Season 2, Episode 4, ‘Carol of the Bells’
Houston? We have a Christmas Episode.
Here I’ve been, trying to convey the relatively subtle ways in which the second season of “Ted Lasso” differs from the first. And then, four episodes in, they give away the whole game. It’s not merely that they’ve produced a Christmas episode — albeit one airing in August — it’s that it’s an episode that, back in the day, would have been billed as a “Very Special Christmas Episode”: absurdly uplifting — even for “Ted Lasso”!—seasonally sweet, devoid of tension or discord, et cetera.
This was the unfair knock on the first season of “Ted Lasso”: That it was too much about just making viewers feel good (as if that were a bad thing), and was unwilling to plumb deeper — which it actually did, mostly without making a big deal about it.
Our newest episode, by contrast, is not merely a holiday episode, but a meta-holiday episode: an episode about holiday movies, and about one movie very much in particular. There are red herrings scattered about — you’ve got to love the “Christmas Story” leg lamp that Keeley unveils early on and the fractional glimpses of “It’s a Wonderful Life.” But this episode is aiming at a much more specific target.
Rebecca’s invitation to a Christmas party at Elton John’s may be the first obvious clue. Why, her Yuletide plans sound almost as awesome as those of a certain over-age rocker circa 2003.
And then, about a third of the way in, we get the holiday calamity of Phoebe’s bad breath. “A boy at school was mean to me,” Phoebe explains, prompting perhaps the most terrifying interrogative in televisual history by her Uncle Roy: “What did he do?” (Roy’s subsequent “Where does Bernard live?” suggests a quite different, decidedly intriguing direction that the “Lasso” franchise might have taken.)
Instead, we get a remarkably familiar London door-to-door mission by Roy, Keeley and Phoebe. They’re looking for oral-health assistance — this is perhaps the most American joke at the expense of Britain that “Ted Lasso” has yet allowed itself — but they might as well be Hugh Grant asking “does Natalie live here?”
Yes, this is actually the “Very Special ‘Love Actually’ episode of ‘Ted Lasso.’ ” And while I have some exceptionally strong feelings about Richard Curtis’s quasi-amorous opus, I’ll keep them to myself for once. (Though I should probably note here that there is a prominent “Once” reference in the episode.)
The commercially upbeat subplots that ensue fall as thick upon the ground as snow might have if it weren’t the middle of summer. Ted has his first FaceTime Christmas cut short by his son embracing the thrill of the new drone he’s acquired. But just as he begins pouring himself some sad, solo whiskey and watching an unshaven Jimmy Stewart at the end of his rope — boom! — Rebecca shows up with a sidewalk-tinsel greeting outside his window. Moments later, we get a busker singing “Last Christmas.” This is, I hope, as close as “Ted Lasso” will ever come to “Glee.”
What follows is highly enjoyable television without any meaningful hint of conflict or adversity. The Higgins’s family Christmas — to which they always invite AFC Richmond’s far-from-their-families players — unexpectedly welcomes a crowd; Ted and Rebecca deliver absurdly oversized Christmas stockings to kids who sent Santa letters; and, as Roy announces to Phoebe and Keeley, “We’re going to my stupid posh neighborhood …. And if we don’t find a dentist in ten houses, you each get a thousand pounds.”
And, because we all believe in Christmas miracles — or, at least in my case, Roy Kent-related miracles — they do indeed find a dentist, who has a treatment plan for Phoebe’s halitosis. Merry August 13.
I would like to write “and it all ends (as it must) with some cue cards and markers.” But instead I need to write, “and it all almost ends (as it probably should have) with some cue cards and markers.”
The “Love Actually” money shot is evidently not quite special enough for this Very Special Episode, so we need our occasional reminder that Hannah Waddingham, who plays Rebecca, is a musical-theater superstar, who offers a glorious street-side rendition of Darlene Love’s “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home).”
Did I enjoy the episode? Absolutely. Does it make me worry for the future of “Ted Lasso”? Absolutely squared.
Odds and Ends
Roy’s admitting that he pooped his pants to a tween whose door he’s randomly ringed was a bit of a surprise. His turning it into a learning opportunity — “Let’s both try to knock it off, shall we? If you can do it, I can do it” — makes me want to be a better human being.
“God bless me, everyone” — could Jamie Tartt possibly have found a more personally apt way of channeling the Christmas spirit?
I continue to love Sam’s increased screen time. And what better way could there have been for him to capture the magic of Santa for one of Higgins’s boys than to explain his “true power is not his speed but his endurance”?
This week’s pop-cultural references (in addition to the many already cited) included Paw Patrol, John Holmes(!), the Helter Skelter murders, and Rachel Weisz and Daniel “Double-Oh-Heaven” Craig.