The first season of Ted Lasso was the best show to debut at the worst of times. With a raging pandemic that proved to have no end in sight after a bleak summer, the shining optimism of the mustachioed Lasso (Jason Sudekis) bringing the best out of a broken team of English footballers and their upper management was like injecting sunshine into the veins of humanity itself. For the highly anticipated and current second season, no one would have blamed the creative team for settling into doing much of the same, with new Lassoisms yet again bringing everyone together each episode. Instead, Season 2 has been using its new episodes to affirm that the series is ultimately about growth and making yourself the best “you” you can be—and that path doesn’t always go down the sunniest road. Sometimes it means confronting dark parts of yourself that maybe you didn’t even know were there. In other words, the key to succeeding in life isn’t all about biscuits and believing.
To clear it up right away, I’m not saying the second season of Ted Lasso is dark like, say, any regular season of True Detective. It’s still, on the whole, full of the kind of feel-goodness that will warm the heart like it’s a big ol’ baked treat. Everything going on between Keely (Juno Temple) and Roy (Brett Goldstein) is just lovely, and Sam Obisanyah (Toheeb Jimoh) is getting a proper spotlight, especially with his new surprising romance with Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham). Then you have that whole Christmas episode, which was just a bundle of cheer from head to toe. (Ed. Note: Counterpoint.)
But there’s no denying this season has steered into more complex, sometimes uncomfortable territory, with arcs involving both returning characters and newcomers doing things that contradict the notion of the show as a big security blanket. Specifically, we’ve seen Ted go through some severe bouts of anxiety, and in struggling to accept the help he needs, proved he’s not always an unflappable force of positivity; Nate (Nick Mohammed) has become the sort of bully he was once tormented by after getting a taste of success; Dr. Sharon (Sarah Niles) has had her own issues opening up to people, as well as struggling with a drinking problem; and in the recent episode, “Beard After Hours,” Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) painted a portrait of a man dealing with own self-loathing through self-destructive tendencies.
As a result, you’re likely to see reactions on social media to episodes like “Beard After Hours’’ or “Headspace” claiming that this second season is somehow out of step with the first, and that what’s happening to these characters is contradictory to who they were last season. It’s easy to see where those criticisms come from. The first season did such an amazing job getting you to fall in love with this cast of characters that it’s hard to see them in these scenarios. It’s difficult to watch Nate, someone who was himself bullied as a kit man, act like such an unbelievable ass towards the new kit man, Will (Charlie Hiscock). Same goes for Ted, who showed a less admirable side of himself when he chastised Dr. Sharon’s career during a session, or to see Beard knowingly put himself in harm’s way.
But the truth is, digging into that more challenging subject matter is why this second season is as great as it is. During the first season it looked like Ted Lasso would fill the shoes of The Office or Parks and Rec as a bingeable, feel-good workplace comedy, with love and hijinks defining each new episode. But the reality is that with Season 2, writers like Goldstein, Joe Kelly, Phoebe Walsh, and Jamie Lee are daring to take things further with these characters, even if it means not exactly giving fans the easily digestible show they want. Yes, these characters have big hearts, look out for each other, and are great for a laugh or words of encouragement. But they’re also insecure, vulnerable, possibly depressed, maybe angry, and—in the case of Ted—very much in need of a little help.
The creative team behind the camera and the cast in front of it have been doing the work to expand our understanding of just who these people are, and in ways that work excellently with their established personas. We know Lasso as the man who taped up that “Believe” banner in the locker room, but we also saw in Season 1 how he was going through a divorce and struggling to be away from his son in a foreign country. This season, we see a man who has tried to stay positive in the midst of all his struggles overcome with stress and anxiety, and having to then turn to therapy, a profession he has animosity towards. We met Ted as the man who seemed so steadfast in his belief in seeing the light through the dark, so to see him in such a vulnerable, even defensive state was both surprising and welcome. This move acknowledges that he’s not a walking self-help book with a killer slate of references, but respects him as a complex figure with his own flaws… and a killer slate of references.
The same goes for Nate. His bullying of both Colin (Billy Harris) and Will was perhaps a major shift for viewers who saw him as the wonderfully sweet-natured, passive kit man who through his own talent and insight worked his way up to a coaching position. But fame, let alone social media fame, can go to anyone’s head, and thanks to the bullying he suffered and the lack of approval from his own father, he has some deep insecurities. We saw that play out at the end of “Headspace” wherein Nate, once again scrolling through mentions of himself on Twitter, comes across a troll-ish comment. The episode ends with him taking it out on poor Will, who was just trying to do something nice for him by getting him a custom jersey. Again, this can be a tough, even angering, thing to watch, but it’s writing that’s daring to look at Nate with a greater lens, and put him in a position where he can (hopefully) look inward and make some changes towards becoming the kind of coach—and person—we know he’s capable of being.
While not getting the same kind of screen time as Ted or Nate, we’ve also had the chance to step into the mindset of Dr. Sharon, as well. Normally quite stoic and great at her job, even she has trouble opening up to the people, to the point where she’s driving away anyone trying to get close to her. At the end of “Man City,” she and Ted do a better job bridging that gap by finding a way to relate and communicate with each other. And then there’s even Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), who after being a colossal prick in Season 1 is perhaps the best representative for growth and change this season, taking great strides to become a better teammate and friend, while still struggling with the trauma being inflicted by his monstrous father (Kieran O’Brien).
Aside from Coach Beard’s own episode, which was an odyssey across town that richly explored his emotional issues in a complete arc (culminating at a nightclub in a church basement), it’s still too early to tell where these stories will take these characters in the end. Will Ted and Dr. Sharon have further breakthroughs with each other? Will Jamie get more time to work through his issues with his father? Will Nate get a serious kick in the ass and stop being a jerk? We still have a few episodes left to get some answers, and with Season 3 likely being the series’ last, Season 2 has so far seemed like a necessary emotional bridge towards that conclusion. It may not have taken the form that fans of the first season expected it to, but Season 2 is, with each passing episode, illustrating that cracking the code to being the best “you” you can be is a lot like cracking the recipe for the world’s best biscuit: You may make a few mistakes, and maybe even burn a batch or two, but with a little love and care and learning from the past, you can be the flakiest, butteriest, most delicious version of you that anyone can experience.
Matt Rooney is an entertainment writer whose work has appeared in Collider, IGN, JoBlo, ScreenRant, and more. If you want to read more of his writing and musings, follow him@MrMattRooney on Twitter
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