A review of this week’s Ted Lasso, “Carol of the Bells,” coming up just as soon as I see Once twice…
With the series’ warm-hug vibe and belief in the power of empathy, there’s a sense that every Ted Lasso episode is a Christmas episode. So doing a literal Christmas episode could have easily felt like putting a Santa hat on a Santa hat. At the same time, given how Christmas is an even bigger deal in the U.K. than it can be here in the States, and given how much of Ted Lasso is about the culture clash between Ted’s outgoing Midwestern demeanor and Rebecca’s more reserved persona, it could offer an opportunity to look at that clash through the lens of a holiday that means much to both of them.
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“Carol of the Bells” doesn’t really do that. Nor does it attempt to bring various stories of the season to an emotional boiling point in the way that so many American series (Bill Lawrence’s Scrubs included) would do at midseason. It is, instead, a simple, lovely, nicer-than-nice episode — Ted Lasso doubling down on its fundamental charms, but not in a way that threatens to become self-parody. Not a lot happens in the context of Season Two’s larger arcs, other than how it addresses Ted’s ongoing loneliness in the wake of his divorce. (If the episode has a flaw, it’s that it seems ill-timed to be the one to come immediately after “Do the Right-est Thing,” because it skips over Richmond’s first win of the season — the kind of beat that seems really important for a show like this — as well as any fallout from Sam leading the team in a very public protest against Dubai Air.) At only 30 minutes, it’s easily the shortest episode of the season so far(*). But by focusing on how the members of the larger Richmond family take care of one another at yuletime, “Carol of the Bells” feels like a chance to visit the kind of holiday party you won’t be eager to leave.
(*) Usually, when comedy episodes go past 25 minutes or so, let alone 30, it can be a sign of self-indulgence, and one that doesn’t usually serve the material well. (With rare exceptions, all those supersized episodes of The Office felt like they’d have worked better at standard length.) But as I watched this season’s screeners, I never really felt the show straining under the weight of that extra time. If anything, stretching out has been good for a show with such a sprawling ensemble, allowing previously fringe figures like Sam and Higgins to gain enough depth that the former could be used for the protest story and the latter’s family as the centerpiece of this week’s big team gathering. It turns out that if you have an abundance of likable characters, more time spent with them can be just fine and dandy, thank you.
Brett Goldstein and Elodie Blomfield
After some establishing business in the locker room and the coaches’ office — including the continuation of this season’s running gag about Coach Beard’s decidedly unhealthy relationship with Jane the chess player — the episode basically splits into three separate holiday groupings: Rebecca with Ted, Keeley with Roy and Phoebe, and almost everyone else at Higgins’ house. The Higgins party feels at first like a setup for some kind of escalating sitcom disaster where Leslie and his wife simply aren’t prepared to accommodate so many guests. Instead, it’s just a case of the more, the merrier, with each new knock at the door adding a new dynamic (and usually a new regional dish) to the gathering without ever overwhelming their gentle hosts.
Roy Kent-plus-Phoebe has been this season’s not-so-secret comic weapon, and that continues to be the case here. The combination of the gruffest, hardest man in the EPL with this adorable little moppet just works perfectly every time. It’s not just the contrast between their temperaments, but the way that Roy’s unyielding devotion to his niece reveals so much about him. There’s a hilarious moment where Roy tries and fails to hide his disgust when exposed to Phoebe’s unusually bad breath. But as he and Keeley take her around the neighborhood in search of a dentist who will treat her on Christmas Day, there’s a marvelous scene where Phoebe admits she feels embarrassed to have such terrible breath, and Roy cheers her up by talking about the time he pooped his pants because dairy doesn’t agree with him — not as a kid, but three weeks ago. Roy will do anything for Phoebe, yes, but it’s also clear by now that he doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him, because he’s Roy bloody Kent, and that’s enough. As with the Higgins party, the postponement of Roy and Keeley’s Sexy Christmas could have been used for cheap conflict, but again, things work out OK: The pair are healthy enough together that they can just accept waiting until December 28th. For now, they content themselves with making Phoebe happy, and helping her get some Love, Actually-style closure with Bernard, the boy who teased her about her breath. Not bad. (Plus, they run into the guy who wanted Ted to pose for an “ussie” with him way back in the series premiere. Callbacks!)
What drama there is comes from the Ted and Rebecca storyline. As a woman who got divorced not too long ago, Rebecca knows well how brutal that first post-divorce Christmas can be, and that’s before you factor in Ted being so far away from his son Henry at this time of year. He sits in his apartment watching It’s a Wonderful Life — the show hanging a lamp on its Capra-esque leanings — drinking and wallowing, when his boss comes to save him from his darkest thoughts. Their subplot probably could have used a throwaway line explaining that Rebecca’s routine of delivering huge bags of presents to local children, but it’s not really necessary. All that matters is that we see her being generous with her time, her money, and her friendship with her patsy-turned-pal. She pulls Ted out of his despair with good deeds, busking, and another example of Hannah Waddingham being a dynamite singer, this time belting out Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” outside Higgins’ house as some of the day’s stories converge.
While Rebecca sings and the team dances in the street, Higgins’ youngest son looks up at the night sky, and what should he see but Santa’s sleigh soaring overhead. On many shows, this would feel corny beyond forgiveness. But a show about a coach who believes in ghosts — and wants ghosts to believe in themselves — would of course have room for jolly ol’ Saint Nick.
Season One skipped over Christmas altogether, perhaps because Ted and Rebecca’s relationship was still too frosty, and the team still too fractured. Clearly, though, this needs to become an annual tradition, with Ted and company bringing the warmth of the holidays to these brutally hot midsummer days.
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