“Sunflowers” gives everyone a reset button heading into the back half of Season 3.
Welcome to the midpoint of season 3, the longest episode of the series to date, and the most consequential episode of the season yet, “Sunflowers.” Written by Brendan Hunt (he’s Coach Beard!) from a story by Jason Sudeikis (he’s Ted!) and Joe Kelly (he’s a show co-creator!), it’s the second Matt Lipsey-directed episode in a row.
Things start out rough and a bit disappointing after last episode’s seeming big inspirational speech. The friendly in Amsterdam sees the team still down in the dumps and unable to generate even a single goal. I guess Ted speeches aren’t enough in and of themselves.
After a very funny interview between a local journalist and the odd couple pairing of Maas (David Elsendoorn) and Roy (Brett Goldstein), the team heads to the bus. There the story begins to split. For ease of reading, I’ll give each plotline its one section.
The easiest to recap is the team’s attempts to take advantage of their one night in Amsterdam sans curfew. Wonderfully, this turns into a showcase for Isaac (Kola Bokinni), a consistently reliable supporting player who rarely gets the spotlight. As Captain, he’s decided that whatever the team will do, they’ll do it together. After a bit of brainstorming, in which Sam (Toheeb Kimoh) stays very on-brand, suggesting a movie night in, two options emerge. The team can follow Van Damme’s (Moe Jeudy-Lamour) suggestion and go to a live sex show. On the other hand, they can side with Maas and take a two-hour bus ride to attend an apparently incredible house party.
Oh, and Dani votes for seeing a tulip. Or someone does, anyway. Impossible to know who wrote “tulipán” (tulip in Spanish) on their ballot.
After some squabbling, two of the hotel workers persuade Van Damme that a house party, even one far away, is better than watching two exhausted people have sex. Unfortunately, that choice reminds everyone they still need to eat. Cue another round of fighting.
Isaac leaps to his feet to make an impassioned speech on the hotel lobby furniture. Somehow it shakes something loose in Sam, who passes the Captain another idea.
Later in the episode, we return to the team to see them pillow fighting, a choice that flashes back to Ted’s first time taking Richmond on the road back in Season 1. It’s still keeping the team in rather than exploring the city, but by daybreak, it does seem to have gotten the poison out and reconnected the team. No word on how much damage Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) is on the hook for with the hotel.
Speaking of boss lady!
After Keeley (Juno Temple) ditches everyone for Jack and a last-minute trip to see the Northern Lights the best possible way, Rebecca turns to Higgins (Jeremy Swift). Unfortunately, he already has a date in the Red Light District. So he finds herself alone, strolling Amsterdam. Ted eventually reaches out to see if she wants to hang, but she never sees it. Why? Because her phone ends up in the canal, lost to her forever (probably).
Either through distraction or the language barrier, Rebecca ends up on the bike path. When a stranger (Matteo van der Grijn) tries to warn her from his houseboat, it doesn’t work out. Instead, Rebecca ends up getting hit by two cyclists and sent head over heels off the bridge and into the drink. As a sign of solidarity, the houseboat man tosses his phone in the canal and then brings her on board.
While understandably a bit uncomfortable and on guard with him initially, Rebecca steadily warms up to her “rescuer.” So much so that when her clothes are finally dry, she pours a glass of water on them so she has to stay longer. Eventually, she falls asleep to an evidently out-of-this-world foot rub. When she wakes up the following day, he reassures her they didn’t have sex. Before she leaves, they share a deep kiss. She returns to the team bus rejuvenated and in a pair of trainers that belonged to him or his similarly tall ex.
Higgins and Will
While Higgins rejected Rebecca’s offer for companionship, he recruits Will (Charlie Hiscock) to join his Red Light District excursion. Although he tells the team Will will be made a man there, it turns out Higgins isn’t talking sex. He’s talking jazz, baby! And, specifically, jazz at the club where Chet Baker often played and tragically died outside.
Will turns out to be VERY into jazz right away, even shushing his escort. And when the band notices Higgins rocking out on the air bass, it is Will that confirms our favorite feminine junior plays. As a result, Higgins gets to get on stage and play bass in the same club as his favorite jazz musician, Baker.
Also, a couple asks Will, off-camera, to be part of a threesome. So maybe there was sex after all.
Jamie and Roy
Roy decides Jamie (Phil Dunster) doesn’t get to enjoy a curfew-free night and instead pulls him off the bus to keep training. Unfortunately for Roy, Jamie still has plenty of energy. He’s thrilled to run all over Amsterdam, spouting facts and pointing out landmarks along the way. By contrast, the grumpy coach is quickly gassed and hurting. Physically and emotionally.
When Roy questions the authenticity of Amsterdam in general and windmills specifically, the Greyhounds’ star striker decides there’s only one solution: ride bikes to find a windmill. Roy, predictably, hates the idea. Unpredictably, the reason isn’t just oppositional. It turns out that Roy never learned to ride because his grandfather died before teaching him.
Nonetheless, Jamie refuses to give up. He teaches Roy to ride during an excellent montage. Then the two go off in search of a windmill. Even better, they get some more bonding in.
Colin and Trent
Colin (Billy Harris) begs off team night by feigning herring-induced nausea. Trent (James Lance) isn’t buying it, though. Sure enough, when Colin sneaks away, Trent is following close behind. As you might expect, Colin has headed to a local gay bar, Prik. Trent reveals himself there, causing a borderline panicked Colin to turn on his heels. However, the writer catches the footballer and finally admits that he already knows about Colin’s sexuality. Then he confirms the fan theory that he, too, is gay.
The two trade beers and stories on the sidewalk, and Colin confirms he increasingly wants to be out. He makes it clear he isn’t interested in it being a statement but instead just wants his life integrated. He wants to celebrate with the man he loves after a game, just like his straight teammates do with the women they love. Then the two head back to Prik for Thunderdong. Thunderdong appears just to be a dance party, but it does have that excellent name.
After Ted confesses that he needs a big shakeup, Coach Beard is immediately ready to provide it via the wonder that is hallucinogens. However, Ted’s hesitation, combined with Beard using tea as the vehicle of ingestion, means the head coach can’t bring himself to drink a drop at first. Beard, however, finishes it in one pull. Sensing his assistant’s boredom, Ted releases Beard to enjoy the night solo.
Sometime later, after seeing yet another Keeley welcomes you to a city video, also a Season 1 callback, Ted finally says screw it. He drinks most of it and heads out to see what he can see. First up is the immersive Van Gogh exhibit and a profound moment with the painting Sunflowers (hence the episode title!). Inevitably, however, he ends up at the American-themed restaurant he threatened Beard with earlier in the episode. There he has a Disney-informed hallucination (or something) about triangles and creates a new scheme for his team. Well, new to him. Turns out it was created years earlier and called Total Football.
Everyone returns to the bus on time, and the blissed-out Rebecca sparks a bus-wide “Three Little Birds” singalong.
Goldstein…proves to be an excellent physical comedian here in a way I don’t think we’ve gotten to see before.
- Roy leaving the us-ie with the reporter before the picture was taken is a nice touch.
- I feel certain Higgins knows precisely what the Red Light District means to most people. He’s just enjoying freaking out the squares a bit.
- As a coworker pointed out, there’s zero chance Rebecca’s clothes were machine washable or dryable without consequence.
- I love how pro a hearty breakfast the team is. Shades of Ron from Parks and Recreation.
- Roy’s bike story is realistically tragic. The way Goldstein balances it with Roy’s “funny” grumpiness proves excellently done. Goldstein also proves to be an excellent physical comedian here in a way I don’t think we’ve gotten to see before. My own Roy-esque note is the Butch and Sundance reference did nothing for me.
- Bokinni absolutely houses Isaac’s Shakespearean speech. Loved it.
- As written, Colin’s monologue is a little unwieldy and awkward. However, Hughes makes it come to life.
- I want to argue about that insane pile of onion rings at the American burger bar, but I’ve also eaten at Red Robin. If anything, the fries are too small.
- Yikes to that line about Europeans and Native Americans during Ted’s triangle journey. Sudeikis couldn’t make that work.
- On the other hand, he nailed both the Sunflowers monologue and the story about him and his dad watching basketball together.
- The bit where Roy expresses sadness for how Jaime lost his virginity via a paid-for by his dad red light district session and Jamie can’t process it so much that he says he can’t remember what it was like was funny but also, like, deep trauma stuff.
- Nate (Nick Mohammed) has the kind of relationship with his mom where he can practice asking a girl out. Will has one where he tells his mom about being invited to a threesome. A threesome he absolutely said yes to, I’m sure of it.
- Beard may be dressed as Piggy Stardust at the end, but he’s not singing like Bowie. Maybe young Dylan?
- The uncommented sight gag of Sam belching up feathers? Gold.
Let’s Go To The Tape
- “This is a pretend conversation.”
- “Someone who believes they deserve her.”
- “Pineapple percussions.”
- “Getting off the coach, coach.”
- “We can go to the International Court of Justice. Poke around. Ask some questions.”
- “Just one tulip. An entire field would be incredibly overwhelming.”
- “Oh, very cultural.”
- “All we know is this. Drugs are bad.”
- “I just don’t like my medicine to be taxed.”
- “It does happen if they’re being enough of a prick. Which I was.”
- “Have you got vanilla vodka?” “Dear God, no.”
- “Can we stop talking about it and just go back to me taking out my negative emotions on you, whether you deserve it or not?”
- “How’s that gonna help anyone?!”
- “I know we can’t fix every ache inside of us, but I shouldn’t have to pretend it’s not there, either.”
- “As a French man, I’d rather die.”
- “I won’t forget you.” “Yeah, you might. People get Alzheimer’s.”