Over the last three months, “Ted Lasso” sparked backlash and won awards. With Season 3 up next, does Apple’s hit need to change? Or do we?
When “Ted Lasso” premiered in July, the hype machine was in full swing, but few could’ve predicted how Season 2 would play out. Early reviews were strong, then the backlash began, then there was the backlash to the backlash, then the Emmys happened, and finally, the Season 2 finale dropped, completing a roller-coaster run that left quite a few questions lingering for Season 3. Does the series work as well when consumed weekly as it did in Season 1, when many viewers marathoned episodes after the full season was out? Do complaints about a lack of conflict and bloated run times stem from real problems within the show, or how people have been trained to watch TV in 2021? And what the heck was “Beard After Dark”?
For insight, IndieWire turned to two of its most devout “Ted Lasso” teammates, each of whom saw Season 2 a bit differently. IndieWire’s TV Awards Editor Libby Hill and Deputy Editor & Critic Ben Travers break it all down in this edition of Double Take, offering postgame analysis on what went wrong, what went right, and what’s next for everyone’s favorite mustachioed coach.
LIBBY HILL: By the time the credits rolled on the Season 1 finale of “Ted Lasso,” I was hooked. Initially reluctant, the Apple TV+ comedy with a heart (and eventual trophy case) of gold had worn down my Roy Kent-like defenses, proving that radical kindness can deliver a powerful punch. The series was a word-of-mouth hit and, as week after week slipped away amidst the pandemic, more and more viewers were being drawn in by the show’s charms, catching up with the first season long after it had concluded, entirely missing the window of episodic releases and ingesting the series as a whole. If weekly releases are the beer flight of the streaming world, then binge watching is the keg stand. They’re both going to get you drunk, but you’re going to have a very different experience along the way.
That’s where many of the show’s fans — and I include myself among them — found themselves with the premiere of Season 2. And I think it might have broken the series for me.
In the beginning, I was unfazed. Likely because entertainment journalists were given access to eight of Season 2’s 12 episodes before “Ted Lasso” returned on July 23. Watching the first two-thirds of the second season felt good. It was easy to track a character’s emotional arc and their state of mind from episode to episode and watching in chunks kept me on the show’s wavelength, which can be a challenge for the more dour members of the viewing public.
But watching the final four episodes week-to-week felt bad, man. Which isn’t to be read as a plea for even more screener access from platforms, but rather, as a concerning realization that streaming TV is altering the ways we consume entertainment to such an extent that our narrative construction might need to change as a result.
I don’t know how I feel about Season 2 of “Ted Lasso” and I don’t know how I felt about last week’s finale. But I do know that I really enjoyed what the show was doing in the first two-thirds of the season, to the extent that I was a vocal defender against the inevitable midseason backlash the show received. What is it about those last four episodes, one of which was my favorite of the season, that’s left me feeling so ambiguous? Is it as simple as binge-watching vs. weekly release, or something else?
That’s the question I bring to you, Ben, particularly in light of your glowing review of the finale. Where did I go wrong?
BEN TRAVERS: Far be it from me to tell you how to watch television, Libby, but you raise a great point. How we watch a show can often shape our reactions to that show, if not television overall, and having the manner in which we consume a series altered from season to season is bound to affect perceptions.
Colin Hutton / Apple TV+
One potential hurdle is the gameification of television. Ever since J.J. Abrams unveiled his mystery box and “Game of Thrones” turned fan theories into a profession, weekly TV can be treated like a puzzle — or, to stick with Abrams’ references, a maze. If you watch every week and pick up the clues, you can predict what happens next. This concept is somewhat alien to me, but what I’ve come to accept is that fans feel some form of satisfaction from being “right” and “beating” the game, rather than letting the storytellers unveil the story on their own terms. Although this kind of interaction is typically reserved for mysteries and Marvel shows, “Ted Lasso” does love leaving little biscuits (rather than easter eggs) to expand its talking points or tie scenes together. Perhaps that encouraged people to look ahead? Maybe with more time between episodes, fans were guessing what Season 2 was trying to say before it said it, got too far ahead, and missed the forest for the trees?
But I’d argue there are key differences between each season’s focus and structure that contributed to the variable reactions (maybe yours! maybe not!). For instance, Season 1 plays out via a familiar, “Major League”-style format: Ted arrives in town, slowly wins people over, and sets up a brighter future for the people of AFC Richmond. No matter how they watched or how closely they paid attention, the debut season was easy to love. Season 2’s focus is more elusive. The team’s success is sidelined in favor of internal character development, and those developments are less predictable and more nuanced.
Take Rebecca: In Season 1, Hannah Waddingham’s slighted boss was set up to be the villain before being rounded out and established as a co-protagonist. In Season 2, she’s basically learning how to love again by slowly and steadily exposing her most vulnerable self. She doesn’t regress and turn into the bad guy; she progresses, which is a more difficult and complicated experience to track.
So I suspect the favorite episode you alluded to is Episode 10, “No Weddings and a Funeral” — not because it’s a Rebecca episode, but because it pays off on the season’s earlier promises while offering breakthroughs all its own. After eight episodes, so much of the rest of the season is waiting to see how the follow-through lands. Episode 9, the infamous “Beard After Hours,” lifts right out and simply doesn’t work, while Episode 11 is mostly set up for a finale which you’re admittedly undecided on. That leaves Episode 10, but even if I’m wrong (always more likely than not), I think digging into which of the final four episodes spoke to you will tell us a bit more about our little predicament.
LIBBY: There were a lot of ways I expected this conversation to go, but I’ll admit I didn’t expect we’d go so deep into the psychology of my viewing habits. And I love it!
But let’s dig into the gameification of TV a little more. A few days ago we were chatting online as I was watching Mike Flanagan’s newest Netflix limited series “Midnight Mass.” Knowing that you’d already seen the series and enjoyed it, I couldn’t help but pitch theories to you as I watched. It didn’t feel as though I was trying to outguess the show, but the last 20 years of TV have trained many of us to do just that, particularly when a series is wending its way around a story like a hedge maze.
Colin Hutton / Apple TV+
Actually, I take that back. This isn’t something that just started popping up in the 21st century, it grew out of TV’s gradual transformation into a medium that embraced serialized storytelling. “Twin Peaks,” “The X-Files,” there have long been shows that viewers have tried to outguess or, in the case of the former, tried to comprehend with a lot of theorization taking…