso, that I could regain the spark with Ted. I wish I could go back and find his banter endearing. I wish I could skate past the glaring, obvious problems of this season like my friends do, whistling a happy tune and not getting hung up at all. I wish I could enjoy the show like I used to. But in the spirit of William Blake, innocence once lost cannot be regained.
That said, nothing would make me happier than being proven wrong.
Than the show pulling it all together in a fireworks of through-lines and character beats that I hadn’t discerned.
Than the show tying up every loose end and making it all make perfect sense.
Nothing would make me happier. Because I remember what it was like to hold hands with Ted Lasso and laugh. I remember what it was like to believe. I’m trying so hard to be curious rather than judgmental. It just seems that the show has moved on to a different restaurant where my friends are still laughing and I’m left in a hard reality with only the wispy, sweet memories of last season and a check that needs to be paid.
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