Editor’s Note: This is the longform version of the article published in the October 27 print edition of The Wellesley News.
Ted Lasso, the show taking the world by storm with its positivity, began its second season on July 23, 2021 and ended its 12-episode run on Oct. 8, 2021. The series continues its exploration of the various obstacles the titular character (played by Jason Sudeikis) faces as a coach of a British soccer team after having only coached an American college football team.
Season 1 ended with the relegation of AFC Richmond, Lasso’s team, out of the Premier League. Season 2 opens with a shot of Nate, played by Nick Mohamed, (the now-lauded underdog of Season 1) as Richmond attempts to win another match, again ending in a draw, to the chagrin of the club. Enter Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles), a sports psychologist hired to improve the team’s performance. Richmond’s last match unfortunately ended with the ever-positive Dani Rojas accidentally killing the team’s mascot, and he really needed help.
This season also brought some characters to the forefront, apart from Ted and the club’s owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), as Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) and Nate Shelby (Nick Mohamed) play larger roles in the second season. Keeley Jones (Juno Temple) is now a PR consultant for the team. Her boyfriend, Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), the former captain, joins the team as a coach after a brief sportscasting gig, breaking their streak of ties.
Ted is going through a lot this season. He is dealing with the aftermath of his divorce, as well as living in another country, far away from his son. He suffers from multiple panic attacks in this season, which ultimately ends up impacting how he deals with the team. In Episode 6 (“The Signal”), Ted exits the stadium during a match due to a panic attack. Ted then shows up in Dr. Fieldstone’s office, and finally opens up. Although at first he was opposed to her hiring, and was a little bit jealous of how well the team responded to her, Ted and Sharon’s relationship becomes one based on mutual respect and trust. This was heartening to see in one of the more sensitive depictions of mental health; everyone needs help at some point, and that’s okay.
One of our favorite episodes was “Man City,” where, as the title suggests, the show reflects on toxic masculinity and its consequences. Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), the hotshot player and all-around jerk in the first season, is brought back to the team by Ted, despite the protests of his fellow coworkers and players. Jamie and Richmond are facing off against Jamie’s old team Manchester City (get it?). This episode marks a huge step for Jamie’s growth as a character, and is a testament to how quickly Ted Lasso can endear even its most despised characters to its audience. The first season briefly showed Jamie’s father’s abusive nature; this time it was front and center when he came storming into Richmond’s locker room and mocked Jamie for losing the match. Jamie finally stands up to him, and punches him right in the nose. (We do not condone violence, but in this case it was about time).
In one of the most touching moments of the show, Roy, the show’s most aggressive and “masculine” man, walks up to Jamie and hugs him. Phil Dunster’s flinch before Jamie realized what was happening was heart-breaking. Roy and Jamie despised each other since the beginning of the show, and it warmed our hearts to see them have this moment.
Roy and Keeley also had a heartwarming arc throughout the season. They deal with the ups and downs of a new relationship, but are always communicative about their needs and worries with each other, which is so much better than the all-too familiar miscommunication trope in practically every on-screen relationship. As far as romantic relationships go, though, the goal is to have what Higgins (Jeremy Swift), the team’s general manager, and his wife have.
The show is not usually overtly political, except for Episode 3, “Do the Right-est Thing,” where Sam does a promotional photoshoot for Dubai Air, the primary sponsor for Richmond. He later finds out through his father that they were drilling for oil and causing substantial environmental damage in his home country of Nigeria. He subsequently withdraws from the campaign and decides to put black tape on his jersey where Dubai Air is emblazoned as a form of protest. His fellow teammates join in, as does Jamie. This seemed to be the show’s way of reflecting the recent wave in activism from athletes, especially in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. But Ted Lasso did it in a way that worked for the story, and it came to be one of the season’s strongest episodes.
One of Ted Lasso’s best parts is its depiction of female friendships. Rebecca and Keeley’s friendship throughout the show is so mutually supportive and uplifting, and there is none of the typical competition or “catfights” that are often depicted in female friendships on-screen. Rebecca and Keeley are wild and weird together, and they love each other for it. And we love them for it too.
Waddingham’s strongest performance was in Episode 10, “No Weddings and a Funeral,” where Rebecca’s father passes away. Rebecca has a complicated relationship with her father, and Waddingham portrays this inner turmoil with so much grace. The episode was also the one time where hearing Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” could actually bring tears to your eyes.
Although he is only ever briefly in intermittent episodes, we have to acknowledge Trent Crimm (who always introduces himself as “Trent Crimm, the Independent”), played by James Lance. He has warmed up to Ted since Season 1, so much so that he even reveals an anonymous source to him. Crimm sent an article about his panic attack for comment to Ted, revealing that it was Nate (gasp!), the assistant coach whose fame has gone to his head, who revealed what happened, in a monumental betrayal of Ted’s trust. (As journalists, we do not condone revealing anonymous sources, but as viewers, we were really rooting for Trent Crimm, the Independent.)
There are a few moments where the show does fall flat, although these are far and few between. In Episode 8 (“Man City”), Sam and Rebecca begin a relationship in earnest (after chatting with each other anonymously on a dating app), while hiding it from their friends and coworkers. Rebecca is nearly twice as old as Sam, and is also his boss, which complicates their dynamic. The age difference is mentioned once in a light-hearted manner, and the employer-employee relationship is never addressed. The show treats their relationship as it would any other. If Sam had been an older man pursuing his much younger female employee, the other characters’ reaction to their relationship would likely have been markedly different. At times, Rebecca is desperate to not be alone, and this hinders her character’s development, as she is flourishing in her business and her relationships with her colleagues, friends, and family.
A new character introduced this season is Edwin Akufo (Sam Richardson), a Ghanian billionaire who is interested in buying out the remainder of Sam’s contract from AFC Richmond and bringing Sam to a team closer to his home in Nigeria. Akufo seemed too good to be true, and when Sam rejects his offer, he responds violently, cursing at Sam and physically damaging the Richmond facility. Akufo swears to destroy Sam’s career and then leaves just as quickly as he came, and we are unsure whether he will return in Season 3. Richardson’s character seemed to have no point other than to further Sam’s character arc; his introduction and rapid exit was a rather disjointed aspect of an otherwise strong ending to the season.
The most shocking aspect of this season, and potentially the main plot line of Season 3, is the arc of Mohamed’s character, Nate. He builds his confidence throughout the first few episodes, and in Episode 6 (“The Signal”), he steps in when Ted leaves, taking charge and running a controversial play that wins the match. After the victory, he is praised by the media and his ego balloons. When his father urges him to be humble in the face of his new success, he is embittered. In the penultimate episode (“A Midnight Train to Royston”), his frustration mounts as Ted receives the credit for the plays he comes up with, and he goes so far as to kiss Keeley, his fellow coach’s girlfriend. As Nate’s ideas take Richmond to the playoffs, we see that his increased self-confidence has an ugly current of self-hatred lying just beneath it. In the finale (“Inverting the Pyramid of Success”), he confronts Ted in his office, sharing his resentment for Ted getting the credit for his ideas, and what he perceives as Ted’s indifference towards him. He rips up Ted’s “Believe” sign (and our hearts along with it) and leaves. After a time jump, we see that he is now coaching West Ham, the team newly purchased by Rebecca’s ex-husband.
Nate is one of the few main characters who is a person of color, and the only South Asian one. While his race is not explicitly mentioned by the other characters, the actor who plays him has noted that the microaggressions Nate experiences contribute to his anger. Despite his astronomical success, he is still slighted by other characters, including Roy and Ted. He is desperate to please his parents, since he believes that they don’t care for his accomplishments. In the end, Nate betrays the team and the people that gave him a chance to prove himself, and he falls from a fan favorite down to one of the most loathed characters on the show.
The overarching theme of this season is the importance of mental health and destigmatizing seeking help. Ted Lasso’s exploration of grief and mental health was much-needed and apt for the pandemic, although it did not mention the pandemic at all. Attempting to tackle the pandemic in addition to the other storylines and generally optimistic tone of the show would have been nearly impossible. The Season 2 finale was a good mix of “Ted Lasso’s” unique mix of joy and tugging on your heartstrings; it provided satisfying moments for some characters and deeply transformative moments for others. Richmond wins their final match and is promoted back into the Premier League. Sam buys a restaurant, Ted opens up to the team about his mental health, and Nate leaves for West Ham.
“Ted Lasso” continues to be our favorite optimistic fix, and in this season it paid off all those happy uplifting moments with deeper explorations of its characters and their mental health.