Ted Lasso’s longest episode yet may also be its best.
After today, we still have four episodes to go in season two, which is strange because “Man City” feels like a bit of a season finale – and not just because it’s the longest episode of the series to date. There’s a lot to love about the episode, and it’s mostly because the character storylines that the season has been working towards are paid off so effectively. And yet, it does so without the trademark “infectious positivity” that it’s best known for. Instead, the show mines drama from the pitch and all the uncertainties surrounding it.
Still riding high from their unexpected quarterfinal win in the FA Cup, Richmond travels to Wembley Stadium for a big match against Manchester City, a matchup with plenty of baggage already attached to it. But before the team even arrives in London, we get our first glimpse at Dr. Sharon’s life outside the office, as she gets into an accident on her bike on her way to work. It’s a little surprising that Ted is the first person she calls after arriving at the hospital, but it provides a great series of interactions throughout the episode, as Ted refuses to let her seclude herself. The script, written by Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, and Brendan Hunt, allows enough introspection into Dr. Sharon’s psyche and personal life, but still manages to bring it back to Ted, their issues with each other, and the team. It also helps set up one of the most heartbreaking scenes when Ted breaks down after the match.
And yet, the moment doesn’t rank as the most heartbreaking of the episode (we’ll get to that in a bit). We all remember that Jamie Tartt ended his tenure with Richmond last season to play for Manchester City and scored the deciding goal that relegated his former team to the Championship League. And Jamie’s made no secret of his fractioned relationship with his father (though I’ll confess I can’t remember if this episode is his first on-screen appearance). Not only does his father guilt Jamie into tickets for him and his friends, but he shows up in a City jersey. And, to add insult to injury, he comes into the Richmond locker room to berate Jamie after a debilitating 5-0 loss. The scene leaves the entire team in shambles – including Coach Beard, who mysteriously goes on his own to travel back to Richmond – leaving many of them to reevaluate how they view Jamie and their own fathers. You wouldn’t expect a loss in a tournament that has no lasting effect on Richmond’s season to have such an impact on everyone involved, but the players seem to see how far they still have to go, despite all the internal improvements they’ve made. As I said last week, this season has largely been about breaking down the barriers we project to others, to expose what’s hidden underneath, and there aren’t many characters that put up a bigger barrier than a showboat like Jamie.
To that end, Roy’s subplot – where his niece Phoebe’s teacher reprimands her for swearing in school – feels a bit out of place at first. Perhaps the show is using these scenes to set up a future development with Phoebe’s father who, as Roy puts it, is a real piece of shit. But, thankfully, these moments don’t feel like they belong in a different episode entirely, and I continue to be charmed by Roy and Phoebe’s interactions together. Roy’s arc off the pitch this season has been about showing a softer side of his gruff exterior, and for him to even entertain the idea of giving up swearing would be his biggest transformation yet.
Meanwhile, the episode’s most tragic storyline – at least from my perspective – is the “You’ve Got Mail” circumstances around Rebecca and Sam’s romantic pairing who, as we learned two weeks ago, have been secret matches on Bantr. Sam shoots his shot and proposes a dinner date, which Rebecca reluctantly responds to. The hope and optimism on Sam’s face only makes their inevitable end that much more crushing. Rebecca rightfully refuses to acknowledge that their dinner is an official date, no matter how much they enjoy each other’s company, and no matter how small the glimmer of hope is at the end. The final shot at Rebecca’s home, in particular, is fantastically staged, with Sam’s distorted image still visible through the front door as she smiles gleefully to herself. As much as I enjoy the pairing of the two, if only because it means an expanded role for Toheeb Jimoh going forward, we know the two are doomed to fail because of the nature of their relationship. The only question is how long and how successfully they can keep it a secret from everyone else (my money is that the dam will finally break in the season finale).
“Man City” is the final episode that Apple made available as a screener for critics, which helps it feel even more like a season finale, or potentially the first part of two. I don’t think every episode going forward needs to be 45 minutes long; as much as I’d love to be fully immersed in this world, sometimes a little restraint goes a long way. But I think the extended runtime here helps to fully develop the ideas at play, setting up little bits here and there that pay off nicely. If anything, “Man City” proves, once again, that Ted Lasso remains one of the best TV shows running today.
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.