Ted Lasso: 2×4 “Carol of the Bells”

OK, remember how I remarked that Ted Lasso was, uh, trying some things in its awkward, ambitious, flawed, big-hearted second season? Well… this episode took a BIG swing.

So, to set the scene. It’s Christmas. Even though this episode aired in August. Because Ted Lasso has decided to take the trope of the Christmas episode, crank it up to about a 100 on a 1 to 10 scale, stuff all of that into just 30 minutes of TV, and then give it to us. In August. In the middle of a heat wave.

Roy and Keeley plan a sexy 20s Christmas, which is of course ruined but turns out to be even better than what they planned, in true Christmas episode fashion. Basically, Phoebe has to hang out with them because her mom was called into surgery, and it turns out that some boy bullied her for having bad breath. And it’s true! Phoebe’s breath is “rancid”! So Roy and Keeley take Phoebe to every house in Roy’s (fancy) neighborhood looking for a dentist. Once they find a dentist and get Phoebe a prescription, Phoebe stands outside her bully’s house and displays some flash cards telling him that he’s mean, so he apologizes. It’s exactly like that scene in Love Actually except that it’s not creepy. But that doesn’t mean it’s good, exactly. It is always excellent to watch Roy in loco parentis with Phoebe, but in essence, this is a plotline directly out of a kids’ show: kid is bullied. Kid fixes problem with the help of kind authority figures. Kid calls out bully and receives a deserved apology. The end! Nothing complicated or layered about it, really.

Ted’s plans also don’t work out. He’s expecting to spend the whole day on Facetime with Henry, but of course the cool presents distract Henry within about five minutes. Eventually, though, a consolation shows up, in the form of Rebecca, in a newsboy cap and a green houndstooth jacket. She invites him out, and they deliver some presents to underprivileged kids who wrote to Santa.

Higgins throws a party that usually none of the players show up for, but because (presumably) of Ted’s positive influence, a whole bunch of them show up to celebrate with him and it’s super sweet. Higgins’ sons and the team play a Nerf war, which gives us a break from the Christmas episodes by winkingly drawing from the climax scenes of action movies instead. Then at the very end, even Rebecca and Ted drop by with some buskers to sing carols. Everyone joins them outside, and amidst the merriment, one of Higgins’s sons literally… sees… Santa’s sleigh going across the sky?

The end.

You guys, this episode COMMITS. I feel like it defies serious criticism by being so purposely over the top that for me to write a snooty sentence about how it’s over the top would just be taking the bait. That said, it is A LOT. Like. Maybe too much. Definitely too much, in fact.

For real, I admire that the show is experimenting. This whole episode gives me Community vibes, not just from the Nerf war that reminded me of those paintball episodes, but also because it chose to do a homage and delivered the homagiest of homages. How can you not admire such commitment? On the other hand, how am I an adult woman watching a show where Santa’s sleigh is real? I just don’t know, y’all. I just don’t know.

Basically, my feeling about the second season and this episode in particular is that the show was praised so widely that it lost its balance a little bit. It’s self-conscious now about the things that make it great. And it’s dealing with that self-consciousness by injecting a kind of self-awareness: Yes, we’re very sentimental and everyone on this show is nice and watching it is going to give you warm feelings in your pandemic-weary heart!

Yet it’s not the kind of self-awareness we’re used to. It’s not ironic, or mocking, because the whole point is that the show is not ironic or mocking, and thus the meta-ness of it all is postmodernism without the irony, which could be a blessed relief–or it could be like food without a pinch of salt. And by the time I get to the end and I’m seeing this boy straight-up apologize to Phoebe, and Ted and Rebecca singing carols with the Higginses, and this sleigh glowing in the sky… I’m thinking that maybe I need the salt. Yet again, you have to admire how steadfastly the show resists taking the easy out by satirizing itself. It takes such artistic confidence to do something like this, and isn’t it a pleasure in its own way to watch a show ambitiously experiment, even if it fails?

On the third hand, I cannot believe I’m seriously referring to an episode that ends with Santa’s actual sleigh as an “ambitious experiment.” You see? I said that this show defies serious criticism, and then spent five paragraphs trying to do it anyway. Maybe the lesson here–since all Christmas episodes, as you know, have lessons–is to simply sit back and enjoy ourselves and bask in this sweet made-up world that contains Ted Lasso’s warm heart, Roy and Keeley’s magical romance, and Rebecca’s post-Rupert return to the folds of humanity.

Other thoughts:

  • The adults pull off a Christmas miracle when Jamie neglects to buy a Secret Santa gift, producing, wrapping and bedazzling a nice present for him in record time, and his way of thanking them is to say, “God bless me, everyone.” Heh.
  • While waiting for Roy to start sexy Christmas, Keeley starts just drinking from the chocolate fountain she’s set up. I would definitely do that too.
  • Phoebe does ruin sexy Christmas, but at one point Roy sees Keeley’s outfit and growls, “Holy fucking shit, you look incredible,” and they do a big dip/kiss, and it’s all I need from life.
  • Higgins asks Sam what Christmas makes him think of back home. “Colonization,” Sam says sweetly. “Ooooof course,” says Higgins awkwardly. Hee.
  • OK, if Phoebe’s breath were as bad as Phoebe and Roy were saying, wouldn’t the adults have noticed it before? You don’t have to be that close to smell bad breath. Someone biked by me six feet away this morning and I knew immediately that they had halitosis.
  • Ted watches It’s a Wonderful Life. I resent the implication that Ted is a modern-day Jimmy Stewart. Jimmy Stewart sucked. Change my mind.
  • The posh dentist wears a mask while examining Phoebe. It’s weird because she’s the only one. Ted Lasso takes place in a bizarre alterno-world where Covid isn’t a thing.
  • Keeley sums up the episode: “science is real, and it’s Christmas!” If we could sum up why this show is a fantasy, it might be that line even more than the no-Covid thing. Wouldn’t you love to live in a world where everyone agrees science is real? That would be like having Christmas every day.
  • When they’re done delivering the presents, Rebecca is like “What now?” and Ted just asks her to drive him home. She definitely would’ve gone home with him, if he’d asked, right? I feel like you only say “What now?” if you’re trying to leave someone a wide opening. Do not tell me that this Ted/Rebecca flirtation is all in my head. It’s Christmas!

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