Ted Lasso was everyone’s feel-good comedy of 2020. In the year of small gatherings and lost connections, season one provided everything we needed to fill our hearts: words of encouragement (“Be a goldfish!”), hilarious dialogue, an uplifting underdog story and those moments of ecstasy that are so specific to sports games. But the second season starts to embrace a more “dramedy” identity as it puts heavier topics at the forefront.

I’m not really a sports person, but I’ve been in the stands enough to know that the highs and lows of games are unparalleled. I remember shouting “Sweet Caroline” with hundreds of people at school football matches and groaning with them when the team would miss a shot. That’s how watching Ted Lasso feels, like being invested in the most exciting game of your entire life.

Spoilers ahead!

The first season is one of the most joy-inducing chunks of television I’ve ever watched. It follows Ted Lasso, an American football coach who gets hired to manage a premier English football (aka soccer) league. With absolutely no knowledge of the sport and an approach that focuses not on team bonding and positivity rather than strategy, Ted is immediately unpopular. But in a very sport movie-like arc, Ted’s unorthodox methods end up being just what the team needs. Through his unwavering optimism, Ted shows the team (and us) that magic can happen when we are kind to others and believe in ourselves. It is full of scenes that make me happy cry, like the footballers performing the “Lasso Special” in their final match or Ted forgiving Rebecca. And although there are more somber moments, such as Ted’s divorce, overall, the first season embraces its heartwarming quality.

However, in season two the comforting nature of Ted Lasso wanes slightly as the more serious takes over. Don’t get me wrong— there are still many moments of pure serotonin, like footballers dancing earnestly to N’Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye” and every time Roy Kent is onscreen. But there is undoubtedly a shift in tone as the show starts getting under the surface of the story and examining it more closely, primarily through the lenses of mental health, toxic positivity and masculinity.

Ted Lasso Characters
[Image description: a picture of Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso, Brendan Hunt as Coach Beard and Nick Mohammed as Nathan Shelley during a scene of Ted Lasso.] Via Variety
For example, we adore Ted in season one because we want someone like him— a constant cheerleader, never down for long—  to exist in our lives (also because it’s Jason Sudeikis, enough said). But season two asks: Why is Ted so upbeat all the time? When can so much optimism actually become a bad thing? How does false or toxic positivity start to affect his mental health and relationships? 

Ted hides behind optimism like a shield, a way to conceal the grief, sadness and fear that he refuses to address. It is especially evident when Sharon, the team’s new therapist, is introduced. Ted is immediately resistant to her presence, and even resentful when she starts to make progress with the players. His panic attacks that began in Season One worsen and affect his ability to work and function. And finally, he admits to Sharon the upsetting source of his persistent optimism— the loss of his father to suicide, telling her, “And I knew right then and there that I was never gonna let anyone get by me without understanding they might be hurting inside.”

There is immense value in this mission; Ted wants everyone around him to feel safe and honored.  And he truly practices what he preaches. However, what we start to understand is that Ted’s constant cheeriness— in many ways his superpower— is his greatest burden, too. I think the world would be better off if more people thought like Ted, but there is a balance between positivity that is truthful or toxic, and Ted’s is teetering.

We also see this affecting Ted’s relationships. In one of the best episodes of the season— and the most “off-brand,” structurally— Coach Beard goes off on a night-long bender to escape and drown his sorrows after another Richmond loss, giving us a glimpse into his psyche that we haven’t gotten so far. He’s disappointed at the game, of course, but the episode reveals that Beard has deep self-loathing that encourages him down several self-destructive paths that night. Beard thinks that he can’t confide any of these feelings to his anti-negativity partner and best friend. I suspect this weariness for Ted’s saccharine positivity may only strain their relationship further.

And of course, there is Nathan, who experienced a rise in the ranks so quickly it was dizzying and led to a downward spiral. After a season being Ted’s golden student, Nathan starts to feel abandoned. Combined with his insecurity and masculinity issues, this manifests in extreme false arrogance and misbehavior toward the team, the new kit boy and Ted. By the final episode, he is unrecognizable from the skittish, shy kid of season one. At first, I couldn’t understand why they decided to make Nathan so unlikeable. But as the season progressed, I understood it as another representation of how Ted’s positivity has not only often been false, but careless. In Nathan’s eyes at least, Ted told him he was special and then completely forgot about him.

These choices take everything that was established in season one and challenge it.

Season one set us up to be invested in the joy. The moments of drama are fleeting, and quickly forgotten through the ones that are touching. We feel taken care of, and assume season two will be the same. So when the show did throw something new at us, we were paying attention. Sometimes it was uncomfortable, but for a show putting mental health at the forefront, I think it should be. And it does all this without compromising the heart of the show.

Ted Lasso is the same funny, warm and hopeful show even while it starts to tackle the harder issues. I would be crying and then laughing in the same 30 seconds— the hallmark of truly brilliant writing.

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    Breagh is a yoga teacher, actor and writer currently living in Chicago, IL. She is passionate about fantasy novels, sitcoms, theatre and health/wellness, and is excited to share her passions with The Tempest!

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