Ted Lasso's longitudinal study of love comes around to romantic comedies, in an episode in which Ted lays his heart on the line and convinces Roy to return to the loving arms of coaching Richmond.
The action this week centers on two men who were not coaches last season but will be coaching alongside one another by the time the episode is over: Roy Kent and Nate Shelley.
Nate's parents are about to celebrate their 35th anniversary, so he drops by their favorite Greek restaurant to inquire about reserving the table in the front window for the dinner he'll be sharing with them. The imperious hostess, Jade, stares practically through Nate as she informs him that they don't take reservations for that table, but she'll gladly seat him and his parents at the table that's practically out the back door.
Frustrated but feeling helpless, he shares this story with Rebecca and Keeley, and they begin training him to better stand up for himself. Rebecca demonstrates a truly terrifying giant-bird maneuver she uses to psych herself up for confrontations (Keeley: "Let's invade France!"), and while that doesn't work for Nate, he finds something that does: spitting on the restaurant mirror (I'm all for assertiveness, but ... gross, dude). So when he and his parents arrive for dinner and are seated at their terrible table, he screws up his nerve and tells Jade that since the window table is sitting there open, he'd like to be seated in it, at which point he and his parents will eat their meal and be on their way. And to his surprise, she agrees.
Roy's story begins with Isaac, who succeeded him as team captain. Isaac is out of sorts and "in his head," and Ted hasn't been able to figure out how to help. (Dr. Sharon, as always, watches all this with a great deal of interest.) So Ted, knowing he needs some help from a "big dog," approaches Roy with a proposal that he come back to Richmond as a coach. Roy is having none of it, and kicks Ted out of his favorite kebab shop, where Keeley had tipped off Ted he would be.
Roy does agree to help out Isaac one on one (well, one on one plus Ted), so he takes Ted and Isaac back to his childhood playground so Isaac can play with the neighborhood footballers. This turns out to be just what Isaac needs. Roy reminds him that football is a game of childhood and fun at heart, and that when you stop enjoying it, you won't be good at it.
When Roy, during his pundit job, sees how much he's helped Isaac, he figures out that his heart lies in coaching after all, and in an extended ode to the romcom, he runs through the snow to get to the stadium, and he joins the coaching staff on the field. Only Nate, who only recently became the third coach alongside Ted and Beard, looks unsettled by this shifting of the ground beneath him.
It's worth mentioning that this is also a very funny episode full of funny little touches and character moments, none of which are best experienced via being quoted.
People have tried a lot of ways to describe how Ted Lasso feels: it's like a warm hug, it's like a comfortable blanket, it's a pandemic balm, it's a feel-good chocolate cake in your belly, whatever. But what makes it that way is rarely discussed with specificity: The show is the way it is because it's almost exclusively a nested and interlocked set of well-built love stories.
Sometimes this quality is obscured by the fact that most of the love stories it traces aren't romantic. They're about friends old and new, mentors and those who learn from them, fans and their teams, people who recover from divorces, parents and children, close colleagues, and even the bonds between adults and other people's children, in the cases of Rebecca with Nora or Roy and Keeley with Phoebe.
So it's only natural that at some point, this tangle of love stories would land on a romantic comedy salute, and that it would place that salute outside the bounds of romance itself. Ted's initial statement of adherence to "romcommunism," which he defines as a certain optimism in the face of obstacles, seems a little forced. But as the show goes on, Ted's pitch to Roy becomes a lover's plea, Roy's realization that he doesn't want to be a TV commentator becomes the romantic epiphany, and his run from one job to another becomes the climactic declaration of love, down to "You had me at 'Coach.'"
Did the show need anything quite this winky and literal, quoting quite so many lines? Probably not. But Ted Lasso has always been more about what feels good than what's necessary. And there's something about a sports story, which comes from a genre often treated as inherently masculine, acknowledging the debt it owes to romantic comedy, the genre most often treated as inherently feminine (both of these characterizations are imaginary, of course), that brings something lovely to the table.
Sports movies have always had this commonality with romances, as tenuous bonds give way to devotion and shared purpose, and then to triumph. Winning the big game is basically a makeout session, after all, and sometimes (as in, for instance, The Replacements, where Keanu Reeves plays a football player) they do appear side by side. But this connection isn't always made explicit, and good for Ted Lasso for doing it.
And also, good for them for using the long marriage of Higgins and his wife — and their love song — as the stout backbone of all this. It's easy to lose track of how romantic successful partnerships can be, and the enchanting little shot of Leslie and Julie Higgins meeting up in the tunnel and clearly being very in love with each other is a great touch.
Two other ongoing stories are advanced in this episode, too: One is that Ted's style is exaggerated in a couple of different scenes, including the "romcommunism" scene and his hallway chat with Dr. Sharon, to the point where you begin to understand that something is a little bit off. It's a little manic, it's a little unfocused ... it's even a little self-involved? More than usual, Ted seems to be performing his good cheer, and Dr. Sharon is watching.
The other is Nate's season 2 story, which has so far been about his unkindness to the poor kid who now has his old job, continue to unfold. While this particular episode is about his family instead, it's still a story about Nate balancing a self that he's always thought of as rather meek with the Nate who earned a spot on the coaching staff and can now joke around with the players. He's trying to figure out what it means to act with confidence, and it's clear that it's a learning curve; self-assurance is something Nate has to learn to wield — it's a new tool.
And, of course, keep an eye on Rebecca. She's found somebody on that dating app, eh? Wonder who it is. Is there a hint in the episode about who it is? There could be.
"Who knew transubstantiation could happen with a pita?"
"Fairy tales do not start, nor do they end, in the dark forest. That son of a gun always shows up smack dab in the middle of a story."
"No, I gave you an indoor whistle."
Okay, deep breath: Sleepless In Seattle, You've Got Mail, Notting Hill, Jerry Maguire, When Harry Met Sally, The Princess Bride. And The Shining and Showgirls. And Steve Kerr*. And "Under Pressure," and "Easy Lover." And Drake. Special recognition to the rest of the team, which surfaced romcom heroes Drew Barrymore, Matthew McConaughey, Jamie's "the three Kates" (Beckinsale, Hudson and Winslet), Renee Zellweger, and Jennifer Lopez.)
*Also probably Albert Einstein, who is widely quoted as being responsible for the "leave elegance to the tailor" line. But I didn't easily find the primary source, and the internet thinks a lot of people said a lot of things, so let's just say Ted almost certainly thinks Einstein said it.
Assist of the Week
I admit this is often the special Coach Beard category to the point where his reactions might need their own heading, but you could put someone in comedy school for 20 years, and they would never — never — learn how to make the disapproving little "mmm" noise he makes after Ted first says "romcommunism." That cannot be taught, my friends. You just have to have the gift.
Line Reading of the Week
"She told me to suspect a mustachioed surprise that would anger me. I thought it was gonna be Wario. Or my great-aunt Natalie." (Petition for Roy Kent to say "Wario" every week?)
Stealth MVP of the Week
It's Edyta Budnik, playing the hostess, Jade. She gives absolutely nothing away in terms of being openly contemptuous of Nate; it's simply like she doesn't understand he would ever be asking for anything. And she carries off Jade's ultimate moment of reversal very well.
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