The Ted Lasso season finale released Friday morning on Apple TV. The well-loved sitcom-drama’s first season was lauded at award shows for Jason Sudeikis’ charming lead performance and its lovable fish out of water scenario. Optimistic, full-hearted and vigorously intent on depicting the resilience of the human spirit, it seems that the follow-up had nowhere to go but up.
On one hand, the second season does succeed in expanding on some of the more simply sketched characters introduced last year. But it must be admitted that the series’ beloved cheeriness has found a nemesis: intrigue.
The show’s commitment to addressing the mental health of its characters means a lot of emotional highs and lows. However, the beauty of the first season is that after the initial conflict between Ted and club owner Rebecca is resolved, the episodes tend to end off on a high note. Whether it was the application of a coaching tactic employed by the team’s goofy American leader, Ted and Rebecca sharing a tender moment of friendship, or the peppy Keeley getting her moment to shine, it seemed that even among the sadness there was room for hope, and a road to getting better.
Season two still finds time for kinds of moments, but due to the increased complexity of the web of relationships, someone always seems to get the short end of the stick. Nate, the wimpish assistant coach portrayed by Nick Mohammed, is the most obvious example of this, and his strange case will be elaborated on more later. However, there seems to be a recurring theme in the latter half of the season that only a couple characters can be happy at any given time.
Perhaps, this is the humanity of the series poking around at certain members of the club’s long term goals and the lack of contentment associated with their pursuit. But, rather than giving certain characters an out or a way to fulfill themselves beyond the club, it remains tragically insular. Jamie, despite the lack of evidence indicating it, once again declares his love for Keeley toward the end of the season.
He blames it on a curious rush of feelings he experienced during a funeral; he hasn’t been doing much of anything all season. This particular interaction has no great bearing on any events. At best, it’s a plot device, designed to show how Roy has overcome his anger issues (especially regarding Jamie). The showrunners directed the scene with very little urgency. Then, aside from a confrontation between Keeley and Roy, it is never really thought about again.
It’s not necessarily an issue that Jamie has been demoted from a V.I.P. character to more of a recurring one in the second season. It just doesn’t make sense to involve him in this sort of conflict if his motivations are not going to be examined more closely.
Episode nine was inspired by Martin Scorcese’s 1985 cult classic film. It follows Coach Beard, who, after a horrible loss, ventures into late night London to get some clarity. Coach Beard has been a constant from the get-go: a cool, collected cynic with a chess fetish who helps serve as Ted’s foil.
To give him his own episode in season two seems warranted, as his reservedness has been a subject of mystery for some time. Unfortunately, this stylistic one-offer might’ve come just a little too soon. Not everyone is familiar with the black comedy source, and its placement does come off as random. Coach Beard has been struggling with a toxic relationship, and although we get some insight into that dynamic, the stark directing style showcasing the chaos of the city is a little overwhelming and haphazard.
As a fan of the movie, I enjoy that episode as a stand-alone. But coming back into the regularly scheduled seasonal rhythm is difficult. And the information about Coach Beard is still limited. Offering a darker, shadowed look at a single character and while the others remain well-rounded and thoughtful doesn’t play well for a cohesive product.
Then, of course, there’s Nate. Nate is no longer “the Great” by any sane person’s standards. Admittedly, there has been a villain in the show before. Rebecca was initially the malevolent in season one, with Higgins her sidekick, although most fans will struggle to remember the era when she had bad intentions. Within a few episodes, the axe she intended to grind was placed back in the shed, and all bad feelings about her were successfully shifted to her barely-there ex-husband, Rupert.
Now, to make a villain is another thing. Having a character go from a fan favorite to essentially intolerable is hard to do. It’s a great credit to Nick Mohammed as an actor that he is able to do that. But is his villain arc the right way for the series to go?
This conversation dips into one about the awkward season finale. Multiple timestamps indicating that months have passed, some decisions made and others gone unaddressed. It is nice and dandy that Sam is starting a Nigerian restaurant, but Nate’s change is of far more relative importance.
Now, he is another pawn to redeem in order to beat the “big boss” that is Rupert. He’s not really mean by himself; only under the instruction of an evil jerk. Whether this change in loyalty is surprising or not, it is frustrating. An entire season guided by Doctor Sharon’s therapeutic efforts, and Nate’s ego has managed to grow tenfold. It undermines the direction of the show.
Ted Lasso’s second season has some solid episodes, much like the first. However, it’s clear that the first half of the season has more of a sense of duty and direction than the second. From episode seven on, the humor becomes uneven and even sparse.
The success of the show is not dependent on its reputation as a laugh-out-loud comedy, which it never was in the first place. However, its first season signature seems to have been smudged by alternating directional hands. Only time will tell whether the show will place priority on its distinctly hopeful tone or its broader dramatic machinations.