Disclaimer: There are very minor spoilers in this piece regarding the second season of Ted Lasso, whose 12 episodes will be released one per week on Fridays on Apple TV+ starting July 23.
Halfway through the second season premiere of Ted Lasso, the titular soccer coach, played by Jason Sudeikis, sits down with his employer, AFC Richmond owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), for a round of “girl talk” regarding her new beau. When she discloses his name is John, Ted blurts out, “Stamos?!” then excitedly riffs on the guy’s actual last name: Wingsnight. (“Like at a sports bar? Like, ‘Monday night is wings night down at P.J. Flat’s?’ Like that?”)
After being told to stop talking, a chastened Ted says, “Rule No. 1: Even though it’s called girl talk, sometimes it needs to be more like, ‘Girl, listen.’ ”
Long before Ted Lasso came to be, John Wooden constructed his famed Pyramid of Success, which contains a similar sentiment. One of the blocks deals with cooperation. “With all levels of your coworkers,” it begins, “listen if you want to be heard. Be interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way.”
If there’s a reason why Sudeikis slips so effortlessly into the character of Ted Lasso, the good-natured American football coach hired to take over a struggling English soccer team, it’s that he and the legendary UCLA coach are actually pretty similar. Last summer, when Sudeikis talked with Sports Illustrated after Season 1, he explained their philosophical connection. “Wooden had a tremendous book that I give people all the time,” he said. “When I coached and directed improv, I would teach the Pyramid of Success. It’s a great philosophy for doing collaborative work, and what’s more collaborative than doing improv?”
Ted Lasso isn’t the first time Sudeikis has shone as a platitude-spewing molder of men. He clearly is comfortable in the role. He received rave reviews for an off-Broadway production of Dead Poets Society as John Keating (played by Robin Williams in the film). Keating memorably implored his students to seize the day, which Sudeikis has done, thanks in part to the particular day he was trying to seize; timing has undoubtedly played a big role in the show’s appeal. “It’s the heart above everything else that makes people feel like they want to watch and be a part of,” says Sarah Niles, who plays new character Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, a sport psychologist. “The honesty that Ted has—he has no understanding of the game, but he’s gonna give it a go—that’s the courage that we need in life, in these crazy, dark times.”
How much have viewers embraced a show with the theme of “man in position of power tries to do well by doing good”? Well, Sudeikis won the Golden Globe and SAG Award for Best Actor, while the show was honored with a Peabody Award. It received 20 nominations for the upcoming Emmys, including best comedy, and a staggering seven for individuals (Sudeikis, four supporting actors and two supporting actresses).
For a show with a—let’s face it—wildly unrealistic premise (oblivious Yank with no experience is hired to be the face of a team in the most visible soccer league in the world), Ted Lasso has formed a genuinely sincere connection with the soccer universe.
When the U.S. women’s national team unveiled its roster for the Tokyo Olympics, it did so by having Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt, who plays Coach Beard and is one of the show’s co-creators and writers, introduce the players, in character. (Ted, discussing midfielder Rose Lavelle: “Perfect name for a candle. Like what are you gonna get? I’m gonna get the Rose Lavelle. Like right up there with sandalwood.”)
Alex Morgan performed a Lasso-inspired celebration after scoring a goal in May for the Orlando Pride. (It’s better viewed than explained, but it involved mimicking Lasso’s “Give me the ball!” routine he used when showing his team how to sell a trick play in Season 1.) Then last week she and U.S. teammate Crystal Dunn chatted with the cast in an online lovefest, with Morgan telling the actors the show is “huge in the football world.”
And on the Season 2 premiere red carpet, Sudeikis wore a shirt that read “Jadon & Marcus & Bukayo,” in honor of Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka, the three Black English national team players who were racially abused online after missing penalty kicks in their team’s loss to Italy in the final of the European Championship. Sudeikis offered a moving explanation for the gesture to Stephen Colbert this week. “Our show is rooted in both despising things like bullying and racism, but it also is rooted and takes place in London and England,” Sudeikis said. “So it was just our way to use this big, fancy premiere to spotlight them and let them know that we got their back and how much we support them. ... It was just a way to humanize and personify those three fellas. Their surnames are on the back of their kits, their uniforms, so that’s why I used their first names, the names their parents gave them. Because they’re kids. They’re young men. They should have the opportunity to succeed and fail—and tie—like everyone.”
Season 2 of the show also prominently features—lightheartedly, thankfully—ties, penalty kicks and some shirt-related drama of its own, as astute viewers of the trailer will see. But a new jersey sponsor isn’t the only change for AFC Richmond. They’re now in the Championship, having been relegated in the Season 1 finale (the unhappy ending being another example of the show’s genuine nature), and things aren’t going well. The Greyhounds open the season with eight straight draws, the last coming after Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernández) misses a stoppage-time penalty kick with tragic results. (Hint: The episode’s title is “Goodbye, Earl.”) That leads to a case of the yips, which leads to the introduction of Niles’s sport psychologist.
Calm and collected, Sharon is presented as an island of normalcy in a sea of weirdos. There are plenty of characters other than Dani on the show who could do with her services. Foul-mouthed Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) is struggling with life in retirement, which has him coaching a 9-year-old girls team, drinking rosé with a group of yoga moms and pondering an offer to become a pundit. Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) doesn’t seem to be doing especially well with Manchester City, appearing on—and being booted from—the reality show Lust Conquers All. Rebecca has her aforementioned romantic dilemma. And on and on.
One character who doesn’t seem keen on the idea of talking to Sharon, though, is Ted. Her presence has him recalling the song “Hey Jealousy” (the Gin Blossoms’ best song, he declares, but not his favorite, which would be “Follow You Down”). And he has a general aversion to her line of work. When asked his thoughts on therapy, he responds, “General apprehension and a modest Midwestern skepticism. Why do you ask?”
But we’ve seen Ted struggle with the pressure of the job before, of being alone in a foreign country, away from his kids as his marriage falls apart. It’s hard to believe that a journey toward her chair—actually, the chair belongs to the beleaguered Leslie Higgins (Jeremy Swift), who has sacrificed his office, again—won’t be a significant thread through the season. And as for her character’s straight-laced demeanor, Niles says to give Sarah time to develop.
“She’s more than meets the eye,” says Niles. “I think that’s generally what the whole show is about.”
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