Fresh from winning seven of its 20 Primetime Emmy nominations including Outstanding Comedy Series for Season 1, Apple TV+ just unveiled the Season 2 finale of the zeitgeist hit Ted Lasso.
Titled “Inverting the Pyramid of Success,” the episode is all about critical choices facing principal cast members that have been building through the season, with some real surprises despite some developments foreshadowed in the two prior eps. Chief among them: How bad will the fallout be for Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) after assistant coach Nate Shelley (Nick Mohammed) betrayed a confidence by telling newspaper reporter Trent Crimm (James Lance) that Ted bailed out during the Tottenham match not because of stomach distress, but rather one of numerous panic attacks he suffered during the season? Have Nate’s narcissistic impulses gotten the best of him? Some have criticized Season 2 as being soft, because there was not a resounding antagonist for the title character to go against. That problem is addressed convincingly by episode’s end.
The other quandaries: Will Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) accept a lucrative offer from African billionaire Edwin Akufo (Sam Richardson) to be the centerpiece star of an African team to launch in Casablanca, as AFC Richmond owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) vacillates over whether to commit to the covert relationship she has with the handsome young footballer off the pitch and between the sheets? And will there be anything left of Nate and Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) when tough guy player-turned-coach Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) gets through with them for putting the moves on his girlfriend Keeley Jones (Juno Temple)?
There’s lots to unpack, so here goes.
Ted starts the episode at risk of once again becoming the fish-out-of-water laughingstock he was when team owner Rebecca hired him to get back at her husband for dumping her for a younger woman. Says a pundit on the Soccer Saturday show after Ted’s panic attack was made public: “Lasso is clearly not fit to coach. If your ship’s being attacked and you run to the bridge, you want to find a captain whose brain works. Not some big girl’s blouse.”
Cut to Ted, who over breakfast gets encouraging emails from Rebecca aka “Da Boss”: “Ted…F*ck the haters. Call if you need anything.” And former team therapist Doc Sharon, and his estranged wife. After dodging a couple paparazzi and eyeballing Brit tabloids with back-page headlines like “Is Ted Dead in the Head,” Lasso sits a moment for his daily rendezvous with Coach Beard. The passerby who routinely addresses Lasso as “wanker” steps up and gets to the point. “Hey, wanker, if my father had a panic attack at Normandy, we’d all be speaking German.” After Ted answers, yes sir, the heckler adds “Just do the work pal, you’ll be alright.” A thumbs up.
While owner Rebecca vows to call the paper’s owner and find out who the anonymous source was (we know from journalist Trent’s note to Ted in the last episode that he was backstabbed by Nate), Lasso urges her not to. He’ll do the same when he addresses the team as it gathers in the locker room, where Sam finds a jersey with his name on the back. It was left as a gift by Akufo, who has also left his helicopter on the team’s practice field.
The next most pressing confrontation comes when Roy Kent steps into the locker room with an extra gruff “Oi! Tartt.” Before Kent can deliver a beating, or even a proper head butt, Tartt asks to say something. “Yeah, good idea because when I’m done, you won’t have any teeth left and you’ll need them for the talking bit.” Tartt confesses his pledge of love to Keeley at the funeral of Rebecca’s father. He said the dead body hurt his better judgment and noted it was wrong, it would never happen again and that he respects Keeley and Roy’s relationship. Tartt stops Kent in his tracks before he can pummel his romantic rival. An enraged Kent shrieks a simple “F*ck!”
Lasso asks the team to forgive his poor choice not to tell them the truth. Paraphrasing UCLA basketball head coach John Wooden, whom he calls “John Obi Wan Gandalf,” “it is our choices, gentlemen, that tell who we are, far more than our ability. Now, forgive me.” The players do, and turn attention to what they’ll do when they find the rat who leaked the story. Nate is visibly squirming. Coach Beard, who despite his quirks has a certain wisdom, is convinced that Nate is the Judas. Lasso knows the truth but won’t say, and encourages the team to “work on Nate the Great’s false nine,” the disruptive soccer strategy to be used in the upcoming crucial game that could elevate Richmond back to Premier League status.
While Higgins (Jeremy Swift) is faced with the choice of greyhounds to replace the team mascot greyhound Earl — “It’s between Macy Greyhound and Tina Feyhound,” he helpfully advises — the other major character facing a crossroads is Keeley, who completes her transition from a ditsy pinup princess to an entrepreneur when she receives backing from team sponsor Bantr to start her own PR firm. This means she’ll have to leave her full-time job with the team and her bestie Rebecca. It also sets up future complications with Roy, who begins to fear she will leave him behind, and perhaps will be better off without him. A Vanity Fair article that omitted photos he posed for with her further rankles him.
Back to Sam, who cannot decide whether to stay, or go play at home. After Sam tells his father he can’t decide, dad responds that he should “Let the answer come to you; if you leave yourself open to it, the universe will give you a sign.” At that moment, Sam sees several young teens of different races playing soccer in a park, all Richmond jerseys with his name and number on the back.
Before the crucial game with the Brentford Football Club that determines if Richmond rejoins the Premier League, Roy uncharacteristically confesses his Keeley insecurities to his fellow coaches. And Nate comes clean…about kissing Roy’s girlfriend Keeley. “She told me, we’re okay,” Kent replies. This triggers Nate’s growing insecurity complex and he becomes incensed. “Wait, I kissed your girlfriend. With the Jamie Tartt thing, you wanted to kill him. I deserve to be head-butted.” While Coach Beard offers to deliver that head butt to the turncoat, we next see Nate at his nastiest on the pitch, cursing as poor execution of his “false nine” strategy leaves the team in a 2-0 hole at halftime. “Stay back,” he screams after the second goal. “How many times do I have to f*cking tell you? Stay back!”
Ted rallies the team at halftime after Roy suggests he leave it to the players whether to continue the strategy. They decide yes, and after most join hands, team captain Isaac McAdoo (Kohla Bokkini) walks past them and puts his hand on the “Believe” sign that Ted taped to the wall in Season 1. They all follow, and as the team rushes back to the field, Nate is disgusted, and walks into an adjacent office. Ted follows him, and we are ready for the confrontation — and one of the best scenes of the entire season.
After Ted prods the young man he elevated from glorified towel boy to “wonder kid” assistant coach, Nate turns loose the vitriol.
“You want to know what you did? Okay I’ll tell you what you did. You made me feel like I was the most important person in the whole world. And then, you abandoned me. Like you were switching off a light, just like that. And I worked my ass off, trying to get your attention back. To prove myself to you, to make you like me again. But the more I did, the less you cared. It was like I was f*cking invisible. Now you’re going to play ‘Nate’s false nine’ so when they screw it up, which they will, you can blame it on me. Well, f*ck that.”
Ted is stunned as Nate twists the knife: “Everybody loves you. The great Ted Lasso. Well, I think you’re a f*cking joke. Without me you wouldn’t have won a single match and they would have shipped you back to Kansas where you belong, with your f*cking son. You sure as hell don’t belong here. I do. I belong here. This didn’t just fall in my lap. I earned this.”
When Ted says, “I know you did, Nate. I didn’t tell you enough how important you were to me, and I’m sorry for that,” Nate interrupts him, “No. You’re full of sh*t. F*ck you Ted.” He slams open the door as he walks back to the field.
As the match continues, Nate sulks as his disruptive “false nine” strategy begins to work. Obisanya scores, and then Tartt catches up to a pass in front of him, staying onside, with only the goalie to beat. When that goalie fouls Tartt, the player who once led the league in selfishness gives the penalty kick to Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernandez), the team’s other striker who hasn’t attempted a penalty kick since the last one killed Earl, the team mascot. Seeing the new mascot (was it Macy Greyhound or Tina Feyhound?) safely strapped into a metal helmet, Dani issues his “football is life” mantra, and scores. The tie is a win for Richmond, which scored enough points to be reinstated into the Premier League.
Then, more fireworks. Ted finds Nate is gone, after tearing Ted’s beloved “Believe” sign in half, and it’s time for Sam to give his answer to Akufo, whose courtship has been filled with kindness. That kind façade drops the moment Sam tells him he has more to accomplish with Richmond, and he turns down the offer. Then, Sam sees the real Akufo whose lengthy diatribe is dense and funny, but perhaps the best line is his a vow to buy Sam’s childhood home, defecate in every room, and then burn it to the ground. Sam takes it in stride, knowing his choice was the right one, whether he and Rebecca get back together or not.
Ted squares things with Trent, who says he was fired by the Independent after making the choice to tell his bosses he’d revealed Nate as the anonymous source.
And the final shot belongs to Nate. Rebecca’s abusive ex, Rupert Mannion (Anthony Head) has bought the West Ham United team and installed Nate as his head coach, whispering to his new coach just the way he did at the funeral of Rebecca’s father, when he clearly planted the offer with Nate.
Some naysayers decried the lack of a true antagonist in Season 2 of Ted Lasso. In Lawrence’s interview with Deadline you’re about to read, the EP and showrunner says that, according to Jason Sudeikis, there was an Empire Strikes Back element at play. And sure enough, if Ted is Luke Skywalker, Nate is his Darth Vader in Season 3.
DEADLINE: Season 2 spent a lot of time on fathers and sons. We see Sam Obisanya and how having a loving, caring father helped forge a remarkably polished 22 year old; we see the selfishness of Jamie Tartt coming from his dysfunctional relationship with the abusive father he decks in front of his teammates; we see the existential hole that Ted’s father’s suicide left in him that causes his panic attacks; and how Nate’s inability to get even a shred of approval from his father leads him down a dark road. Why did that become such a through line?
LAWRENCE: Know that anything I say here is with the caveat that Jason Sudeikis isn’t only Ted Lasso but a partner I got to talk all this stuff out with him, along with Brendan and Joe. You’ve been doing this awhile and it can’t be a surprise that a lot of writers out there will start with the dynamic of fathers and sons and the groundwork that lays. This all evolved from us talking a lot about, where did the Ted Lasso ethos really come from?
DEADLINE: Using humor and positivity to mask his pain…
LAWRENCE: We decided what that was and how it would be revealed. It was a quick stone’s throw from saying, man it would be interesting to point everyone’s trauma from the world in which they grew up and whence they came. It is a popular theme right now and for us, whether you are trapped by the legacy you were handed, by the people who raised you. And whether you can rise above it, or rise to the responsibility. It turned out to be great. It became a galvanizing dynamic for the show.
DEADLINE: The finale is very much about choices and ramifications. Why end on that note?
LAWRENCE: The toughest thing about this show, is it is always a week to week release but we got lucky that so many people found the show when it was all done last year and were like, my gosh, I watched the whole season in three days and it’s awesome. Watching people process on a week-to-week basis this year has been incredibly interesting. Even right now, there is Twitter discourse on many things. Jason was very candid about this being The Empire Strikes Back, where everybody has to make some decisions about how they are going to move forward in the last year. Key is, none of these decisions are really the end of a story. Sam’s decision [on whether to stay or play for a new team in Africa] doesn’t mean that everything is done and resolved for him. It means he’s got a course of action of what he wants to accomplish and what he wants his platform to be. What’s tough to process for me as a writer who is used to writing network comedy, is, this was the end of the season, but the midway point of the show.
DEADLINE: What do you mean? How long do you intend to continue making Ted Lasso?
LAWRENCE: When we first pitched this particular story, we said this series was only going to be three seasons. And I would probably stay clean and say that even if Ted Lasso goes on, the story the writing staff has been telling had a beginning, middle and end for the first three seasons. And then it might veer off from that.
DEADLINE: Several of your cast members are also writers, including Jason and Brett Goldstein, both of whom won Emmy Awards. Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) is co-creator. Nearly every major character on the show got Emmy nominated. How do you meet the challenge of giving so many characters their moment to shine in nearly every episode?
LAWRENCE: It’s a testament to Jason Sudeikis for establishing early that this was a true ensemble show. And don’t forget both Coach Beard and his girlfriend Jane [Phoebe Walsh] are writer/producers. When we first got picked up and handed in the pilot script, it was really important to Jason…if anyone goes back and watches the first episode of Ted Lasso, traditional television would be, hey, it’s the Jason Sudeikis show and most of the other cast are British people no one in America has ever seen. So we should start with him. And yet, the show starts with the longest scene in the pilot, a three-minute scene with Hannah Waddingham playing Rebecca. I know that was Jason setting the tone, that he was no more important than any other character. It has run through since he set that.
DEADLINE: As an editor, watching Trent Crimm send Ted Lasso a text warning him of his story about his panic attack, and then offering that it was assistant coach Nate Shelley [Nick Mohammed] who was his source, was a shock because we just don’t reveal sources that way and I would want my reporter to allow Lasso to comment on a mental-health issue before the story was published. You paid off on those implications in the finale, but I’ve read criticism on it. And complaints that Season 2 was soft and lacked the antagonist that Anthony Head served as in Season 1. You’ve positioned the show to have Head back and Nate as a formidable villain. Was this always the plan, or does the criticism factor at all into how episodes evolve?
LAWRENCE: Yeah. It is a good discussion, streaming versus week to week. What’s so weird for all the writers and creators involved in this show is, we appreciate that everyone watches. I remember in the first season, we were all very surprised the way the show was being greeted as a TV show that is the human equivalent of a hug. Nothing but kindness and optimism. But we felt, this was about a guy whose wife is leaving him with his child even though he still loves her, and a woman who has been so wronged and abused by her toxic ex-husband she can’t see past her vengeful desires. And there’s an aging pro footballer who hates the situation he’s in and can’t play much longer and doesn’t know what he’s going to do with his life. And a young diva guy who has been so f*cked up by his dad that he just comes off as a narcissist.
For us, it was fascinating to watch the perception of the show and then this season, what we planned was people dealing with those issues that are real, in a positive way. It was pre-ordained. And it’s funny when you start hearing, hey, there’s no bad guy. And at the same time they’re saying, what’s going on with the character Nate? I like him so much. And I’m like, much as happens in real life, Nate is becoming the bad guy. As a guy who has done network TV for years and years, it has been eye opening to me to see how people perceive TV nowadays and how they consume it.
DEADLINE: They certainly care about these characters.
LAWRENCE: That is just the biggest gift, man.
DEADLINE: What were some of your favorite character moments of this season?
LAWRENCE: I will always love the moment when Brett Goldstein’s character Roy Kent hugs Phil Dunster’s Jamie Tartt character, in the locker room after that confrontation that showed what a piece of sh*t [Tartt’s] dad was. I thought that was awesome. And the other week, watching Jason Sudeikis’ acting when he’s just reading the letter written by the shrink Sharon [Sarah Niles] and we never have to hear it out loud, we just see it all on his face. And Sarah, who people see and think that’s just a catalyst, a cipher, but she becomes a character whom everyone gravitates toward because of the depth of performance and the level of emotion she brings to the show. I really liked watching Juno Temple, in the penultimate episode, putting in words what it means to actually be seen, in that photo shoot. And it’s not the end of her story, but actually a beginning as she decides to take a job elsewhere and it takes her out of her comfort zone. Amazing actress. I really liked watching her and Brett Goldstein deal with things as a couple the way I think real functional couples do, instead of just having issues and never speaking about them.
Watching Hannah Waddingham and Toheeb Jimoh navigate the older woman/younger man relationship. You go to Ellie Taylor, the actress who plays Sassy, and Sarah Niles, and the team players like Kola Bokinni who plays Isaac and Cristo Fernandez who plays Dani. All these people are landing moments in ways you wish the stars of your show would.
DEADLINE: You’ve read Season 2 criticism, served up as though none of these things have occurred to the creators and writers who put out this show that just won all those Emmys. How does that make you feel?
LAWRENCE: What you feel is grateful that so many people care enough to be talking about it.
DEADLINE: You originally were going to do 10 episodes, and then Apple prevailed on you for another two. Because they seemed random in order, those were Coach Beard’s late-night odyssey after that humiliating loss in the semifinals, and the Christmas episode that aired during summer?
LAWRENCE: By the way, it needs to be noted that neither Jason nor I complained about it, we were happy to do it. We outlined our 10-episode story arc and Apple said, hey, we’d love to do 12 episodes. We said fine, and did a Christmas special. Jason and I were talking and the reaction was very positive and most people knew what it was, but some people said it was hokey. We were like, we know it was hokey; it was a Christmas special and you see Santa Claus, flying across the moon. We loved it and would do it again. The Beard episode was another; we’d set in motion a narrative we wanted to pay fairly close attention to. This year it will be slightly different. We know we will be doing 12 episodes, so they will all be part of the story arc.
DEADLINE: You mention the team therapist Sharon [Sarah Niles], who left the team, and Trent Crimm [James Lance], the reporter who gave Nate up as a source and got fired. Are these actors going to come back?
LAWRENCE: I can tell you both of them have significant roles next year.
DEADLINE: When will we see Season 3?
LAWRENCE: We always try to be close to a year apart, so I would hope to see the show back in the August-type area. We worked around the Olympics for this past season.
DEADLINE: The Rom-Communism, pop culture drops from films like Love Actually, Sleepless in Seattle, and even a finale shoutout to Melrose Place and Heather Locklear. Who there is the pop culture nut finding ways to pepper subtle homage moments that give us reasons to do Google searches…
LAWRENCE: In a great way it’s the whole staff, but I will tell you there is no one more obsessive about what music we are using or what reference from a movie or TV show we’re dropping than Mr. Sudeikis himself. It’s one of my favorite things to be a part of that with him. Especially the Cheers references that we slide into the show; it was one of the first things that connected Jason and I because we are both such fans of the show.
DEADLINE: Sam and Rebecca hooking up, for instance…
LAWRENCE: And there’s a Native American photo from the bar that we have hidden on the show but you can see once in a while. At one point, a British person says “Cheers” to Jason and he says “Night Court” in return, which is very subtle but made me laugh.
DEADLINE: Night Court followed Cheers on NBC, at 9:30 I think…
LAWRENCE: There you go, man, you remember.
DEADLINE: Not sure if that is a superpower or something more pathetic.
LAWRENCE: It’s something to be proud of.
DEADLINE: I wish I could remember my kids’ birthdays so easily, that would be something to be proud of. Can you give us a tease on what you’ll tackle in Season 3?
LAWRENCE: One of the things we like doing on this show…we always feel nothing is really coming out of the blue. The first of what we saw as a three-season story was plotting out every character’s story from beginning to middle and end. There will be lots of surprises, but anyone who says, oh, where Nate ends up in the finale is a big surprise…we felt like we were setting that up from the very first episode of last year. The clues are there. Jason and I are huge non-spoiler people, but yeah, I think some of the writing is already on the wall, hopefully.
DEADLINE: Great moment when Nate told Roy Kent about kissing his girlfriend, this after Roy talked about wanting to harm Jamie Tartt for making a pass at her. Roy said it was okay, and rather than relief he wasn’t going to get pummeled, Nate resented not being taken seriously as a romantic rival. His insecurity knows no bounds. You made the Star Wars reference, and this is a guy who has gone to the Dark Side because he’s felt inconsequential his whole life.
LAWRENCE: It’s self-esteem. Mohammed is such a good actor. Not to use Hollywood as a metaphor, but if you come out here and are mistreated coming up through the ranks, when it’s finally your time, what we all hope is when you get a modicum of success and an opportunity to be somebody who has some power and leverage, that you in your head go, I’m going to be different. I’m going to be encouraging and helpful. But we’d all be lying if we didn’t say we knew plenty of people that go the exact opposite way and say, now it’s my turn to do all the shit that was done to me. That’s the bummer about low self esteem and the seduction of fame, power, and success.
DEADLINE: I co-manage a staff and have to admit, this show is an inspiration to remember to have empathy. We’ve seen a purge of toxic Hollywood people, but you know it still goes on. Fair to imagine these themes inform how people are treated behind the scenes of Ted Lasso?
LAWRENCE: The writing staff, we hoped that the show would work, but we knew that working on a show that had good messages, kindness and optimistic behavior would be therapeutic for a bunch of snarky comedy writers. Jason would be the first one to tell you that he aspires to look at the world with the empathy, forgiveness, and kindness of Ted Lasso. It’s hard to do. But man, it’s cool to think about and try. We have an amazingly supportive writing staff, cast, crew. They care about each other, all familial. Everybody looking out for each other, and man, this place is an absolute pleasure to work.
DEADLINE: There has been a lot of news lately on mental health and the pressure we place on elite athletes, most recently with gymnast Simone Biles and tennis player Naomi Osaka. This focus on mental health in the final episode, how much of what we saw with Ted explaining his panic attack was influenced by those athletes?
LAWRENCE: It’s so interesting because we are always in this dangerous area being storytellers of sounding like we’re benefiting off of crappy stuff going on in the world. The first year, the amount of people who said, didn’t you think this was a perfect antidote to the pandemic and quarantine? I’m like, no, we just thought it was a cool show. In a very serendipitous way, we were already writing about mental health issues in sports because we’re living in that space, before what happened with Simone. But it’s not like we were inventing it in a vacuum. You already were in a world where, whether it was Kevin Love or Naomi Osaka, Colin Kaepernick that people were out there in the world talking about what it means to be under that spotlight, and the pressure and how you’re allowed to behave when you’re just kids. This was a great area for us to be concentrating, and then the world just kept handing us these other examples to us. There’s a great documentary on Netflix about Mardy Fish, a great American tennis player who didn’t come out of the tunnel at the U.S. Open to play Roger Federer, because he had a major anxiety attack. We were aware while we were shooting that these things continued to be pervasive in sports, and out there in the zeitgeist, but it’s nothing new in that world. It’s just there is a spotlight on it, now.
DEADLINE: The idea that a few NBC Premier League promos with Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso from nearly 10 years ago could lead to a zeitgeist show that just won seven Emmys out of 20 nominations is hard to imagine. Jason, Brendan Hunt and Joe Kelly pitched you. What convinced you this could be more than a couple clever skits?
LAWRENCE: It wasn’t that Jason had to pitch this to me. We went out and pitched the different streaming sites. I found Jason to be a great talent, not only as a performer, but I knew he was a writer on SNL first. I was pursuing him for a different project and he said, maybe you would be interested in helping me turn this guy into a TV show. I’d seen the old videos he, Brendan and Joe did for the Premier League, and full disclosure, I thought, man, this is funny. It was a loud, big sketch but I didn’t know how to sustain it as a TV show. Jason said, “Look, I’m coming to you because I really want it to be that mixture of comedy and emotional pathos you did with Scrubs. I think we can turn it into a real show that can surprise people and be our version of a sports movie.” I said, let’s go figure it out. We then pitched it around town and got lucky when Apple bought it.