This post contains spoilers for Ted Lasso “Man City.”
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Comedy and drama don’t have to stay boxed in a funny or serious framework and there are plenty of heavier shows that inject levity through humor. Ted Lasso is not looking to change what award season category it enters, but this 45-minute outing does lean into the darker elements that the series has been focusing on during its sophomore outing. Nate (Nick Mohammed) closed last week’s episode with a chilling missive directed at the young man who is working in the role Nate once held, and “Man City” might be the most challenging episode to date.
It is also the longest episode and one aspect of the streaming world that is both pro and con is the way showrunners are not beholden by the network structure — though I would argue that more often than not the tighter runtime is beneficial. Most of the episodes this season have hit the 35-minute mark and this flexibility means storylines and characters do have more time to develop. In the case of “Man City,” it also means that there is a certainty choppiness to the narrative as it is dealing with a big match, Ted’s (Jason Sudeikis) mental health, Jamie’s (Phil Dunster) terrible father, and the Bantr romance between Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) and Sam (Toheeb Jimoh). Some aspects such as the FA Cup semi-final feel rushed, and this is partly due to the lack of build-up to this tournament. The first game we saw Richmond play in this tournament was the surprise victory over Tottenham Hotspur in “The Signal” and while in the real world these two matches are only played three weeks apart, the timeline of this season is all over the place.
AFC Richmond faces Manchester City in this big game that makes this the first time the teams have played each other since Jamie’s return — and after Man City effectively relegated the Greyhounds at the end of Season 1. The moment when the team steps out onto the hallowed Wembley pitch it is easy to see how overwhelmed the team (and actors) are and every player dreams of this moment. There are some funny asides during Ted’s pre-match talk in which he discovers that soccer pitches differ in size and this isn’t the same Wembley he saw Freddie Mercury sing at during Live Aid in 1985 (that Wembley was demolished in 2002 to make way for the new stadium as Ted also learns during this pep talk). Being the underdog can work in a team’s favor as they are not expected to win, although Richmond rarely beats the odds. They don’t even get close and are outmatched to the score of 5-0. The goals come in quick succession and the viewer is never led to believe a miracle comeback is underway.
The entire match is bleak from the coaching team arguing with each other to Nate getting sent off the touchline by IRL referee Mike Dean for his choice of language. No amount of spitting from Nate or the Roy Kent effect is going to win this game. The highlight is Keeley’s (Juno Temple) red, gold, and blue ribbons woven in her plaits, but otherwise, the entire experience is overshadowed by Jamie’s awful father. James Tartt (Kieran O’Brien) is for want of a better word (and to use the descriptor Jamie does) a dick. In the Season 1 finale, Ted witnessed Tartt Sr. physically laying into his son for passing the ball rather than scoring. When Jamie made his case to come back to Richmond, he told Ted that he left Man City to join the reality TV series “Lust Conquers All” as a direct jab at his father. He reluctantly gets his dad (and his two mates) comp tickets for the FA Cup game and James Tartt shows up in a Man City shirt. He gives his son abuse from the stands and comes down to the locker room after the match to rub it in some more. This takes place in front of an already muted team who are trying to take stock of a dream they held for less than 90-minutes.
It is like an extended cut of the post-game analysis James Tartt offered in private last year and an insight into Jamie’s entire career. Finally, Jamie quietly tells him “Don’t speak to me like that,” and everything Phil Dunster does in this scene is Emmy-worthy — he is one of the supporting cast who didn’t get a nomination in 2020. When he turns his back his dad calls him a pussy so Jamie punches him in the face, a punch that has been a long time coming. This breaks the spell on the room and Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) steps up to through the older Tartt out of the locker room (hitting his head on the door first). As the strains of George Harrison’s “Beware of Darkness” kick in, Roy (Brett Goldstein) strides toward his former nemesis and embraces him in a hug. As Jamie begins to weep, Roy’s closed fist that he has placed on Jamie’s back opens up and completes the powerful gesture. It is also notable that Jamie said that he quit Man City because he found out George Harrison was dead and this song choice doesn’t feel like a coincidence.
Roy stepping up means something because of their acrimonious past and it shows personal growth from the new coach. Earlier in the episode, he is called to Pheobe’s (Elodie Blomfield) because she has been exhibiting some Roy Kent-like language that is not appropriate for primary school children. This is her fifth warning (she called a classmate a “pathetic shit fucker”) and that means getting sent home. Pheobe’s teacher asks about her father (“he’s a living piece of shit” Roy confirms) and she tells Roy to use his influence for good over his niece. Their heart-to-heart involves him telling Pheobe that he is worried he is passing on the worst parts of him, which she counters with examples of the good he is doing (like standing up to bullies). It is a very sweet moment that pairs with Higgins (Jeremy Swift) telling Jamie to “Love him for who he is and forgive him for who he isn’t.” This advice is regarding his dad and while it doesn’t fit the James Tartt scenario, it speaks to the wider daddy issues narrative running through this season. After Roy has this moment with Pheobe it makes sense for him to be the one who first embraces Jamie after that crushing moment, particularly as Ted has been withdrawn of late.
The episode opens with Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles) on the phone discussing the frustrations of dealing with Ted and the walls he has erected. Sharon’s therapist suggests a similarity that she might not be willing to see when it comes to how Ted presents avoidant behavior. Ted uses corny humor and obscure pop culture references to deflect whereas Sharon uses her intelligence. We follow Sharon on her bike ride to work, which ends with her getting hit by a car. The trickle of blood suggests the worst, but luckily all she has is a concussion (and a broken bike). She left Ted a series (okay, 32) voice memos, which is why he came to the hospital to make sure she is okay and his presence is required for her to leave (due to the head injury). Ted marvels at the NHS healthcare Sharon has received that doesn’t come with an expensive bill and then he walks her home. Upon entering her apartment he sees empty wine and vodka bottles and their awkward conversation suggests they are still stuck at an impasse. Both of them are going to have to give something up and meet in the middle. Later she calls to tell him she was scared after the accident as riding to work is her happy place and this gesture is a major step that pushes Ted to confess what really happened during the quarter-final to the rest of his coaching team.
Breathing exercises before the big match lead Ted to tell Beard, Roy, Nate, and Higgins about the panic attack that sent him running from the touchline. This turns into a confessional with Nate explaining his spontaneous ideas are ones he has thought long about, Higgins messed up time zones and missed out on signing a player, Roy pretends to read the scouting reports and Beard was accidentally on mushrooms at the Port Vale game. None of these admissions are about mental health but it immediately puts Ted at ease to get this off his chest — even if it is a temporary fix. After the incident with Jamie’s dad, Ted leaves the dressing room and calls Sharon to tell her something no one else at Richmond knows. His dad died by suicide (as some viewers had been speculating) when Ted was 16 and he notes that maybe this is why he is so defensive about therapy. He doesn’t want to talk about it right now, however, the act of sharing is a huge step and it makes his previous comments about his father hit harder. Beard approaches as Ted quickly wipes his tears away and his energy is odd, to say the least. He says he needs to shake it off and Ted tells him to be careful out there, which could be showing concern but I also hope is not foreshadowing.
Meanwhile, seizing the day takes place when Sam sets a time and venue for dinner with his mystery Bantr woman and she says yes. The build-up to the date is a delight as Isaac’s (Kola Bokkini) prowess with the clippers comes into focus. Any moment of the team bonding like this is wonderful and Jan Mass (David Elsendoorn) gets shouted down for his many skeptical-laced questions. As far as Sam and Rebecca go, I am still deeply uncomfortable with this storyline for the reasons Rebecca lays out when she realizes Sam is the man she has been chatting to. “I mean it. I have to mean it,” she emphatically says about why this can’t happen after they kiss. His age (he’s 19) and more importantly that she is his boss are major reasons why they cannot date. After the FA Cup defeat, Rebecca sees an interview with Sam in which he mentions that they lost but it is worse to not try at all. This makes her throw caution to the wind and the blowback is going to be huge if/when the press finds out. Nothing about this season has been easy and the challenges faced are certainly throwing roadblocks at every juncture. This scene is also bookended by two strong needle drops beginning with the Oasis (who famously support Man City) anthem “Don’t Look Back in Anger” and ending with Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know,” which dominated in 2004 and has subsequently been covered by Kacey Musgraves, Lily Allen and Darren Criss in an episode of Glee.
“Man City” gets to the heart of not just Ted’s mental health journey but also why fathers are such a fixture throughout the series. Jamie’s storyline is the best executed in this long episode, which does suffer from a choppy narrative bouncing between each arc. And while the pacing is all over the place, it is an effective depiction of Ted’s inner struggles and why the team is flailing without this anchor. Sure, Roy is there to hold Jamie up but the fractures feel more pronounced. As we head into the final third, AFC Richmond has a lot of work to be done if they are going to end the year on a high.