Like Schitt’s Creek, whose equally warm-hearted comedy about overcoming adversity helped to inoculate us against the first panic of the pandemic, the first season of Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) offered succour to many as we moved through the year. I feel it is incumbent upon me therefore to begin with an assurance. Mark this and mark it well: yea, though the first 15 minutes of the season two opener be a charmless thing; though thy soul shall start to shrivel at the thought that the one good thing 2020 gave us, the one balm to the psychic wounds endlessly inflicted, is losing its way – keep the faith and thou shalt be rewarded. By the end of Ted Lasso’s first episode, the show that kept so many of us going has found its feet and is racing up the league tables towards its rightful place once more.
For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure (and please do indulge yourself as soon as you can; I would be surprised if it did not improve life for you at least a little), Ted Lasso is – simply put – the tale of a good man doing good things. The title character, played with unfaltering lightness of touch and an utter lack of cynicism by Jason Sudeikis (also a co-creator of the show), is an American football coach brought over by an English football club’s manager, Rebecca Welton (a resplendently icy Hannah Waddingham), to transform the team’s fortunes. In fact she hopes his lack of experience will cause them to fail, thus punishing her horrible ex-husband who loved the club but lost it in the divorce settlement. But all obstacles gradually fall before Ted, his optimism, his energy and his unshakeable belief in humanity, regardless of the fact that his own marriage is breaking up and that he is now in an unfathomable country which greets triumph and disaster alike with cries of “Wanker!” and keeps trying to make him like tea.
In this new series, Rebecca and he are now friends and pro-Richmond FC, so a new antagonist (oh, this word is too strong for lovely Ted Lasso! I mean it purely in the narrative-construction sense) is needed. She arrives in the form of sports psychologist Dr Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles). We see the first tiny shadow pass over Ted’s sunny soul when it is suggested that she might help the team in ways he cannot – an intimation of the new season’s willingness to dig deeper and add a necessary sprinkling of grit to give the thing the traction that novelty and perfect broadcast timing gave it first time round. Implacable and unbending in the face of folksy wisdom, Dr Fieldstone deals in truth, and over the season she is the catalyst for growth in Ted in ways that stay true both to him and to the show’s comic, tender spirit.
All our favourites are back. They include handsome lummox Jamie (Phil Dunster), initially in a new situation that is so perfect for him I shall not spoil it here, and his nemesis and hard-bastard-not-really Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein, also executive story editor and writer of the sixth episode). Roy is figuring out what to do in post-injury retirement, and coaching his niece’s under-10’s football team with his customary intensity in the meantime. They are learning a lot of ball skills and even more Anglo-Saxon. He and Keeley (Juno Temple) are still together and the actors’ chemistry just gets better as they navigate their growing relationship. Nate (Nick Mohammed) is learning – not quickly and often quite painfully for those around him – the difference between assertiveness and aggression in ways that make you laugh and cry by turns. And Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) remains as gloriously gnomic as ever. He means everything to me. I would die for him.
The programme’s world opens up to give the characters more context than simply the club and their relationship to it and each other. It also becomes even more generous – though it was never mean – with storylines for others. Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) in particular leads one that movingly and unforcedly channels the Black Lives Matter movement and echoes the taking-the-knee controversy of the Euros, and also gets a lighter, romantic one that develops later in the series.
The broadening and deepening must have felt like a risk to everyone involved in a show predicated on bringing light comic relief to viewers, and which then became frankly essential to their mental wellbeing. But it’s paid off. They shot and they’ve scored. God bless.