Editor’s Note: Some spoilers are discussed below through the latest Ted Lasso episode, “Midnight Train to Royston.”
Ted Lasso is the absolute best sort of sports show, one that—like so many others before it (Friday Night Lights)—really isn’t about sports at all. Yes, the AFC Richmond Greyhounds are the central cog around which the rest of the series turns, but the actual football has decidedly taken a backseat to a half dozen other major plotlines during Season 2, ranging from Ted’s hidden struggles with anxiety to Nate’s uncomfortable evolution into a bully to the very existence of Christmas. By the penultimate episode of the season, the team is a game away from clawing its way back from relegation—a feel-good underdog subplot that would be the A story on any other show—but that fact only gets mentioned in a single throwaway line!
No, Ted Lasso may be ostensibly a sports show, but it is truly about so much more. And Season 2 more than deserves the critical acclaim it’s received for the delicate and nuanced way it’s delved into Ted’s psyche, from the roots of his peppy persona to his lingering trauma over his father’s suicide. But it’s also quietly doing remarkable things in the realm of romance, not only crafting one of television’s most satisfying courtships during Season 1 but allowing its central love story to evolve into one of the medium’s healthiest and best relationships.
Roy Kent and Keeley Jones’ aren’t just Ted Lasso’s marquee couple, they’re a shining example of how to write romance on television right now. From their obvious support of one another to their ability to listen and talk through their problems (not to mention how clearly attracted they are to one another!) the pair is showing us all that the best love stories aren’t about a couple getting together, but the way loving someone helps us become the best versions of ourselves.
The pair’s will they/won’t they courtship was a big part of Season 1, a slow-burn romance between grumpy and sunshine opposites that probably shouldn’t have worked nearly as well as it did. Part of the reason their love story is so successful is, of course, due to the insane chemistry between stars Brett Goldstein and Juno Temple, but it’s mostly because Roy and Keeley’s relationship isn’t just swoon-worthy; being together is clearly making both of these characters better—and more interesting—people.
In Season 1, Keeley initially seemed as though she’d be little more than a caricature of a footballer’s girlfriend: a hot, shallow airhead with little interiority or ambition of her own. Roy, for his part, at first seemed like a rude jerk, destined to spend his life talking about the heyday of a career that was now behind him. But thankfully, those weren’t the sort of stories Ted Lasso was interested in telling. Instead, the show slowly revealed both characters’ hidden depths: Keeley’s business savvy and supportive spirit, along with Roy’s quiet leadership skills and huge heart.
That the two are great together seems immediately obvious: they’re flirty, supportive, and willing to put their partner first when necessary. But Season 2 has also taken great pains to show us the way that they’re growing together as well. Throughout the season, we’ve seen Roy become increasingly willing to make himself vulnerable: to talk about his fears and feelings, to listen and internalize (and even make apology playlists!) when he’s been told he’s done something wrong. We’ve watched Keeley become more proactive about asking for what she wants, trusting that speaking honestly about her needs won’t drive Roy away.
And indeed, their disagreements and relationship growing pains have ultimately brought them closer together rather than pushed them apart. Throughout Season 2, Roy and Keely choose to talk out their problems, open up emotionally, change behavior, and apologize by turns, and the fact that Ted Lasso highlights this emotionally mature path—rather than have a simple disagreement or awkward moment blow up into a potentially relationship-ending twist—feels like a breath of fresh air onscreen.
Much of mainstream television and wider pop culture has trained us, as audiences, to look for the trick, to assume that happiness can only ever be fleeting, that couples are only as interesting as the next disastrous relationship hurdle they have to overcome, and that half the point of putting two people together in the first place is to break them up again.
And the past few episodes of Ted Lasso have included moments that, on virtually any other series, would have been huge red flags or warning signs of trouble ahead. I mean, I know I can’t be the only person who wanted to throttle Jamie for dumping his own personal emotional waste bin on Keeley and telling her he was still in love with her. And that’s because, on most shows, it would likely have been handled in the worst possible way, with the least possible amount of nuance. Instead, Ted Lasso uses this moment (and several others) to illustrate just how much both Keeley and Roy have grown over the course of the series, separately and together.
Though Jamie confessed his feelings during an emotional moment—the funeral for Rebecca’s father, an event which brought out the nihilistic jerk in Roy—Ted Lasso doesn’t show us a Keeley who is in self-destructive emotional disarray. (There’s no kiss or painfully blurted agreement, which would almost certainly have happened on many lesser programs.) Instead, we get to see Roy apologize for his rude behavior and open up to Keeley about losing his grandfather when he was young. He even tells her he loves her! Your favorite show could never!
And Ted Lasso takes things even further in the following installment, as Roy and Keeley are both upfront and honest with one another during a fancy photoshoot. (Perhaps not the best time for emotional confessions, but every relationship has things to work on.) Roy tells Keeley he spent three hours with Phoebe’s teacher without telling her that he had a girlfriend, while Keeley admits to both Nate’s awkward attempt to kiss her (which really, what??) and Jamie’s impromptu declaration of love. Yes, these moments are deeply uncomfortable and it’s apparent that this sort of open communication isn’t something that comes easily or naturally to either of these people. (And I suspect Jamie is in very real danger of getting punched in the face very soon.) But what matters is they’re trying, in ways that neither of them has ever likely done before.
Things aren’t always going to be easy for Roy and Keeley—they may well have a serious row in their future about Jamie and the impact he’s somehow still having in their lives—but Ted Lasso has repeatedly shown us is that there’s a different, better path than the one we’ve been conditioned to expect from much of mainstream television. One that says its just as important to watch a couple learn and grow together than it is to constantly wonder when they’ll break apart.
Lacy Baugher Milas is a digital producer by day, but a television enthusiast pretty much all the time. Her writing has been featured in Collider, IGN, Screenrant, The Baltimore Sun and others. Literally always looking for someone to yell about Doctor Who and/or CW superhero properties with, you can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.
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