Taking on politics in sport is not easy, but this episode is timely and still within 'Ted Lasso's' wheelhouse.
- ⚽️ Toheeb Jimoh's performance in a big week for Sam.
- ⚽️ Roy's matter-of-fact knowledge sharing.
- ⚽️ The Rebecca/Nora bonding.
- ⚽️ The writers know Led Tasso is a bad idea.
- ⚽️ Established relationships give the writers more room for jokes.
- ⚽️ Dubai Air has been a sponsor for a while and it is only an issue now.
- ⚽️ Jamie's redemption story almost overshadows Sam's storyline.
This post contains spoilers for Ted Lasso "Do the Right-est Thing.”
Read our latest review here.
Sports and protests have a long (and sometimes bloody) history whether the Suffragettes making their voice heard at the Epsom Derby in 1913 or Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem as a protest against racial injustice and police brutality. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder by a police officer last year and the global protests, teams in the English Premier League and Championship (Richmond’s new home) starting taking the knee at kickoff to show support to Black Lives Matter (and will continue to do so). The “Kick Racism Out of Football” campaign was established in 1993, but events after the Euros final last month (in which three Black England players were subject to a torrent of racial abuse on social media) point to a pervasive and deep-rooted problem. In fact, players have also been booed for taking the knee with some griping about keeping politics out of sport — this asinine reasoning is similar to LeBron James being told to “shut up and dribble.”
Ted Lasso timely storyline isn’t taking on the overt racism that players like Marcus Rashford, Bukayo Saka, and Jadon Sancho have been subject to, but it is placing Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) front and center as he challenges the parent company that owns the fictitious AFC Richmond shirt sponsor Dubai Air. Last week, Sam was thrilled to find out he had been chosen to front the ad campaign for the airline and he is delighted with the images Keeley (Juno Temple) shows him. When he texts the shots to his father, he gets a rude awakening as he is told parent company Cerithium Oil refuses to clean up a spill in the Niger Delta. His dad calls him a corporate shill and if that wasn’t bad enough, he adds that this situation “breaks my heart” — side note, shout out to the Ted Lasso art department who ensure the text conversation exists before this interaction. Last week Ted (Jason Sudeikis) was reminded that some players have supportive dads when Sam talked warmly about his father, and no doubt that nugget was intended to make this conversation hit harder, which it does.
Of course, Sam is distraught to have disappointed his father in this way and my one quibble is wouldn’t Cerithium Oil’s bad environmental record and potentially corrupt relationship with the Nigerian government have come up already? I am not saying it is up to Sam to look into the shirt sponsor ownership, but it is rather convenient that it only becomes an issue when his face is in specific ad campaigns. After all, he does wear the name across his chest on a weekly basis. (In another timely storyline, there was recent controversy regarding Norwich FC’s new sponsor, with whom they swiftly cut ties) Sam goes from exhilarated to disheartened but he takes action by covering up the Dubai Air logo on his shirt before their home game against Coventry. “I do not expect you all to do this. But I hope you understand why we as Nigerians must,” is how Sam explains this to a stunned locker room full of players after captain Isaac (Kola Bokinni) has followed suit. Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) has been looking for a way to prove he is a team player and immediately asks for the tape and explains his reasons using typical Jamie logic — “We’re a team, ain’t we? Gotta wear the same kit.”
The coaching staff is equally surprised when the players unzip their training tops to reveal the censored shirt, which proves that Ted’s “Led Tasso” mind games (more on that later) are redundant. After the game, Ted makes sure to center Sam (and points out when bad things happen to people like Ted you don’t normally need to protest to get attention), and Jimoh embodies Sam’s nervousness coupled with steadfast determination. Using this storyline as part of Jamie’s redemption arc could have placed too much emphasis on his role in the locker room, rather, it ensures Jamie isn’t making it about him — as he has done by avoiding all group activities in the past. It does edge close to making Sam's storyline as a Trojan Horse for Jamie, but it mostly avoids this error. This isn’t to say it has wiped the slate clean but shows Ted’s instincts about him were correct. It also underscores that while Ted’s choice was a smart one, his methods in getting the team to accept Jamie’s return are not and the new sports psychologist is playing a major role.
The return of Jamie to AFC Richmond is met with cheers from the fans who are desperate for their team to win, and decidedly less enthusiastic response in the locker room. It doesn’t help that it was his pass that effectively caused Richmond to get relegated to the Championship at the end of last season, but every player has a reason to loathe the arrogant Tartt. They are quick to voice the many misdemeanors he racked up during his first stint at the club and even players like Dutch newcomer Jan (David Elsendoorn) have strong negative feelings toward the once golden boy. It doesn’t help that Jamie thinks all he has to do is say sorry and buy everyone a PS5 to get in their good graces, but once again his ex Keeley points him in the right direction by taking him to see Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles).
Ted’s distrust of therapists means he never considers seeking Sharon’s advice or expertise about the return of Jamie. Instead, he tries out his Mr. Hyde persona Led Tasso in order to get the team to hate him and not Jamie. All it does is annoy everyone without making Jamie any new friends. The show doesn’t think Led Tasso is a good idea and Sharon’s quick deconstruction of this tactic reveals its flaws. Other than Ted’s press conference remarks, his methods are mostly superfluous to the major events of the episode, and his lack of answers this season is in stark contrast to the first season.
The players are led by Sam in the sponsor revolt and Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) expertly handles the owner of Cerithium Oil with the help of her 13-year-old goddaughter Nora (Kiki May). Sassy’s (Ellie Taylor) daughter has come to stay and it is time Rebecca made good on six years of neglect. It is understandably awkward at first as everything Rebecca has planned is more appropriate for someone the same age as Roy’s niece Phoebe (Elodie Blomfield). It is only after they run into this pair at the (fictitious) British Girl Shop — the gags about the UK equivalent to American Girl Dolls are hilarious — that Rebecca switches tactics. This chance encounter gives Roy another opportunity to impart some solid advice and while he is a man of few words (and most of them are swears), he is perceptive. When it comes to kids, he notes that all they want to do is feel like they are part of your life and it isn’t about outlandish activities. Rebecca is an instant hit the moment she suggests watching a scary movie, followed by a day shadowing her at the club — she has an exciting and powerful job so that is a flex in and of itself. Nora has an impact, bonds with her godmother, and gets a very sweet moment with the squad in the final scene.
It is also notable that Roy asks about Rebecca’s dating situation, as the last time they spoke he was rather effusive about what kind of guy Rebecca deserved. “Because you were right about what you said,” Rebecca tells him but (rightly) doesn’t give him the credit for her decision to break up with John. She then goes on to mention that she has signed up for the dating app Bantr that Keeley is doing freelance PR for. The concept is there are no photos, supposedly to take away superficial snap judgments — it is the Love is Blind of dating apps — and Roy jokes, “So now you just get a bunch of unsolicited descriptions of dicks?” Rebecca has also made fun of the unique selling point to Keeley but tells her that “I’m going to insult something and then try it because I am a good friend.” The script by Ashley Nicole Black has so many great moments like this, which play into the established relationships that developed in the first season.
There is one intriguing moment with the Bantr chat that did seem like it could lead to something later on, and when Keeley asks the squad to try it out, Colin (Billy Harris) makes reference to Grindr. Even in 2021, openly gay male players in most team sports are not common (particularly during their professional years), and soccer is no exception to this rule. Yes, teams will partake in Pride celebrations but this goes beyond wearing a rainbow armband or laces on their boots. I might be reading too much into this reference, but an LGBTQ+ storyline involving Colin would be a step — even in the fictional football world.
Comedy shows have long been holding a mirror up to society and it is not surprising Ted Lasso is incorporating aspects into the fabric of the series. Personal and political are entwined whatever your job is and sport has the power to make real change. Sam apologizes for the distraction that may be caused the team to lose this game, but the mood is celebratory as they broke the tie streak. Already this season is proving to be more ambitious in its scope and Richmond is far from stuck with this creative team at the helm.
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