“Ted Lasso” became an instant hit for Apple TV+ when it premiered last August. The show charmed viewers with its positive tone and Ted’s reminders to always “believe” even in times of trouble. This optimistic energy was needed amid the pandemic, as the comedy-drama released in a time of uncertainty before vaccines and lifted mask mandates.
The character Ted Lasso was first introduced on screen in 2013 as a part of a series of promos on NBC starring “Saturday Night Live” alum Jason Sudeikis, meant to advertise the channel’s broadcast of Premier League matches. The commercials were such a hit among audiences that they were brought back the following year. Seeing the success, Sudeikis’ then-partner, Olivia Wilde, suggested that he flesh out the character for television and six years later, that idea became a reality.
The initial premise of “Ted Lasso” is simple. The titular character is recruited to coach AFC Richmond, a floundering Premier League football team in England, after finding success coaching an American football team in Kansas. Initially, he is chosen by Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), the club’s owner, because of his lack of knowledge of the sport. She wants to see the team fail as part of a ploy to get back at her awful ex-husband. As the football season progresses and the players begin to improve thanks to Ted, she has a change of heart. However, while they’ve found their strengths, there is still plenty of room for the team to improve and they lose the final match, causing them to get relegated.
At the beginning of Season 2, viewers catch up with everyone at AFC Richmond mid-season, after they’ve ended seven consecutive matches in draws. A freak accident involving player Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernández) and the team’s mascot occurs on the pitch before the theme song even rolls, leading to the hiring of Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles) as AFC Richmond’s sports psychologist.
Ted insists that she is not needed, despite her ability to help Dani overcome his mental block and play again. His attitude remains the same even after she helps more players work through their problems, consequently improving the team’s overall performance.
Ted is more on edge this season, his typically carefree and cheerful demeanor waning as he appears to be wrestling with something. Dr. Fieldstone offers her services to him, sensing that he needs help, but Ted declines. His reasoning is not explained till later on in the season, when he finally musters up the courage to seek help after having another panic attack during a game. However, when he does sit down with Dr. Fieldstone, he deflects, prompting her to explore other methods.
Some, such as therapist Erin Qualley for the Los Angeles Times, have praised “Ted Lasso” for its honest portrayal of therapy and the immense amount of care that goes into these scenes. It’s refreshing to see a mainstream show like “Ted Lasso” tackle men’s mental health issues and how rewarding getting help can be. Others dislike these plotlines, taking issue with the show’s “darker direction.”
While Season 2 does deal with heavier material, this is not entirely new ground for the show. There was plenty of darkness in the first season.
“I am always surprised when people say it made them feel warm and fuzzy inside,” “Ted Lasso” actor and writer Brett Goldstein told Vanity Fair. “His wife left him. The team got relegated. Rebecca’s been in a horrifically abusive marriage. Like it’s dark, it’s really dark. But it is about people being their best selves in difficult circumstances.”
On the topic of Goldstein, the second season finds his scene-stealing, always-swearing Roy Kent coaching his niece’s football team and commentating on matches post-retirement. He’s eventually persuaded by Ted to return to Richmond and assist him in coaching the team alongside Beard (Brendan Hunt) and Nate (Nick Mohammed).
Roy’s return causes him to bump heads with Jamie Tartt (Phill Dunster), his ex-teammate, and fellow returnee. Jamie’s comeback is not as welcomed as Roy’s, his cruelty toward the other players, such as Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) from the previous season still stinging. But after being rejected from rival team Manchester and voted off first on “Lust Conquers All,” a parody of UK hit “Love Island,” he is determined to make amends.
Meanwhile, after going out on a double date with Roy and Keeley (Juno Temple) and seeing the strength of their relationship, Rebecca decides to find a man who will treat her right. Keeley recommends she join “Banter,” an anonymous online dating app that sponsors the team. Much to her surprise, Rebecca ends up falling for a lovely mystery man who is revealed to be someone more familiar later on in the season.
Despite each character evolving and taking themselves in new directions this season, the discourse online revolves around the show’s plot (or lack thereof).
While Rebecca’s plan to destroy the team is at the center of the first season, the second has shifted its focus to what each character is going through individually and how this affects the club’s success as a whole. Now that the team has grown closer to each other, it’s become time to flesh each of them out more. This has granted more screen time for supporting characters like Sam, whose character development is just as compelling as the others.
The discourse continued after the release of a Christmas episode that was shot later in the season after Apple ordered two more episodes of the show. Many were angered that the episode did not move the plot forward in any capacity, even though few holiday specials actually do in comedy shows; filler episodes are common within any show on television, even in shorter seasons produced for streaming networks.
If anything, that episode further explained what is going on with Ted, who is struggling with living apart from his son and missing out on parts of his childhood. The episode also served to show how close the AFC Richmond players have become, spending the holiday together.
People’s issues with the plot might also stem from the fact that this is the first time that they have watched the show week by week, many having binged Season 1 once it was completely finished. After all, any storyline is going to feel more cohesive if consumed in just one or two sittings; it’s harder to “be a goldfish” and not dwell on weaker plot points when one has an entire week to sit and reflect.
In response to the mixed reactions, Vanity Fair writer Joanna Robinson tweeted, “A #TedLasso backlash is unsurprising and I’ll admit I wasn’t initially blown away by the first few episodes of S2 but (I hate to be screener smug but also I think this is literally my job) the season takes turns I was really impressed by and I’ve enjoyed watching it back through.”
Perhaps, after such a well-received first season, the second was doomed from the start. Viewers may have adjusted to what initially was a unique premise and have found themselves yearning for that freshness again. In the case of “Ted Lasso,” along with many other beloved shows, a larger, devoted fanbase comes with stronger feelings and higher (yet sometimes impossible-to-meet) expectations.
“Ted Lasso” may be taking itself in new directions by keeping individual character development at the forefront and stressing the importance of seeking help for mental health issues, but these decisions have ultimately paid off as Season 2 progresses.