When the Apple TV+ fish-out-of-water comedy series “Ted Lasso” premiered last summer, we noted it wasn’t the first time a TV show or movie had been based on a character created for an ad campaign, as it was following in the footsteps of such forgettable efforts as the “Cavemen” series based on the Geico insurance ad characters, and “The Steeler and the Pittsburgh Kid,” a 1981 made-for-TV movie expanding the story of the Coca-Cola-drinking Mean Joe Greene and the kid who got his jersey.
Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso made his debut in an ad campaign for NBC Sports in 2013, and while the spots were clever, nobody but nobody but nobody could have predicted that some seven years later, the streaming series inspired by that character and the premise of an American football coach hired to run a British soccer team would become a genuine pop culture phenomenon — a beloved and nearly universally acclaimed show that last week landed a whopping 20 Emmy nominations.
The great news is, not only does Season 2 of “Ted Lasso” avoid the sophomore slump (I’ve seen eight of the 10 episodes), it’s a more deeply layered and dramatically richer effort, with some relatively minor, undeveloped characters from Season 1 taking turns in the spotlight and becoming more vital players in the ensemble, not unlike what happened with “The Office.” This is still primarily Ted Lasso’s journey and Sudeikis owns the role of his lifetime, somehow making Ted hilarious and peppy yet contemplative and complex — but Ted takes a back seat in some story arcs, as former background performers such as Toheeb Jimoh’s Sam Obisanya and Cristo Fernandez’ Dani Rojas get the chance to step up and deliver in a big way.
Season 2 picks up with AFC Richmond having been relegated, with the team in a funk and piling up tie after tie after tie — which means they haven’t won a game in forever but also haven’t lost either, which is a perfect metaphor for Ted’s glass-half-full approach to life (and a harbinger of a dark turn later in the season when Ted’s worldview switches to half-empty, and we’ll leave it at that). Many of our favorite characters are experiencing seismic changes in their lives, from team owner Rebecca Welton (the magnificent Hannah Waddingham) bouncing back from her painful divorce by swiping left and right into the dating pool; egomaniacal bad boy star Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) starring in a reality matchmaking show, and temperamental retired superstar Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) growling his way through a couple of different career options while strengthening his relationship with the cheeky team brand manager Keeley Jones (a priceless Juno Temple), who refuses to let Roy simmer in his own self-pity and brings out the best in him simply by being her energetic, whip-smart, irresistible self.
We’re also introduced to a new character: Sharon (Sarah Niles from “I May Destroy You”), a brilliant, no-nonsense psychologist who is brought on board to help one player cope with a crisis but winds up doing ongoing therapy sessions with virtually the entire team, which Ted finds equal parts helpful and unnerving. (Sharon seems impervious to Ted’s wacky sense of humor and playfulness. Niles is a deadpan delight in her non-reaction to his hijinks.) Just when it appears as if Season 2 will be a relatively light confection with the occasional serious subplot that usually gets resolved over the course of one episode, things take a heavier turn, which only serves to make the show that much more captivating and authentic. Even in the sweet and warm world of “Ted Lasso,” there’s sadness and loss and feelings of hopelessness.
Mostly, though, this is a celebration of the better angels in all of us, as even the likes of the fussy Director of Operations Leslie Higgins (Jeremy Swift) and the narcissistic Jamie Tartt display previously unseen depths of caring. Brett Goldstein was terrific as Roy Kent in Season 1, but he’s a breakout sensation in Season 2, especially in the fourth episode, titled “Carol of the Bells,” which pays tribute to a number of holiday classics and reaches its high point with get a perfect tribute to a certain scene in “Love, Actually.” The Christmas show instantly joins the ranks of all-time great holiday episodes and should become annual viewing for years to come.
BOBA FETT TO ‘FULL HOUSE’: ONE EPISODE’S NODS TO POP CULTURE
There’s no Ted Talk like a Ted Lasso Talk.
“I believe in communism — rom-communism, that is,” Ted Lasso says to his stunned squad in a mid-Season 2 sequence. Ted proceeds to mention “folks like Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, or Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant,” and the players chime in with their favorite rom-com stars — and then Ted makes his point, and we’ll leave it at that so you can enjoy his unique brand of wisdom.
The pop culture references in “Ted Lasso” fly faster and with more frequency than a string of expletives from Roy Kent when he’s in a particularly verbose mood. (That’s a “Ted Lasso” reference.) We’re going to keep this somewhat cryptic so as not to spoil the context, but here’s a list of the pop culture nods dropped in just the first episode of Season 2, in the order they appear, and yes, I probably missed one or two …
- The Michael Jordan crying meme
- Boba Fett
- The New York Jets
- Diane Sawyer
- “The Biggest Loser”
- “The Empire Strikes Back”
- “May the Force Be With You”
- Country music legends Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Shania Twain
- A certain star of “Full House”
- A main character talks about “Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 opus, ‘Magnolia.’ “
- Speaking of Tom Cruise movies: there’s also a reference to “The Last Samurai.”
- A direct quote from Ty Webb’s advice to Danny Noonan in “Caddyshack”
- “Diff’rent Strokes”
- Former Minnesota Twins second baseman Chuck Knoblauch
- Martin Short
- The Gin Blossoms songs “Hey Jealousy” and “Follow You Down.”
- The stage production of “Stomp.”
- Second “Magnolia” reference: a certain Aimee Mann song comes into play during a pivotal scene in a cafe.
- Groucho and Harpo Marx
- British journalist and podcaster Matthew Syed’s book, “The Greatest: What Sports Teaches Us About Achieving Success”