What The Criticism Of ‘Ted Lasso’ Season 2 Gets Very Wrong
The show hasn't lost its way at all - in fact, it's more relevant than ever.
Apple TV+ series Ted Lasso bottled lightning with its debut series, earning 20 Emmy nominations and a ferociously loyal fanbase — which includes myself.
That loyal fanbase hasn’t taken kindly to the criticism currently being lobbed against Season 2: that it’s directionless, that the joy the first season mustered up has been drained away.
But what the critics fail to acknowledge is that instead of rushing forward, Ted Lasso’s second season is all about looking inward. It forgoes the literal conflicts of team vs team for the internal conflicts between our ideal selves and mental health. Something that’s more relevant than ever before.
— Warning: Mild spoilers for Ted Lasso ahead. —
An Utter Delight
Ted Lasso was created by and stars Jason Sudeikis along with Brendan Hunt. The dramedy follows the titular Ted Lasso, a Ned Flanders-esque American football coach hired by a wealthy British divorcee, Rebecca, to run her ex-husband’s premier league soccer team. Run it into the ground, to be precise. Armed with naught but unrelenting optimism and unshakable faith in his abilities as a manager (and none the wiser to Rebecca’s true motive in hiring him), Ted treks halfway around the world to coach a soccer team despite knowing nothing about soccer.
Without spoiling too much, the first season is an utter delight. Ted Lasso is a familiar sporting narrative that taps into the long-lost art of diplomat comedy, drawing on the cultural and geographical differences between the US and UK for much of its humour without punching down on either one. Ted muddles his way through failing to see the point of tea as a beverage and contending with the fact that being called a “wanker” is an insult. The central conflict of Season 1 is a traditional sporting fair, revolving around Ted’s determined optimism for making the team better vs everyone rooting for him to fail.
Despite setbacks that include a split from his wife, his team’s losses, and Rebecca’s intentions to sabotage the team to get back at her ex, the first series sees Ted victorious. Not with a traditional trophy per se, but with the love, respect and genuine connection he’s forged among those whose lives he is now a part of. At the end of season 1, we get the sense as viewers that for now, Ted has outrun the shadows cast by his panic attacks that hint at a lifelong struggle with mental health.
The first series remains highly praised for its dedication to keeping Ted upbeat, with plenty of op-eds written about the near-medicinal effect of Ted’s light and kindness on its audience, as well as the show’s dedication to modelling non-toxic masculinity. Not to say there have never been any criticisms about Ted Lasso. Many critics of colour have pointed out the show’s mostly white and wealthy cast of characters somewhat limits the impact of its optimism. Despite recent international incidents of anti-Blackness in England’s soccer leagues, Ted Lasso steers clear of any concrete commentary on the nature of racism and football culture.
All this is to say that Ted Lasso‘s opening season took great pains, much like its protagonist, to remain upbeat despite the reality around it. But the unrelenting optimism of anyone eventually breaks.
Lacking In Direction, or Looking Inward?
The current discourse around the series contends that the second season is waffling, and lacking in a direction or conflict.
In a viral thread, Daniel Radosh, a producer of the Daily Show, argued that Ted’s unrelenting optimism in Season 1 won audiences because of how much those around him detested it.
“The magic of S1 is in how Ted slowly wins everyone over despite themselves,” Radosh tweeted. “And so S2 has virtually no conflict at all.” This sentiment was echoed in Alex Shepard’s piece for the New Republic where he wrote, “Fictional depictions of sports typically thrive on villains and conflict — like The Judge in The Natural or communism in Rocky IV — but Ted Lasso largely eschews both.”
But where Rocky IV and The Natural had a geopolitical conflict, or conflict with irredeemable villains, the conflict in Ted Lasso‘s second season is internal. Simmering away beneath the recognisable sports comedy tropes of Season 1, Ted’s darker side has reached a boiling point in Season 2.
Ted’s fight is no longer between his attitude and the attitudes of those around him, but between the maintenance of his upbeat persona and his emotional reality that includes grief over his broken marriage and the death of his father. The sun, regardless of its brightness, eventually goes down — or is blocked by a long-brewing storm.
The Struggles Hidden Within Reflect The Real World
Ted Lasso has long hinted that Ted’s father also struggled with mental health. The latest episode confirmed that Ted’s father committed suicide when Ted was just 16, providing an explanation for Ted’s own struggles with anxiety seen throughout both seasons.
Both Ted’s on-screen panic attacks have occurred during his team’s wins — in both scenes, Ted is physically overcome by his symptoms and completely removes himself from the victory celebrations. His latest attack finally pushes him to book an appointment with the team’s sports psychologist.
But if Ted’s hostile scepticism towards his therapy in the following episode is anything to go by, he is almost totally unwilling or unable to able to face the conflict within himself. Something he clearly hasn’t been able to cheerily affirm his way out of.
In this way, Ted Lasso cleverly critiques its own optimism. Ted is a walking talking beacon of light and hope, but his deterioration in Season 2 offers the sobering reality, that no amount of catchy cheerfulness or cheery-pie-sweet affectation is a substitute for mental wellbeing.
This narrative is one we’re beginning to see reflected among athletes in real life too. During the Tokyo Olympics, athletes including Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka spoke candidly of their mental health struggles and even withdrew from the games. Not only is Ted Lasso’s narrative headed clearly in the direction of dealing with mental health in sports, but like any decent series, it’s providing seamless, helpful commentary on what we’re currently seeing in Western culture.
As much as it is comfortable to believe that healthy masculinity is just modelling positive behaviours couched in sports movie tropes, Ted Lasso shows that real healthy masculinity is working to challenge that culture that so often prevents men from unpacking their mental health. “The truth will set you free,” Dr Sharon says to Ted. “But first it will piss you off.”
The truth has certainly pissed off some viewers already, viewers who perhaps missed Ted’s more vulnerable moments among the footy fanfare of Season 1. A classic case of missing the forest for the trees maybe, but the darkness within Ted himself was always there.
Season 1 begins with Ted essentially running away from everything he knows. These are hardly the actions of someone as content as they appear. If Season 1 was Ted running from his demons, Season 2 sees them catch him up. Complaints against Season 2’s more internal direction demonstrate the exact point Ted Lasso is trying to make. It’s easy to bury your demons under seemingly bigger more immediate problems like coaching a failing side in a sport you don’t know how to play in a foreign country. But wherever you go, whatever you do, you take yourself with you.
Working through the darkness and difficulties within ourselves is far less glamorous and cinematic than the relative ease of facing down an opposing team or bastard billionaire ex-husbands. But it’s a far more real and necessary one than most of us, including Ted Lasso it seems, would care to admit until we have to.
Merryana Salem (they/she) is a proud Wonnarua and Lebanese–Australian writer, critic, teacher and podcaster. You can follow them on most social media as @akajustmerry. If you want, check out their podcast, GayV Club where they gush about LGBTIQ rep in media. Either way, she hopes you ate something nice today.