The first season of Ted Lasso, Apple TV’s streaming series about an American college football coach (Jason Sudeikis) who takes over a top-flight English soccer team, was blessed with perfect timing. It debuted in August last year, and Lasso’s relentless optimism in the face of every crisis was a balm amid the grinding anxiety of the Covid pandemic and the presidential election. The title character was, moreover, a reminder that deep down there might be something redeemable about America—a conclusion far from obvious for much of the country in the Trump era. Once, English people taught Americans how to self-actualize—think Mary Poppins or Batman’s Alfred. Lasso, a transplant with no knowledge of soccer whatsoever, taught pompous and cynical Brits how to believe.
The result was both a word-of-mouth hit and, more surprisingly, a critical darling. Few faulted Lasso for its light tough—a show without any real conflict, in which Lasso, despite his lack of knowledge or experience, ascends almost effortlessly. Last month, the show garnered 20 Emmy nominations, the most for a new series in television history. There is little sign of a backlash: The show’s second season, which started streaming on Friday, has a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. But the new season of Ted Lasso is also appearing in a different context: Last year’s angst is still present, but more muted. The question is whether it can give depth to its paper-thin characters without losing the sunniness that made it a runaway success.
Very little about the series makes sense on paper. It is a sports sitcom that rarely shows its team in action; the first season barely featured a handful of games, nearly all of which were grace notes or footnotes to the main action. It is, moreover, a show rooted in English soccer that is aimed squarely at Americans; it features as many references to the NBA as it does the English Premier League. It is also a comedy that is not particularly funny. Ice cream, per Lasso, is “like seeing Billy Joel live—it never disappoints,” while “you beating yourself up is like Woody Allen playing the clarinet. I don’t want to hear it.” The television character that Lasso most closely resembles is Ned Flanders, the hyper-optimistic neighbor in The Simpsons. (Flanders is funnier, if only because we laugh at his expense.)
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