Bill Wrubel & Brendan Hunt kick around Ted Lasso Season 2

June 23, 2022 Jeff Goldsmith

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Emmy Watch: Ted Lasso season 2

Executive producer/writer Bill Wrubel and executive producer/writer/star Brendan Hunt on taking to the pitch for a deeper second game.

By David Somerset

Spoiler Warning: This excerpt discusses plot points from Season 2.

Though the fandom of Ted Lasso is indelibly tied to the height of the pandemic in 2020, the charming Apple TV+ series succeeded because of its own commitment to quality, not just because lots of viewers were on lockdown and desperate for something happy to watch. And you probably already know the rest. It’s adapted from a series of commercials to showcase NBC’s coverage of British Premier League soccer, and the show sees football (American version) coach Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) recruited to oversee the struggling AFC Richmond Football (U.K. version) club. You might expect a comedy of errors as the homespun coach brings his considerable good nature to bear on wary players and club owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), the latter of whom turns out to have hired Ted in the hope that he’ll be the final nail in the club once owned by her ex-husband. Sure, there’s some of that—and a whole lot more. Slowly but surely, Ted, along with the assistant who came with him, Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt), wins everyone over—even if he can’t lead the team to win much of anything. Hilarious and heartfelt, Ted Lasso has gone on to score multiple awards (including WGA and Emmys for writing) and lodge itself firmly in the zeitgeist. Characters such as legendary player and now coach Roy Kent (played by writer/actor Brett Goldstein), Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernández) and Nick Mohammad’s Nate Shelley are quoted or memed everywhere online.

Created by Sudeikis and Hunt—who acted in the original commercial shorts—alongside Joe Kelly, the series benefits from the backing and long comedy experience of Bill Lawrence, the man behind shows such as Scrubs, Spin City and Clone High. The creative staff is stocked with a blend of veteran sitcom types—including Bill Wrubel of Modern Family—plus writers doing double duty onscreen (Hunt and Goldstein among them) and rising-star scripters such as Phoebe Walsh and Leann Bowen. As the 2022 Emmy season gets underway and voters take another look at Ted Lasso season two, Backstory caught up with writers Hunt and Wrubel to chat about how everyone rose to the challenge of the second season and seamlessly recaptured the lighting-in-a-bottle of their award-winning first season.

Because Ted Lasso is shot in and around London, the writing process means a split in resources and personnel at different times during production. “It’s written in Los Angeles and London,” says Wrubel, who has been with the show since the start. “For season one, we started in March or April of 2019 and wrote it here in L.A. All the writers were here, and then we all went to London from August. People would come and go, but we were basically there through November.” Of course, the pandemic changed things up, with Team Lasso going virtual like many of their colleagues. “For season two, obviously COVID hit, and it was written all on Zoom for the first six months. I want to say April to December of 2020, and most of the writers didn’t travel to London, so it was rewritten in London and via Zoom.” For Wrubel, the most important element is Sudeikis’ driving idea to have the show be as emotional as it is funny. “The individual writers have some say in their episode, but then there’s a brilliant staff of comedy writers who do the rewrites together. It’s not as joke-driven a punch-up necessarily, as Jason is inclined to want to have some scenes where he’s not as worried about the jokes.”

Sudeikis and Hunt go way back, having met doing improv at the Second City in Chicago in the late ’90s and bonding as part of the Boom Chicago troupe during a stint in Amsterdam. But improvisation features a lot less in Lasso than one might suspect. “There’s certainly last-minute tweaks of lines here and there,” says Hunt. “But generally speaking, we’re not just riffing and turning the cameras on. That was a declared intention of Jason’s from around 2014, after we did the second commercial, and those commercials were very heavily improvised by both of us. When he said they could be a series, I had that in my head, like, Oh, yeah. Oh my gosh—be improvising for half an hour every week! And Jason said, ‘No, no, no, no. Every word should be scripted.’ ” Hunt also sees the value in several of the cast being present in the writing room as well as on set, which cuts down on script confusion once the cameras roll. “I think it’s a great asset because it means on set there’s usually multiple people who can remember the origins of a given beat or a joke or whatever. We’re not guessing at the intentions. We can help people through stuff—except on very rare occasions. [Say] if an actor is like, ‘This part doesn’t work for me because of blank,’ we sometimes go, ‘Oh, yeah, we have no fix for that.’ That one happens least often but not never.” The writer-actor is also clear about what makes both the performances and scripts shine: “It’s a meritocracy. The best idea is always pretty clear.”

In 2021, we got season two, in which Coach Lasso seemed to find someone uniquely resistant to his folksy brand of feel-good wisdom in sports therapist Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles). The calm and cool Fieldstone sees through Lasso’s catchphrases and instead insists that he actively deal with his clearly fraying mental health. Some felt the season was a bit gloomy . Others saw it simply as deeper—and that’s just how Hunt views it. “People kept saying, ‘This season is darker, and I’m, like, ‘What did you watch? We have a main character who has a major panic attack!’ It would be irresponsible of us to say, ‘Oh, well, he never does that anymore.’ We want everything that happens in the show to have consequences, and the consequence of that was, okay, well, we’ve got to get into his mental health. Season two is more about the antagonists within these characters, and those antagonists are deeper inside.”

The story of Nate (Mohammed) can be described as an antagonist who exists both within and without. Kicking off as the sweet-natured, oft-teased equipment manager and groundsman Ted befriends, Nate becomes increasingly more important in the show. Promoted to assistant coach, his amiable attitude slowly curdles as he becomes more confident and ends up turning against both his mentor and the team. Nate apparently was feeling abandoned by Lasso once the two began coaching together, as that dynamic by its nature is a bit more structured and formal. Yet Nate feels the need for more attention to the point he becomes obsessed with it. Ultimately Nate feels compelled to lash out at Lasso and eventually leaks to a sports journalist that the real reason Lasso left the field midgame was due to a panic attack. As season two concludes and flashes forward, Nate leaves the team to become the manager at rival team West Ham United. His arc—and the season in general—has been compared to the raised stakes of The Empire Strikes Back. And while Wrubel can see the parallel, he notes that the writers didn’t initially have that as their model. “We were digging a little deeper into character and a little less into the sports movie of it all—more into the complexity of the characters’ relationships. Star Wars is a pretty rousing movie, Empire is slightly less rousing, but it’s a pretty fucking good movie. We weren’t following it directly, but Jason’s vision was, ‘Let’s try and expand and deepen and still keep it funny.’ ” Just don’t expect season three to feature Ted with a robotic hand in a lightsaber duel with Nate. That said, this interview is being conducted shortly before Wrubel is due back in a Zoom meeting for an episode rewrite, and he kindly offers to pitch bringing lightsaber duels to the show.

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