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‘Ted Lasso’ Season 2 on Apple TV+ refines its feel-good formula

“Ted Lasso” season two returns to Apple TV+ as the triumphant champion of the 20-month-old streaming service. Apple TV+’s first organic hit since it debuted in 2019, the series features a typical underdog sports story — with a twist. Instead of the embittered coach who finds new life inspired by a losing team’s passion for the game, the passionate and titular Coach Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) inspires a lost team to keep trying. (“Lasso” may also have convinced a nation of subscribers that Apple TV+ is worth trying, too, at a critical moment in Apple TV+’s development.) The new season refines the story to a sharper point while keeping the positivity that won hearts the first time, along with a slew of Emmy nominations.

The new season refines the story to a sharper point while keeping the positivity that won hearts the first time, along with a slew of Emmy nominations.

The premise of “Ted Lasso” springs from an extremely unlikely place: a series of commercials that aired on NBCSN to advertise Premier League football (aka soccer). Ted Lasso, also played then by “Saturday Night Live” alum Sudeikis, is the stereotypical rough-edged, aggressive American football coach just hired to coach the real-life team Tottenham Hotspur. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water scenario: two countries with the same name for two different sports.

Commercials that are adapted to series are typically failures, because what works in 15-second clips does not fly for 30-minute stories. But the lighthearted comedy was a surprising hit, with Sudeikis smartly going a different direction with his character and leaning into positivity while gently ribbing British mores. The result was a comedy in the vein of “The Bad News Bears” or “The Mighty Ducks” but one where each character, from the kit man Nathan Shelley (Nick Mohammed) to evil owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), has a personal redemption arc viewers can root for.

Like any good underdog story, season one ended with Lasso’s AFC Richmond club losing the critical game and a vow to rebuild in the new year. Season two picks up there, with the team dealing with Lasso’s biggest pet peeve: tie games. (AFC Richmond has “not lost” seven games in a row when the show premieres.) But when the team’s new star, Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernández), loses his mojo after a terrible penalty shot incident, a brand-new sports psychologist, Dr. Sharon (Sarah Niles), is brought in to help the team win again.

Like every episode of “Lasso,” Dr. Sharon is a minor story arc that carries the 22-minute installment but with a promise of building to something bigger. Now Lasso must deal with his own internalized prejudices against mental health professionals. In effect, it flips the story from season one on its head: Where previously the coach was the catalyst to help others, now it’s time for Lasso to work on himself.

This one seemingly small change is all the season needed to not feel like a retread of its first successful run. The rest of the “Ted Lasso” formula remains unchanged, which is all audiences want. However, show’s willingness to recognize the places where such a story could become grating — like Ted’s perfect Mr. Rogers persona — and tweak them shows savvy.

Once again, Sudeikis is firing on all cylinders. But he’s not the only one: Waddingham’s Rebecca continues to be one of the most well-rounded female characters in comedy, and her chemistry with both Sudeikis and her assistant, Keeley (Juno Temple), is key to the series’ success. Brett Goldstein’s now-retired Roy Kent is the show’s secret MVP, as he relearns how to live a life no longer centered around a game. Both Fernández’s Rojas and Phil Dunster’s egotistical player Jamie Tartt are similarly delightful.

Every streaming service needs an organic, word-of-mouth hit. Ironically, it seems like it’s never the show the service was angling for. The same is true for Apple TV+. The streaming service launched with serious dramas like “The Morning Show” and “For All Mankind” but has found both fan and critical success with a sports comedy preaching kindness. After a historic 20 Emmy nominations for its first season, the most for a freshman comedy in history, “Ted Lasso” has officially put Apple TV+ on the streaming map.

With Apple starting to phase out the yearlong “free subscription with the upgrade of any device,” this is a pivotal moment for its original programming. “Ted Lasso” is an unlikely flagship show, but it may be the improbable hit Apple needs. It’s almost as unlikely as American audiences needing a show based around that other kind of football. Perhaps we should all be like Ted and believe.

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