It is never to early to celebrate Christmas when the episode is as wonderful as this one.
- 🎄 The Higgins family festivities.
- 🎄 Juno Temple and Brett Goldstein's reaction to Phoebe's dilemma.
- 🎄 Solid Christmas movie references.
- 🎄 Hannah Waddingham's vocal talents.
- 🎄 Needs more Jamie, Nate, and Coach Beard.
This post contains spoilers for Ted Lasso "Carol of the Bells.”
Read our latest review here.
Out-of-season holiday-themed episodes are more likely in the streaming age regardless of whether the entire season is released at once or weekly. Last week, Gossip Girl celebrated Halloween and now Ted Lasso is bringing some early festive cheer to our TV screens. Christmas is a perfect fit for the series that sprinkles hope amid the personal and professional challenges faced by AFC Richmond, but it also happens to be one of the busiest times of the year during the soccer season. There is no time for players to return home to spend the holidays with their family as Boxing Day (December 26 for anyone who doesn’t celebrate) is a big match day for all leagues and the thread of community is woven throughout this magical half-hour of TV. The opening credits also get a makeover for this yuletide affair and this sets the tone by adding to the whimsy.
It has almost been a full year since Ted (Jason Sudeikis) took the Richmond job and it is also his first Christmas without his family, which instantly adds an extra emotional punch to proceedings. Ted Lasso deftly walks the line between heartwarming and saccharine so it is fitting that Ted insists he will be fine with a full day of family FaceTime lined up, but he ends up drinking whisky while watching It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey’s (James Stewart) optimism early in the 1946 classic is similar to Ted’s outlook, and just like George, Ted is not simply a happy-go-lucky guy walking through life with a smile on his face. He has suffered multiple setbacks and his cheery demeanor is a mask he uses to push away his problems. He doesn’t go as far as George does in the scene on the bridge that he is watching, but when Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) shows up with a message written in tinsel, she is an angel of sorts — Ted’s very own Clarence (Henry Travers).
Earlier, Ted has turned down the Higgins family invite and done a solid job of convincing everyone (including himself) that his plans will suffice. But the video call is cut short when his son wants to play with the expensive guilt gift (a drone) and Ted is left with only the Frank Capra movie to keep him company. Rebecca has been where Ted is, and later on, she notes how tough the initial Christmas after divorce is. This is the first time she has delivered presents again since Rupert (Anthony Head) left her and the answer she gives about what she did the previous year is telling. The horrible things she was plotting to get her revenge on her ex is not something she spells out but the knowing look ensures Ted (and us) know this is when she came up with her ‘destroy Richmond’ plan. They don’t need to retread that old ground and Rebecca’s desire to spend time with Ted on this day is not overly informed by guilt.
Christmas Day kicks off with the squad opening Secret Santa gifts — alcohol is a recurring gift theme — with Jamie (Phil Dunster) interrupting the coaching team festivities to ask for help with a present. In the past, he would’ve simply proclaimed this activity as not worth his time, but he is making an effort now (even if he didn't really get the concept of Secret Santa — he didn't want to spoil the surprise). Luckily, there are plenty of full bottles of booze in the office and this mini festive gift miracle is topped off with Jamie proclaiming, “God bless me, everyone.” Jamie is embracing team spirit in the most Tartt fashion and while it is a shame he doesn’t turn up at the Higgins family bash, he isn’t quite at that point when it comes to seeing this squad as family. Not everyone attends the open house, as Nate (Nick Mohammed) and Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) also have plans — neither of which sound particularly fun — and Keeley’s (Juno Temple) celebrating “Sexy Christmas” with Roy (Brett Goldstein). It hasn't escaped my attention that the only people Roy has interacted with from the club are Keeley and Rebecca. How long before he makes a return to his old stomping ground?
Sexy Christmas earns a whole lot of enthusiastic responses from the Diamond Dogs (and Rebecca when she enters the office), but the Las Vegas-y party for two shifts gears when Roy arrives with a distraught Phoebe (Elodie Blomfield) in tow. She isn’t upset because her mum has been called into surgery, rather, her Secret Santa gift from a boy in her class is a pointed dig at her bad breath. Roy’s immediate go-to is to find out where this kid lives before Keeley points out how wildly inappropriate this is. What follows made me laugh so much I had to pause the episode because both Temple and Goldstein do an incredible job of trying to not react to the rancid smell and failing. Roy berates Keeley for her inability to hide her horror and then when he gets close, he cannot refrain from gagging. “I think you might be dying,” is his unhelpful observation. Keeley quickly assesses that it must be something medical rather than not brushing her teeth properly, and Roy’s solution is to find a dentist who can diagnose the issue. As it is Christmas Day options are limited, but Roy deduces that someone in his fancy neighborhood must be a dentist and he promises Keeley and Phoebe £1000 each (Phoebe points out this equivalent to one month of swear jar money from her uncle) if they don’t find one within 10 houses.
It is unsuccessful at first and Phoebe is mortified by the ordeal until Roy points out a recent embarrassing story of his own. Once again, his gruff exterior can’t hide how good he is with kids. Another nice touch is the star-patterned tie from costume designer Jacky Levy that breaks up his all-black look and the tinsel button-hole addition that matches Keeley and Phoebe’s hair accessories. The tenth house is the charm and a dental Christmas miracle! Taking time away from her family (the reveal to show a table of guests is very funny), the dentist Dr. Rogers (Claire Skinner) diagnoses Phoebe’s new antihistamine medication as the cause of her “rancid” breath. Her allergy is to the cat they recently adopted and rather than rehome the already beloved pet, Keeley asks if there is another solution because “science is real and it’s Christmas.” Before they leave, a guest asks for an “ussie” and if this posh turn of phrase sounds familiar, it is because this is Tommy’s (Bill Skinner) third appearance. He asked Ted for a selfie (or “ussie”) on the plane in the pilot and while Jamie was getting a haircut in the Season 1 finale. Another one of Ted Lasso's strengths is how far back and deep these references go.
Sexy Christmas is postponed to December 28 (“Holy fucking shit, you look incredible” is Roy’s appropriate reaction to Keeley’s festive-themed attire), but the high point of this storyline is when Roy gets something extra while picking up Phoebe’s prescription. The Love Actually scene with Andrew Lincoln being a terrible friend has been parodied and emulated multiple times, but Ted Lasso’s choice to have Phoebe call out her bully in this manner is both delightful and very funny. It fits the tone and taps into the strong array of references. Phoebe gets a win and Christmas is saved!
Completing the festive cheer is the antics at the Higgins’ (Jeremy Swift) bash and the many people from the squad who take him up on the open house invite. The most they have had show up in the past is two, but this year requires some inventive solutions to make up for the lack of table space — the surfboard gift for one of his sons and the pool table work as a suitable alternative. Players including Sam (Toheeb Jimoh), Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernández), Thierry (Moe Jeudy-Lamour), and Richard (Stephen Manas) — who also brings a date — rock up with traditional food and drink offerings from their homes, which adds to the community atmosphere. The team instantly joins in with Nerf gun antics and the FIFA videogame because they don't play enough soccer, apparently. The eldest Higgins son gives Sam props for how he handled the Dubai Air issue and shows this plot hasn’t been forgotten — some time has passed since that game as Richmond has now won four and drawn four this season.
I mentioned this in a previous review, but the evolution of Higgins from a cartoony idiot to a figure who still bumbles occasionally, but has the love and respect of those around him is one of my favorite character shifts. This aspect is highlighted by the number of players who attend this shindig and the level of cheer on display. In his toast, he shouts out every place the players are from and how thrilled he is with the traditions they have added to this event. “To the family, we’re born with and the family we make along the way,” is the part of the toast that caused instant tears, and because it is Christmas (who cares if it is August IRL), the episode finishes with a song.
Instead of going to Elton John’s star-studded celebration, Rebecca brings the buskers from earlier in the episode to serenade the Higgins neighborhood. Belting out “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” is a sequel of sorts to Waddingham’s impressive karaoke performance from Season 1. While it isn’t a direct shout-out to It’s a Wonderful Life, ending this episode with a group sing-along is similar enough to suggest it is a knowing wink. Of course, in the future, there could be room to do an episode portraying a Richmond if Rebecca hadn’t got a divorce (which I now want to see), but for now, this joy-filled climax is ideal for the hopeful festive outing. Obstacles have been surmounted, it is snowing, and Richmond might win their game the following day — though maybe not with the amount of food and drink consumed. Perhaps, it will be another festive miracle.
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