Christmas comes early this year, in one of Ted Lasso’s best episodes.
Does Ted Lasso work best when its cast of characters is distanced from one another and put into smaller groups? Or will it become a yearly tradition that the fourth episode of each season becomes particularly great? (Season one’s was the fantastic auction episode “For the Children.”) Either way, “Carol of the Bells” is the show at its best, digging into the core mission statement of the show to highlight the best in humanity.
Maybe it’s my disillusioned nature with television today, but the obligatory Christmas episode feels like such a throwback to the best days of the medium. It used to be that a show’s Christmas episode would essentially be a self-contained story that was largely disconnected from the season’s overall storyline, but with the rise of streaming, it’s become harder and harder to pull that effect off. “Carol of the Bells” eschews this season’s ongoing plots entirely and chooses instead to focus on its characters and their relationships with each other. Of course, Christmas and Ted Lasso make perfect sense on paper; when you have an eternally cheerful protagonist who does his best to bring joy to all around him, you expect the two interests to mesh together perfectly. What “Carol of the Bells” does best though is how it manages to subvert our expectations of what we’ve come to expect from Christmas episodes, while still deepening our understanding of some of the lesser characters. Not once do any characters hammer home their love for the holiday, nor does it go to any truly dark places, as Christmas episodes tend to do in both regards.
The episode opens* with the team together in the locker room, opening Secret Santa gifts and rhapsodizing about their Christmas plans: Ted will be FaceTiming his son as he opens gifts; Rebecca will be attending a party at Elton John’s house; Higgins will be continuing his annual tradition of hosting the players with no families to be with; Keeley and Roy have plans for a “sexy Christmas.” Any time Ted’s estranged family comes up, I fully expect the show to embrace its dark undertones, and this episode begins to head in that direction, with Ted drinking scotch and continuously watching It’s a Wonderful Life. Until Rebecca shows up to rescue him and the two spread Christmas cheer for the citizens of London. Ted and Rebecca continue to be the show’s best pairing, even when the episode doesn’t give them much room to stretch and reflect together.
*And the title sequence even gets a Claymation makeover this time, where Ted is joined by Rebecca and all the other major figures. I can’t be the only Community fan that was instantly reminded of another Christmas episode classic, “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas.”
Since this is a sitcom, we know that Keeley and Roy’s plans will somehow go south, and they do very quickly here – after a fantastic montage of Juno Temple putting the finishing touches on decorations – with Roy bringing home his niece, Phoebe. It’s soon discovered that Phoebe has been bullied at school because of her bad breath, leading to one of the comedic highlights of the entire show. Juno Temple and Brett Goldstein’s reactions are hilariously inspired and set the stage for their ultimately meaningless but still enjoyable storyline. Season two’s ultimate goal seems to be to not only strengthen Roy and Keeley’s relationship but to soften Roy’s hardy exterior. This isn’t the first time we’ve spent time with Phoebe this season, and she remains an interesting method to show Roy’s softer side. I still don’t know how long Ted Lasso can manage to keep Roy around while remaining on the periphery of Richmond FC, but so far they’ve been able to keep him a compelling figure (and Goldstein continues to shine in the role).
Finally, to the best of the episode’s subplots: Higgins’ home becomes an open haven for the majority of the team, with Sam appearing initially (another hilarious exchange between Sam and Higgins: “What does Christmas make you think of?” “Colonization.”) and quickly the rest of the team. As much as the show has set Higgins up to be a loveable punching bag, Jeremy Swift gives him plenty of charm, and it’s always a treat to see his wholesome life outside the team. So making him an ersatz refuge for the players on an important holiday makes perfect sense. The show rarely comments on the multicultural makeup of its team outside of Danny Rojas or Sam, but many of the supporting players get their own moments to shine, sharing their traditions and Christmas memories. It really speaks to Ted’s successes when he can inspire the team to join together as one even when he’s not present.
After the dramatic momentum of last week’s episode, it’s a little jarring to be placed into what is essentially a one-off episode, but it’s nice to see a relatively low-stakes outing where the characters just get to enjoy each other’s company for a change. I am curious if there was a subplot featuring Jamie that got left out, after an intriguing setup in the cold open. The show could have easily explored Jamie’s outsider status amongst the Higgins household, even with a throwaway line or two. I look forward to seeing how much of an impact, if any, the events of this episode will have on the rest of the season. Even if next week’s episode carries on as business as usual, it’s great to see the show doing more of what it does best, and knocking it out of the park while doing so.
About the Writer: Ben Sears is a life-long Indianapolis resident, husband, and father of two boys, as well as a contributing writer on ObsessiveViewer.com and a recurring co-host on The Obsessive Viewer Podcast, and a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. Aside from watching movies and television, Ben enjoys photography and running marathons, but never at the same time. That would be difficult.