'Ted Lasso' Has Forgotten It's a Show About Soccer

The Apple TV+ comedy needs more AFC Richmond going into its second season finale.

ted lasso
Apple TV+
Apple TV+

When I was trying to convince friends to watch Ted Lasso Season 1—before it became an Emmy-winning phenomenon—I met some resistance along the lines of: "But it's a show about sports. I don't really care about sports." I would respond, "No, no, no. It's not really about sports. It's a fish-out-of-water story about kindness and divorce." Here's where I admit: I was wrong. The first season of Ted Lasso was about sports. The second season is not about sports, and it's faltering because of that shift.

Shortly after Season 2 of the show starring and co-created by Jason Sudeikis debuted on Apple TV+, the whispers of backlash started to form. It was only expected. Ted Lasso came as a complete surprise, an actually good comedy that originated as a series of NBC Sports ads. It was the perfect pandemic watch: Something sweet with a little bit of sadness; a comfort binge that felt like a warm and fuzzy blanket. Anything that gets super popular—especially something as earnest as Ted Lasso—is bound to receive some pushback. The best Ted Lasso criticism came from the writers Doreen St. Felix at the New Yorker and Inkoo Kang at The Washington Post, both of whom approached Ted Lasso's optimism with measured skepticism. Of course, the internet being what it is, the discourse soon spiraled out of control, and morphed into a battle between Lasso haters and Lasso lovers.

I was not as smitten with the initial Season 2 episodes as I was with the entirety of Season 1, but I was willing to overlook what complaints I had for the pleasure of having characters I'd grown to love back on my screen. But as it inches toward its finale on Friday, October 8, I've found my patience tested a little. That's in part due to the extended runtimes, which are now 45 minutes instead of 30. But the penultimate installment also reminded me what exactly has been missing: soccer. Or, well, "football," if you're being British about it.

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Here, the team dances to 'Bye Bye Bye' and does not play soccer. | Apple TV+

Since Episode 8, which charted AFC Richmond's brutal loss to Manchester City at Wembley, footie has been absolutely ancillary to the plot. We spent a night out on the town with Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) and caught up with the gang at a funeral. When we finally get out on the pitch again in Episode 11, it appears that Richmond has been doing great, Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) has turned into a star, and the club has almost made it back into the Premier League. Wait! When did that happen? As far as us viewers know, Richmond has been playing at best OK and, at worst, very badly all season. Suddenly, the team is on the precipice of overturning the setback that was supposed to be the very conflict driving the entire season. Only, that never seemed to be much of a concern at all.

The first season ended with Richmond being relegated to the Championship League, stripped of its status as one of the top clubs in the UK because of poor performance. It offered an easy path for the narrative moving forward. Whereas the first season was about owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) deliberately trying to sabotage the team with her hire of the gregarious but clueless Ted, the second would be about everyone, now friends, trying to rebuild. Except that hasn't really been the case.

The Ted Lasso writers have largely ignored what seemed like a crucial obstacle for its protagonists in favor of a stranger, more freeform path full of experiments (like Beard's wild night), romance (Rebecca and Sam's tryst), and emotional growth (Ted's breakthrough with Dr. Sharon, played by Sarah Niles). And yet that looseness has also made for a disjointed series that could use the oomph of a high intensity soccer match. It's almost as if the Lasso team took the "it's not really about sports" too far, forgetting that there was innate drama in the trials of the team on the field.

Most great television series and films about sports—Friday Night Lights being a key example—are about more than whatever games are being played, but they also use the tension of the competition to ramp up the excitement on screen.

Based on the cliffhanger in the last minutes of Episode 11, it's clear that there is some more soccer on the horizon. Bad journalist Trent Crimm of The Independent reported that Ted had a breakdown during a match, and told Ted that his source was assistant coach Nate (Nick Mohammed), who has been feeling mistreated. Now everyone is going to have to work out their issues if Richmond is going to get promoted back to where they belong. Only, right now, it's slightly hard to care what becomes of the players, and we're left feeling like hooligans without any reason to cheer. 

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.