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"Ted Lasso" is officially not a fad or a phase.
Apple TV+'s infectious comedy, starring Jason Sudeikis as the eponymous American football coach fumbling his way through leading an English soccer team, delighted and tickled many viewers when it premiered last year. A comedy that is equal parts hilarity and sincerity, "Lasso" was perfect in every way for 2020, a surprise critical hit for Apple and a bright spot amid the darkness brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As virus restrictions ease in the U.S., Season 2 is an important test for the series, which has to prove that its popularity and acclaim weren't just products of a unique pandemic moment. The 12-episode new season (premiering July 23, ★★★½ out of four), establishes the staying power of "Lasso," and then some. Funnier, deeper and more ambitious than the inaugural outing, the new episodes (six were provided in advance for critics) offer the same joyous good time, with the volume turned up. Sudeikis and his co-creators have said the show will run for only three seasons, but it feels as though "Lasso" could stream for years.
Season 2 picks up as a new soccer season begins for Richmond, which was relegated out of the Premier League at the end of Season 1 (it's a testament to the success of the writing that its American fans are likely to actually understand that sentence after watching it when European soccer was a mystery to many of us before). Ted may be a great person, but he still hasn't mastered the art of getting his team to win some games, as demonstrated by a frustrating run of ties to start the season.
In response to the slump, and an emotional crisis for star player Danny Rojas (Cristo Fernández), the team brings in sports psychologist Sharon (Sarah Niles, "I May Destroy You"), whose all-business attitude clashes with Ted's children's party-entertainer personality.
Like the first, Season 2 leaves plenty of time for off-the-field romantic intrigue, as Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley (Juno Temple) navigate their relationship while Roy deals with the fallout of retirement from pro soccer. Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) has finally shaken off the cobwebs of her brutal divorce and is attempting to date and improve her own life instead of seeking revenge by ruining her ex's. Former Richmond star Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) even has his own sexy side story, as a cast member on the best "Love Island" parody yet to grace the small screen.
One of the biggest strengths of the new season is that the supporting actors who portray the soccer players are spotlighted. In particular, Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) and Danny Rojas take more central roles in the narrative. Jimoh is a revelation, charming with every smile or grimace. Fernández propels Danny past the one-joke punchline of his original appearance ("football is life!") and shows superb comedic skills.
It's not just the supporting characters that are amped up in Season 2. The writers double down on mining comedy from silliness and optimism as "Ted" proves that embracing joy can be just as funny as cynicism. It doesn't hurt that the new episodes significantly up the physical antics, and the writers can turn glee into laughs with ease, providing jokes where everyone is in on the theme and the humor. The happiness is there in a way that still allows for conflict, and roadblocks lead to interesting plots and occasional drama. Everything doesn't always go right for Richmond and Ted, but it certainly goes well for the viewers.
The brilliance of "Lasso" is that everyone who creates it, from the writers to the performers to the music producers, never forgets what it is really about. The writers are masters of the long setup for a joke, so the simple inclusion of the song "She's a Rainbow" by the Rolling Stones becomes comedic, emotionally significant and tense, all at the same time. And that's just one example among many. "Lasso" is wholeheartedly committed to its point of view in a way few of its peers can manage.
So get used to "Lasso," because it lives up to its very energetic hype. To quote the Richmond fans, "it's here, it's there, it's every (expletive) where. It's 'Ted Lasso.'"
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Ted Lasso' Season 2 review: Believe in the power of Jason Sudeikis