Saturday, January 22, 2022

‘Ted Lasso’ Recap Season 2, Episode 5: Rom-Communism

Saturday, January 22, 2022

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So, is this the new format we should expect from “Ted Lasso”?

Last week, we had a hyper-meta episode framed around “Love Actually.” This week, we have a hyper-meta episode framed around romantic comedies more broadly.

It’s easy to imagine that the two began as one concept, but the writers came up with so many “Love Actually” moments that they had to split off the first one into its own episode. Luckily for me, I have almost as many strong opinions about rom-coms generally as I do about “Love Actually.”

Like last week’s episode, this one unveils itself slowly. First, there is Coach Lasso’s early speech about his belief in the moral tenets of “rom-communism.” The squad, joining in, tick through their genre faves: Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Matthew McConaughey, the “three Kates” (Beckinsale, Hudson and Winslet, with an awkward cameo by Blanchett), Renée Zellweger, and — not at all a beat too late, Dani! — Jennifer Lopez.

Later, lest we misunderstand precisely where we’re headed, Rebecca asks Keeley about a comment she made: “Is that a joke from ‘Sex and the City’?” It is not. This meta-narrative is about the big screen, not the little one.

The episode finally reveals its true identity about two-thirds of the way in, with a stunning trifecta in which Ted semi-quotes “When Harry Met Sally,” “Jerry Maguire,” and “Notting Hill” to Roy within the span of 15 seconds. For any who missed it — or were briefly stupefied by the feat — he follows up almost immediately with “The Princess Bride.” In other words, we’re off.

Less than a minute later, we’re treated to a charming older couple in the stands at Nelson Road, who explain the story of their long-ago falling in love in pitch perfect “When Harry Met Sally” fashion — with a nice little wink at “Titanic” as a kicker.

Then the episode really starts showing off. Roy quits his TV sports pundit job with a “Sleepless in Seattle” line: “I have to go now.” And then, just like Meg Ryan before him, he catches a cab that can’t take him all the way to his destination, necessitating that oldest of rom-com chestnuts, the last-minute sprint to declare one’s love. (Ryan had only been paying forward to Tom Hanks what Billy Crystal had done for her in “When Harry Met Sally.”) Sure, “Ted Lasso” throws in a pedicab, too, but that’s basically a nod back to Season 1.

And it ends, as it must, with Roy’s triumphal return to the pitch, and his curt (but secretly loving) explanation to Ted, another “Jerry Maguire”-ism: “You had me at ‘coach.’”

The episode’s principal story lines seem secondary to this brief history of the romantic comedy. Whereas the first season had a very clear arc — Ted needing to win over a variety of antagonists and doubters, starting with Rebecca — this season seems to pick up and drop plotlines on a fairly regular basis. (Remember the big moment when AFC Richmond decided to thumb its nose at its principal sponsor, Dubai Air? Evidently neither do the show’s writers.)

At the start of the season, it seemed as though Dr. Sharon Fieldstone would be a new foil for Ted, but he basically won her over by Episode 2, and lately she’s barely been a meaningful presence. Tonight’s episode deals in part with the problematic psychology of the team captain Isaac, yet the team’s sports psychologist plays no role at all. “I appreciate you checking in, Doc,” is all Ted has for her.

Nate also seems like he could use a little emotional assistance. When the episode is not name-checking rom-coms, it is a litany of slights to Nate, real or perceived. It begins with Jade, the implausibly rude hostess at a third-tier restaurant, and continues from there.

Nate can’t get a free coffee maker, because they’re only for players. Ted laughs at the idea of him as a “big dog.” Keeley tells him not to try to be famous. Coach Lasso gives him an “indoor” (i.e., silent) whistle.

Even a re-energized Isaac straightening Nate’s tie on the sideline at the match seems to annoy him. And he is clearly the only person in the entire stadium who is nonplused at the idea of Roy joining the coaching staff. If Nate doesn’t get a handle on his status anxiety soon — paging Dr. Fieldstone — I fear he may wind up like Travis Bickle or that guy Michael Douglas played in “Falling Down.”

The episode’s other main plot involves Roy “fixing” Isaac by taking him to play on the pitch of his childhood neighborhood, and in the process discovering that he truly is cut out to be a coach. It’s a good thing, too, as Roy’s “swearing on Sky Sports” gag was starting to wear a little thin.

Perhaps the nicest touch in the Roy story goes back to the Higgins anecdote that give the episode its name, “Rainbow.” Higgins, the most wonderfully smitten of husbands, explains that the ringtone from his wife is the Rolling Stones’s “She’s a Rainbow,” because that was the song playing when they first met, a few decades and five sons ago.

So it is, too, with Roy. At the moment during his TV broadcast when he recognizes the true love of his life — football — the familiar piano tinkles of “She’s a Rainbow” begin, and the song continues through his “Sleepless”-like race to the pitch. (The Higginses get a well-earned cameo in the middle.) As Roy tells his cabby — quoting Nikki Sixx from “Motley Crue: Behind the Music”—“You gotta date your wife.”

The bravura “She’s a Rainbow” sequence lasts a full five minutes, and you’d be hard pressed to find a better example of interwoven song and scene. If production values of this kind — which were also evident last week, and are indeed a bit Richard Curtis-y — are the future of “Ted Lasso,” it will be a very different show from Season 1, but superb in its own ways.

It’s also worth asking: Is this the moment when Roy Kent became the true star of the show?

When Roy finally arrives at Nelson Road, is the ongoing Stones ditty an incongruous match with the chant — “He’s here, he’s there, he’s every-[expletive]-where” — that greets him? Maybe a bit. But who cares? They had me at “he’s here.”

  • Jan Maas proves that he is, in fact, not rude but merely Dutch when he is as unstinting in criticism of himself as of his teammates: “Yes, that goal was entirely my fault.”

  • I don’t love what they’ve done with Rebecca so far this season. When not acting as a surrogate mother (in Episode 3), she’s been mostly confined to looking for love. Where is the formidable character from Season 1? I mean, other than when she’s trying to teach Nate how to “make himself big.” (Hint: It helps when, like Hannah Waddingham, you start out at 5’11”.)

  • This is the second time (the first was Episode 2) that we’ve had multiple references to fathers and sons. Obviously, there’s Nate’s dad, the disapproving Mr. Shelly. But there’s also the bit with the kebab shop owner. This — along with Nate’s apparent emotional decline — seems like something to keep an eye on.

  • In addition to the many, many already cited, this week’s pop-cultural references include “Drizzy” (a.k.a., Drake), “Showgirls” (and Gina Gershon in particular), Steve Kerr, “Easy Lover,” “Under Pressure,” “The Shining” and Reba McEntire.

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