Ted Lasso is back for a second season. I wrote about the joy of the series overall last week, and now I’ll be reviewing each episode. Spoiler-filled thoughts on the premiere, “Goodbye, Earl,” coming up just as soon as we discuss Tom Cruise’s hair in Magnolia…
When last we left Ted Lasso, our titular hero continued the Major League homage by promising Rebecca that he would get AFC Richmond promoted back to the EPL, and then do something no one would expect: “Win the whole fucking thing.” Well, technically, when last we left Ted and Rebecca, she was in shock after Ted reflexively spit some fizzy water all over her. Which is the Ted Lasso ethos in a nutshell. It’s not quite, to quote The Mary Tyler Moore Show‘s greatest episode, a little song, a little dance, a little seltzer down your pants. It’s more a lot of heart, a little comedy, and a splash of seltzer in someone’s face. But with Rebecca and Ted now completely on the same side — and with Jamie off the team and Roy’s damaged knee sending him into retirement — where would the comic tension come in a second season?
For a while, “Goodbye, Earl” seems to be presupposing that a comedy might not need ongoing tension. When we catch up with all our pals, Richmond is playing through the final minutes of their eighth game in the lower Championship league. They have no wins under their belt so far; but the Greyhounds also have no losses. There’s a maxim attributed to various hardass American football coaches that “a tie is like kissing your sister.” But Ted Lasso is anything but a hardass. In many ways a tie is his platonic ideal for how every game should end: Nobody has to go home completely sad about the outcome.
That this eighth tie comes about in a freak accident where the team’s canine mascot Earl leaps in the path of Dani Rojas’ penalty kick (evoking the time Randy Johnson’s fastball murdered a bird mid-flight) is sad, yes. And it does a darkly hilarious number on poor Dani for the rest of the episode, with his “Football is life!” catchphrase briefly changing to “Football is death!” But on the whole, things seem awfully peachy in Lasso Land. Despite the team’s mediocre record without Jamie and Roy, Ted has the local reporters(*) eating out of his hand as he tells the story of Hank, the dog that bit him as a little boy, and that he wound up caring for in high school. It’s the kind of speech that should have this roomful of cynical journalists rolling their eyes. But Ted is, as always, so sincere that they are hanging on every word, and nearly as moved as Ted is by his memories of this dog they’ve never met.
(*) The other beat writers are now making fun of Trent Krimm from The Independent‘s habit of formally introducing himself each time. Ted’s joy has infected them, too, it seems.
When Ted wanders into Rebecca’s office a few scenes later, the lack of stakes for this season seems to be fully established. The team is struggling and its best player is a self-loathing wreck, yet the priority for the gang is to recreate the feeling of one of Norm’s entrances into the bar on Cheers, with Rebecca even setting Ted up for a punchline the way Sam or Coach or Woody would back in the day. This is an inside joke — George Wendt, who played Norm, is Jason Sudeikis’ uncle — but also an easy way to illustrate how different the dynamics are among the core cast compared to last year. Without Jamie and Roy to cause different kinds of tension, the players are all getting along (look how badly they want to help Dani through his post-Earl crisis), and no one in management is scheming against anyone else(*).
(*) Well, Nate seems to have no patience for young Will, who has succeeded him as the team’s equipment manager. But that’s for the moment a rivalry without big ripples, and also a mark of how far Nate has come, for good and for ill, from the guy who used to get bullied by Jamie and his crew.
Yes, Dani Rojas getting the yips is a problem for the team — a very real one given how bereft Richmond is of talent overall — but it’s also one solved within the episode. So are other issues, like Rebecca dating a guy who’s age-appropriate and nice but doesn’t really excite her (inspiring some vintage Roy Kent fiery oratory about how she deserves someone who makes her feel “like you’ve been struck by fucking lightning — don’t you dare settle for fine!”), or even the tension between Roy and Keeley over her desire to have him take a job as an analyst on a football studio show.
On the one hand, Ted Lasso is a show about kindness, decency, and the value of human connections, populated with colorful and endearing characters. Do we really want anyone fighting, especially when an episode like “Goodbye, Earl” can be so entertaining without any argument more severe than the schoolteacher asking Roy to stop using “little pricks” to refer to the girls he coaches on his niece Phoebe’s team?
On the other, can Ted Lasso, with its many pieces, function as a pure hangout show? Does it even want to? “Goodbye, Earl” slips some conflict in via the Dani Rojas story. Dani himself is able to escape his Earl-killing funk with the help of Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, a noted sports psychologist Higgins hires to deal with the crisis. Dr. Fieldstone is clearly very good at her job — and not shy about letting Ted know this — while also being coolly professional in way that makes her immune to Ted’s usual homespun charms. When Higgins first suggests bringing her in, it’s clear that Ted has preexisting qualms about the mental health industry — which is interesting for a man who cares so much about the people around him feeling better. But he lets her in, she helps Dani, and it turns out that other players are eager to avail themselves of her services, too.
It’s not much in the way of conflict, particularly compared to what we knew at the end of the series premiere about Rebecca’s plan to use Ted to destroy Richmond from within. But it’s something. And maybe small, gradually-building drama is what Season Two needs after some of the high-concept plotting of Season One. We have grown from having a handful of characters to care about to a sprawling ensemble, and “Goodbye, Earl” is understandably most interested in catching up with everyone — complete with the use of Aimee Mann’s “Wise Up” as both a payoff to an earlier joke about Magnolia and an acknowledgment that Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, and company are now juggling a lot of stories at once.
The premiere ends with another potential source of trouble coming back into the picture. While Roy is on his weekly date with the local yoga mums to stretch out his many football-induced aches and pains, he gets pulled into watching Lust Conquers All, the Love Island-esque dating show that the mums are all obsessed with. And who should be the villain of Lust, but Jamie Tartt (do-do-duh-do-do)? He’s an idiot, but he’s our idiot. It’s good to have him, and the rest of the gang, back.