This post contains spoilers for Ted Lasso Season 1.
Throughout the first season of Apple TV+’s critical darling Ted Lasso, barriers are broken and previously prickly characters allow themselves to be vulnerable. Ted (Jason Sudeikis) is a catalyst for this shift, but there is another perpetually optimistic figure who is equally responsible for the rejuvenated spirit enveloping AFC Richmond. The first time Keeley Jones (Juno Temple) officially meets Ted in the pilot, she tells him what words to avoid on Twitter (#Richmond, wanker, dick), and her social media expertise will soon become more than advice. Unapologetic and honest, Keeley is the beating heart of the series and the key to unlocking two of the most guarded characters. With Season 2 a few weeks away from premiering (July 23), here is a look back at why this romantic arc is so effective and how this couple can avoid sitcom pitfalls in forthcoming episodes.
The trajectory of Keeley’s friendship with Richmond club owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddington) and burgeoning Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) romance overlap. The major beats in both storylines occur simultaneously in defining episodes like “For the Children” and “Make Rebecca Great Again.” A will-they-won’t-they is a cornerstone of most comedy shows, and even though Keeley is initially dating Roy’s teammate (and nemesis) Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), by the third episode a flirtatious undercurrent is impossible to ignore. Roy consistently walks straight into Keeley’s lighthearted teasing and is incapable of not falling for the playful negging. All it takes is for Roy to gruffly saying her name to communicate that whatever she has with Jamie will quickly fall away.
Obstacles are necessary to build expectations and crank up the heat levels. By the end of the gala in “For the Children,” Keeley has bonded with Rebecca in the most sacred of spaces (the bathroom) and given Rebecca the red carpet boost she needed. At this event, Roy voices his objections to being “used as a prop in your little fights” with Jamie and Keeley is quick to apologize — and then dumps her terrible boyfriend. Another cornerstone of a great TV romance is lingering looks, which can be just as powerful as any semblance of touch. This is the fuel that is required to ignite a memorable kiss, and Keeley and Roy are proficient in the art of eye-banging. This episode is not the first time they have locked eyes, but there is a new subtext to this encounter.
Roy also has a habit of sneaking up on Keeley before exiting as quickly as he arrived. He cannot be around her for too long without risking his impenetrable shell. An away game against Everton in “Make Rebecca Great Again” sees Keeley tagging along with Rebecca, which adds another layer to the platonic love story that makes this series sing. But this night out to celebrate a rare victory results in another win when Roy swoops in for a smooch that is up there with Jess (Zooey Deschanel) and Nick’s (Jake Johnson) steamy first kiss on New Girl. In true Roy fashion, he abruptly departs leaving Keeley breathless (the audience too) and confused. Navigating the build-up and the payoff is no small feat, but it is the “what next?" that often sees favorite pairings losing steam or faltering under the weight of expectation. Season 1 ends with Roy’s career at a crossroads and Keeley’s refusing to be pushed away. It takes a beat but the hardman of soccer leans into her embrace. Finally, Roy’s tough exterior has been penetrated (by both Keeley and Ted), and while this level of vulnerability is unrecognizable to the veteran player at first, the timing is a lifesaver.
AFC Richmond has also been relegated so there are big changes afoot for the highly anticipated second season that is launching with a huge promo campaign and award season build-up — Emmy nominations are announced July 13. Ted Lasso has steadily been building its fanbase with word of mouth contributing to its swelling audience (full disclosure, my husband watched the episodes when they first aired but I was late to the party in October). Creating in a vacuum comes with different challenges than the follow-up season, which also applies to the transition from a will-they-won’t-they pairing into a couple. The so-called “Moonlighting Curse” is still referenced on occasion to suggest that when an onscreen comedy couple makes it official, the palpable tension audiences love with subside.
Thankfully, this has also been widely debunked as other factors impacted the 1980s series starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis, and it is easy to blame sinking ratings on something like this (see also Keri Russell’s haircut on Felicity). The issue isn’t with audiences losing interest when an onscreen couple makes the leap into commitment or that chemistry fizzles, rather the attempts at conflict often read as forced. What was once a charming obstacle becomes stale and repetitive. How can Roy and Keeley avoid the sophomore slump?
The choice to tell a platonic love story alongside a rom-com trajectory ensures that both Keeley and Rebecca are far more than a supportive shoulder for the men of the series. Season 1 took characters that could’ve easily been one-note stereotypes and added nuance. An older woman jealous of a younger potential rival is a story as old as time, but instead of another All About Eve, Keeley’s enthusiasm extends to the boss. When Keeley is introduced bursting into the locker room, I was concerned she was going to be as superficial as her boyfriend, but her depths are quick to reveal themselves. She is also at a career crossroads and while Roy is unsure of what his life means if he is no longer the best player on the team, Keeley takes her influencer knowledge and is using this to transition into PR. Rebecca recognizes her talent and offers her a job at the club in a move that doesn’t feel forced.
Whereas Jamie laps up the attention and believes his hype, Roy fits an old-school sportsman mold. On the surface, Jamie and Keeley are well suited and could be the next Posh and Becks (aka David and Victoria Beckham). Jamie’s idea of charity benefit attire is to wear a suit minus the shirt and he will gladly get everything waxed to maintain his image. Meanwhile, Roy’s very ‘70s looking chest has never been near a wax strip and nearly everything in Roy’s closet is black. He looked at Johnny Cash and decided he didn’t need any other style icons. Opposites attract has a lot of natural mileage and his gruffness is balanced by Keeley’s eternal optimism. There is enough conflict, humor, and sexual chemistry from their different points of view. Roy isn’t outwardly romantic but he sure knows how to kiss — seriously, that first smooch is deep sigh-inducing — and even cooks on their first date.
Keeley’s empathy doesn’t mean she won’t push back and after she perceives Roy turning down coffee as a sign he isn’t interested, she sleeps with Jamie again. While she admits that making him jealous spurred on this choice, Keeley won’t let him resort to slut-shaming. Thankfully, the Diamond Dogs (Ted, Coach Beard, Nate, and Higgins) offer up advice that doesn’t paint Keeley as the ‘scarlet woman.’ Rather, they point out the hypocrisy of Roy’s mental block about Jamie — Roy eloquently calls him the “prince prick of all pricks” — and tell him to “grow up and get over it.” Roy does get over his feelings about Jamie and asks Keeley out in a very cute scene in the press room — again with the subtle romantic overtures — that involves a fake publication I would read.
The first layer is peeled back and rather than drag out the Jamie conflict, in the finale the three of them have a (mostly) civilized conversation over coffee. Roy is never going to like Jamie, but getting stuck in a love triangle feels unnecessary. Of course, now that Roy has got over his commitment issues and has embraced what this relationship could be, Jamie is a natural spanner to throw in the works if the writers want to crank up the conflict. Other shows have proved that there are plenty of ways to turn up the heat without adding an ex in the mix, and hopefully, Ted Lasso won't score an own goal with this relationship.
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