Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Brett Goldstein, Hannah Waddingham, Juno Temple, Brendan Hunt, Toheeb Jimoh, Phil Dunster, Nick Mohammed, Jeremy Swift
Streaming on: Apple TV+
Ted Lasso is special. The triumph of this Apple TV+ series lies in how it juxtaposes the inherent conflict of a sport against the inherent wholesomeness of its coach and his players. Over two seasons, they don't just try to be better soccer players, but also better men. While they study defensive techniques for the game, they also learn to let their guard down and be vulnerable once it ends. This is a show in which the thrill of watching the action on the soccer pitch is perfectly matched by the warmth of emotion that's preceded it in the locker room. Much like its titular character (Jason Sudeikis), Ted Lasso steadily chips away at your cynicism until you can't help but be charmed.
The tried-and-tested underdog template that worked so well in season 1, which introduced Ted — a naive-but-sincere American football coach hired to train a soccer team in England — is briefly repeated in season 2. This time around, truant soccer player Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), fresh off a stint on a trashy UK reality dating show, is looking to make a sports comeback. "Nothing more likeable than watching someone humbly overcome adversity," he deadpans. Let it be said that Ted Lasso is self-aware. Meanwhile, retired soccer player Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein, still angry), must figure out his next career move, Ted himself begins the season in a slump with seven straight draws, and recently promoted assistant coach Nathan Shelley (Nick Mohammed) finds that his new position comes with the side effect of arrogance.
As a comedy steeped in kindness, Ted Lasso is the perfect antidote to pandemic malaise. While the stakes this season range from those as massive as a player taking on a government-backed corporation to those as minor as another player admitting to pooping his pants in public, in the sunnily optimistic world of this show, they both have equally heartwarming resolutions. Even a dating app, an invention that thrives on superficiality, is retooled to match the show's depth. Brand manager Keeley Jones (Juno Temple) introduces the group to Bantr, an app that prevents its anonymous users from uploading or exchanging photos so that conversations, prioritising effort over eroticism, become the only means of connection. Even the UK that the show is set in — perpetually sunny, rarely overcast — feels like a fanciful cinematic anomaly.
This season doesn't just content itself with using jokes to infuse cheer, it also provides an insight into the characters making them. The quips fly thick and fast, with episode 1 feeling particularly overstuffed with gems like, "Dani's a lot like an expensive tape measure; he snaps back real quick." In the show's familiar subversiveness of macho posturing, the players discuss romcoms and their favourite romcom stars in another standout episode. "If all those attractive people, with their amazing apartments and interesting jobs, usually in some creative field, can go through some lighthearted struggles and still end up happy, then so can we," says Ted. See, self-aware. The episode smartly employs romcom tropes — the declaration of lost love, the tearful goodbye, the frantic chase across a city — to reunite a man with his lost love: the sport itself.
All throughout, Sudeikis is pitch perfect as Ted, a man whose boundless cheer and penchant for speaking in motivational poster quotes could easily turn insufferable, if not for him firmly landing them into endearing territory instead. When he drolly delivers a line like, "There are two buttons I never like to hit: panic and snooze," it should be cheesy, but instead makes you want to jot this down as perfectly reasonable life advice. The perfect foil to him appears in the form of Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sharon Niles), a straight-laced sports psychologist immune to his goofy charms. Their interactions eventually make it clear that Ted's affinity for joking around, though genuine, is also a layer under which he attempts to keep his vulnerabilities from bubbling up to the surface. Ted will make you laugh, and laugh hard. But when you least expect it, his sadness will absolutely wreck you. While much has been said about the show's feel-good, uplifting vibes, its canvas is just as adept at capturing the messiness of human experience.
The show cleverly keeps itself from tipping into saccharine and cloying with this dose of reality. While the characters are kind and decent, the world they inhabit sometimes isn't. Circumstances foster insecurities and loneliness, which the show still navigates with empathy. At the beginning of the season, club boss Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) is still wading through the aftermath of her divorce, but a well-intentioned reality check from Roy prompts her to reevaluate her self-worth on her own terms instead of through her own eyes instead of through the man she's been seeing. A group of expat soccer players who can't fly home for Christmas share old traditions with the new family they've forged. Putting on rose-tinted glasses won't always change the view, and Ted Lasso acknowledges that. But it also makes you want to believe that maybe, if we're kind to each other, sharing that view with someone will feel a lot more pleasant.