I didn't believe Ted Lasso could do it again. I was wrong.
The show's second season is an even more baffling success than the first
I know there's something wrong with me because I keep waiting for Ted Lasso to be mean.
I waited for it during the pilot episode, when Ted is ambushed on his flight to England by a skeptical hooligan who wants an "ussie." I waited for it when AFC Richmond owner Rebecca finally confesses to sabotaging him toward the end of the first season, only for Ted to forgive her. I admit I even waited for it when starting the show's second season, which premieres Friday on Apple TV+ — because surely, two years in, the relentless niceness has to give? I can't stop anticipating the cruel twist, the nasty punchline at another character's expense, the ha-ha-fooled-ya! reversal for comedic effect.
But Ted Lasso, irritatingly, keeps proving me wrong. In fact, it's that very ought-to-be-unsustainable wholesomeness that makes what I've seen of the second season somehow an even more baffling success than the first.
On paper, though, I should hate Ted Lasso. Referred to as a "remarkably sweet show about teamwork, friendship, and redefined masculinity," it sounds like Paw Patrol for grown-ups, while the critical insistence that it was a salve for 2020 gave the impression of it being a mindless escape from reality, like the 10-minute timelapse of a Dutch canal boat that I watched all the way through on YouTube during the height of my pandemic claustrophobia. Certainly I wasn't expecting to be disarmed by a show that repeatedly demonstrates decency, mutual respect, and vulnerability while still being, against all odds, hilarious.
I still had doubts about the second season. The first season worked in part because it was unexpected for Ted to be unwaveringly softhearted through all 10 episodes; surely pulling the same move again would be excessively saccharine at best, or boring at worst. Somehow, though, I was even more bothered by the possibility that Ted Lasso actor and co-writer Jason Sudeikis might finally do the easy thing and make the show's humor a little more vicious, a little more "mature," a little more mainstream.
So I continued to wait. I waited for Ted to blow his top over his team not winning games, or Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) to start scheming again, or Keeley (Juno Temple) to quit being so supportive. But once again making a fool out of me, Ted Lasso's second season only digs in deeper. Parts of the first season that felt somewhat thin — Leslie Higgins (Jeremy Swift) as the buffoonish henchman, or auxiliary members of the soccer team who appeared to exist just to populate locker room scenes — bloom into larger parts of the story. Even Ted's impossibly buoyant personality becomes more complicated when he's presented with the competitor of a team psychologist (Sarah Niles).
My unwillingness to believe Ted Lasso could continue to be so tender is exactly why I can't stop watching it. Part of me keeps waiting eagerly to see it fail, for it to take that easy, mean-spirited punchline or, conversely, to become so obnoxious with its "be nice and do good" philosophy that I have to bail out of self-respect. Instead, the show does things like commit to a mid-season Christmas episode that does nothing to especially drive the plot forward, but seems to exist solely to celebrate good deeds, good times, and the grace that comes with forgiveness.
I understand how that can rub some people the wrong way, because I'm a grinch too. I like my shows dark, I laugh at twisted jokes, and I don't need to swaddle myself in feel-good TV to get through my week (Dutch canal boats occasionally aside). But canonically, it is also the Grinch's heart that grows three sizes larger when faced with the unshakable optimism and open-heartedness of the Whos. In watching Ted Lasso with the baggage of my own expectations, only to have my cynicism repeatedly thwarted, there is something that grows a little bit in me, too.
I'm reminded of the first episode of Ted Lasso, when Ted's character is introduced through the viral video of him dancing in a locker room celebration. A British newscaster explains that you "have to see it to understand, and then even when you see it, I don't necessarily know that 'understanding' is what we're doing." Likewise, I wish I could tell you that after a season-and-a-half of watching Ted Lasso now, I've figured out why the unbridled joy of mustachioed, motivational-poster-quoting, fictional soccer coach is so infectious to a grouch like me. But understanding isn't what we're doing, either, is it?