[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for “Ted Lasso” Season 2, Episode 4, “Carol of the Bells.”]
What will inevitably come to be known as the “Ted Lasso” Christmas Special is officially titled “Carol of the Bells” — a tip of the hat to a classic holiday song in what’s sure to be a classic holiday episode. Could it have been any other way? The Apple TV+ series has become a phenomenon of goodwill and positivity, embodying the trademarks of the season without, until now, so much as a snowman. But Episode 4 leans hard into the Christmas spirit: There’s a Secret Santa gift exchange, a playlist that spans “Jingle Bells” to “Christmas in Hollis,” bags of presents, a Santa hat permanently affixed to Ted’s head, a “Love, Actually” homage, and even a new title sequence complete with green seats turning red and claymation cast members gathering for a holiday card photo.
But considering how many scenes start with the chimes of a melodic buzzer (pressed or answered by a chipper child), the entry may as well have been titled “Carol of the Doorbells.”
There’s little Phoebe (Elodie Blomfield), crashing the “Sexy Christmas” soirée Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley (Juno Temple) had planned, with her prescription-level bad breath.
The youngest Higgins boy is kind enough to answer the door for Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh), the first in a parade of Richmond players to warm the family’s already crowded home.
The tiny son of two lawyers breaks into an ear-to-ear grin upon seeing Roy Freaking Kent at his doorstep, even if he’s not the prodigy of a practicing dentist the soccer star is seeking.
A suspicious girl takes a long look at the two white folks waiting outside her front door, as Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) and Ted (Jason Sudeikis) stop by to drop off a sack full of presents from Santa Claus.
Ding-dong! Ding-dong! Ding-dong!
A montage of doorbells — cut to “Carol of the Bells,” of course — sees more guests join the Higgins’ dinner-turned-rager and more failed attempts by Roy and Keeley to help their cute kiddo’s deathly wheeze.
Courtesy of Apple TV+
And that’s not all. The last doorbell rings before Phoebe shares her forgiveness with the bully at school — via cue cards, of course. All the cute kids, all the on-the-nose songs, all the grand gestures of wholesome cheer make for a ridiculously sweet episode, even by “Ted Lasso” standards, encouraging everyone to open their door and let love in.
And to be honest, it works. “Carol of the Bells” should put a smile on your face, just like so many “Ted Lasso” episodes before it. Not all of it has to work. Maybe your eyes rolled when Dani Rojas’ staged a Nerf shootout with Tiny Tim Higgins, or when yet another show copied “Love, Actually’s” preferred method of silent (“Night”) communication, but Roy Kent remains irresistibly amusing — reacting to Phoebe’s bad breath with “I think you might be dying”? his gritted-teeth response to the dentist’s son wanting a photo with Keeley? come on, those are gold! — and hearing Waddingham belt-out “Christmas” (Baby, Please Come Home) more than makes up for any saccharine oversteps.
No, if you’re hooked by “Ted Lasso,” then the Christmas Special delivers. But like so much of the Apple TV+ hit, there’s more going on if you want to look for it — or listen. Amid the onslaught of festive jingles, two big ones stand out. That rousing closing number? It’s all about feeling lonely. The singer is begging their partner to come home because they’re miserable by themselves: “They’re singing Deck the Halls / But it’s not like Christmas at all.” Sound familiar? Ted may not end up alone this Christmas, but he’s clearly missing his family.
Earlier, when the head coach is video chatting with his son, another curious song plays in the background: “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” One way to spin it is that Ted was there for his son — he’s making time with him over Zoom, and he’s fully engaged with his kid whenever possible. But he’s still not home for Christmas. He’s in London, in his own apartment, divorced and despondent. When the youngest Lasso runs off to play with his dad’s “overpriced guilt gift” (a drone), Ted hits the whiskey bottle, turns on “It’s a Wonderful Life,” and primes himself for a Blue Christmas.
Then Rebecca shows up, writing a tinseled greeting on the sidewalk outside his window and whisking him away to spend the day giving back, rather than grieving alone. This, by all accounts, is the right decision for “Ted Lasso.” Rather than “go dark,” as many other Emmy-nominated comedies are prone to do, the Joe Kelly-penned episode zags back to positivity. Whether it’s the first or only Ted Lasso Christmas Special, it’s too early to break from the show’s good-spirited ethos completely. Finding a way to respect Ted’s emotional state while letting his friends (which, by now, includes the audience at home) have a good time makes for a stronger entry.
Courtesy of Apple TV+
But it may not make for a stronger Ted. Season 2 has hinted at lingering issues tied to its lead’s unrelenting optimism. The team has struggled to win (and, as Coach Beard said last year, that does matter); Ted’s Season 1 panic attack has still gone unaddressed; his now ex-wife and son are still an ocean away. Ted has good reason to be sad, and repressing those feelings behind a false front isn’t the path to mental health.
If you Google, “Is it OK to be sad over Christmas?” one of the first results is from the Mayo Clinic, and the very first piece of advice is to “acknowledge your feelings.” “If someone close to you has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones for other reasons, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief,” the article states. “It’s OK to take time to cry or express your feelings. You can’t force yourself to be happy just because it’s the holiday season.”
Yes, the second piece of advice is to reach out, and Ted did admit to feeling better after spending the day with Rebecca.
“I just wanted to make sure you’re OK,” she said. “Yeah, well, I am now,” he replied. “A lot better than I would’ve been if I would’ve drank whiskey all day and watched ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ on repeat. That could’ve gone dark.”
It’s good for “Ted Lasso” that darkness didn’t tarnish a fun holiday special. But for Ted, it’s still there, waiting. He needs to acknowledge what he’s going through. Eventually, all that pain is going to come knocking.
“Ted Lasso” Season 2 releases a new episode every Friday on Apple TV+.