The snow’s coming down, but no one can seem to get their Christmas plans right.
If we’re being honest with one another, I’m a sucker for a Christmas episode. And, given that a philosopher once taught us, “At Christmas, you tell the truth,” you know I’m being straightforward with you. Add in that Ted Lasso’s fourth episode in Season 1, “For The Children,” marked when I really first fell in love with the show, and you understand why I was particularly excited about “Carol of the Bells” before even the jump.
With co-creator Joe Kelly—getting his first full scripting credit since season 1’s second episode—and Declan Lowney back in the director’s chair for the third time this season, Lasso is following up last week’s cadre of new talent with a corps of solid veterans.
The episode wastes no time in establishing its feel. In the cold opening, Ted (Jason Sudeikis), Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt), Nathan (Nick Mohammed), Keeley (Juno Temple), Higgins (Jeremy Swift), and, eventually, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) exchange gifts and talk their respective Christmas plans in the coaches’ offices.
Ted’s going to have a full day of Zoom Christmas with his son and ex-wife. Nathan’s excited because he can afford good gifts this year, one of which his dad might actually like. Keeley and Roy (Brett Goldstein) will be having sexy Christmas—not like that, but then, yes, eventually like that. Rebecca’s going to Sir Elton John’s party for carol singing around John’s piano and, perhaps, a new puppet show by Rachel Weisz and Daniel Craig. Finally, Higgins and his family will open their house up to the players who can’t get home to see their family, something he does every year and is typically sparsely attended.
[Hannah] Waddingham pulls off some great face acting in this scene, moving from subtle empathy…to comedic mugging.
Waddingham pulls off some great face acting in this scene, moving from subtle empathy when Ted announces his Skype all day plan to comedic mugging at what Coach Beard has planned.
Meanwhile, the team exchanges Secret Santa gifts—about 99% booze, 1% homemade knitwear—in the locker room as the world’s coolest Santa overseen by Isaac (Kola Bokinni) on a throne.
While it is likely something logistical that kept Dr. Sharon (Sarah Niles) from appearing in this scene and the entire episode, it also reflects her role in the organization. Yes, the players seem to love her, but she hasn’t yet become one of, if you will, the family.
Ted’s plans quickly go awry, as his gift of an expensive drone proves so popular he can no longer hold his son’s attention — and it’s so potentially destructive his ex-wife can’t talk to him either. Last week, I joked about Jamie’s divorced-dad plan to buy the team’s love via PS5s, and here comes Ted with his literal-divorced-dad energy. It’s also our second suggestion this season that Ted’s not always the best father/father figure, even if he is a great guy.
Thankfully, Rebecca arrives soon to rescue Ted from a day of whiskey and looped showings of It’s a Wonderful Life. She takes him with her on a gift-giving spree across the city. If you’re the type to dislike rich people—and who isn’t these days—it’ll probably not warm the cockles of your heart so much as leave you grumbling about performative charity and neoliberalism. I’m a squish, though, so I liked it.
Roy and Keeley’s plans get derailed rather quickly, too because an upset Phoebe (Elodie Blomfield) will be spending the holiday with them. The couple agrees to push their plans to December 28th, the “sexiest of days.”
Roy’s niece’s mood turns out to have nothing to do with her mom in the hospital. Instead, it’s because a boy at school, Bernard (Solly Cowdery), called her breath “rancid.” Good on Bernard for tossing out such an evocative word, bad on him for his insensitivity.
Sidenote: I love the way English people in media say the name “Bernard.” It comes up here, in Love, Actually (more on that movie shortly), and About A Boy. It never fails to make me giggle.
After trying to reassure her it can’t be that bad, Keeley and Roy learn it truly is that bad. Goldstein and Temple’s takes after smelling Phoebe’s breath are just too damn funny. Another example of great facial acting this week.
[Jeremy] Swift gets a showcase throughout, highlighted by a hilarious reaction to what Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) thinks of at Christmas and a lump in the throat inducing toast.
Unwilling to let even Christmas get in the way of helping his niece, Roy takes Phoebe and Keeley door-to-door in search of a dentist. If it feels a bit like Hugh Grant’s search for his crush in Love, Actually, well, it should. By the end of the subplot, after a cause and solution to Phoebe’s halitosis are unearthed, the show makes a very explicit reference to one of that movie’s more notorious scenes.
Last but certainly not least is the Higginses’ Christmas which turns out to be the most popular, well-attended installment of it ever. Instead of just two players, the house ends up filled with what has to be about a dozen unexpected guests included Richard’s (Stephan Manas) date, who sends one of the Higgins sons into full staring mouth agape crush mode.
I don’t want to give the play-by-play for the scenes at the Higgins’ family residence, but they are all sweet and fun. Swift gets a showcase throughout, highlighted by a hilarious reaction to what Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) thinks of at Christmas and a lump in the throat inducing toast. In a season about bad and flawed fathers, Higgins feels like the one who has his stuff together.
Then the episode ends on a street concert featuring Ted’s surprisingly deep singing voice, a collection of buskers, and what I’m sure was a thrilled set of neighbors for the Higginses to apologize to on Boxing Day.
- I haven’t talked much about Kola Bokinni, but he’s done a nice job of defining Isaac in the last three or so episodes of season 1 and this year. I hope he gets a bit more to do soon.
- Seeing Will (Charlie Hiscock) get a shoebox full of money gives Hiscock a chance to do a nice bit of facial acting—yes, it was all about the face this time out—and nicely revealed two things about the team’s evolving dynamics. First, AFC Richmond before Ted never would’ve given Nathan a Secret Santa gift. Second, moments like this—signs of the team’s kindness towards Will—may very well be fueling Nate’s cruelty towards the new kitman. Where were the half days and shoeboxes of cash when Nathan had the role?
- The Greyhounds currently have 4 Ws (wins), 4 Ls (losses), and 14 Ds nutz (draws). There is a fourth category, Ps, which I assume are games left, but I have zero idea what P stands for. In any case, that means 13 games have passed since we last saw the team play. I like that the Greyhounds’ season’s even a tie (draw) at this moment.
- The sleigh bells in the theme were a nice touch. Ted not being alone in the opening credits for the first time was good too.
- Jamie (Phil Dunster) didn’t realize what Secret Santa meant, so he thought buying a gift would “ruin the surprise.” It’s a funny joke, but it is also pretty revealing about what kind of life Jamie has had outside of football.
- Just for fun, I looked up what the record is for draws in the Champions League and…did not find it. I did find, though, that episode 1 was accurate about the record for draws in a row was eight and shared by Swansea and Southampton.
- The reaction of Keeley’s—primarily male—co-workers to her Sexy Christmas plans makes me wonder how many people like myself grew up with a wildly different impression of work relationships and atmospheres. So many television shows where co-workers regularly drink together, speak in double entendres, and generally behave as though modern corporate policy isn’t a thing, I tell you what.
- Roy punching his knee back into place is…oof…
- The episode’s use of music—and the buskers especially—feels very much like Scrubs-era Bill Lawrence.
- Too much “Merry Christmas,” not even a one “Happy Christmas.”
- Bad Nate Watch: Nothing this episode, although his dad, who likes nothing, becomes the latest induction to this season’s Bad Dad Hall of Fame, joining Sam’s (sometimes), and Ted (sometimes), and Jamie’s (forever and ever, Amen).
- Coach Beard and Jane Update: Beard and Jane are going to a pagan Christmas ritual at Stonehenge, despite having their latest breakup. They had the tickets already, you see.
- This week’s film reference: While we watch It’s A Wonderful Life, it’s Love, Actually innit?
Let’s Go To The Tape
- “Oh, what a lovely inscription. That you wrote completely over my head, face, and body.”
- “That sounds like Double O Heaven to me.”
- “God Bless me, everyone.”
- “I am sorry, I know this makes Christmas significantly less sexy.”
- “So, umm, Sam, back home what does Christmas make you think of?” “Colonization.” “Offff course.”
- “I know. How irresponsible of me is that, considering all the issues with privacy these days.”
- “I think you might be dying.”
- “Santa’s true power is not his speed but his endurance.”
- “I love Once so much I saw it twice.”
- “Yeah it’s an inside joke. Mostly inside him.”
- “We’re not going to make it. Tell my incredibly beautiful wife I love her.” “I’m not going to do that because you’re going to tell her yourself. Then you’re going to hook me up with her identically beautiful twin sister.”
- “Mom, there’s two white people at the door! And they’re smiling!”
- “See, doesn’t it feel better to solve a problem than to beat up a little kid?”
- “Oh, don’t get me wrong, they are incredible. But all I really want to see those two do together is fuck.”