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‘Ted Lasso’s’ Christmas episode wasn’t part of the plan. Here’s how they pulled it off

A woman in an elf hat and a man in a Santa hat hold out a bag of toys
Hannah Waddingham and Jason Sudeikis share some holiday cheer in a Christmas episode of “Ted Lasso.”
(Apple)

This story contains spoilers from Friday’s episode of “Ted Lasso.” The episode is titled “Carol of the Bells.”

A stop-motion opening credit sequence. A “Love Actually” reenactment. A rousing cover of a Darlene Love classic.

“Ted Lasso‘s” mid-August Christmas episode might be the most earnest half-hour in a series already unabashed in its optimism and joy. And if, like the promotional gag that inspired Jason Sudeikis’ soccer coach, the holiday episode sounds like it can’t possibly work, trust that “Ted Lasso” once again pulls it off: With precise writing and a carefully calibrated tone, “Carol of the Bells” is one of the best entries in its acclaimed second season.

“It’s such a dangerous area, when you’re on the edge of schmaltz the entire time,” admits the episode’s director, Declan Lowney.

The installment was a late addition to the season, which Apple expanded to 12 episodes after the writers room had finished breaking its planned 10. They seized the opportunity to revel in two standalone episodes, with “Carol of the Bells” positioned between “when s— goes down and is about to go down,” said the episode’s writer, Joe Kelly.

The episode begins with a scene at the soccer club, where the team’s players and administrators are exchanging gifts and discussing their holiday plans. Ted plans to spend the day opening presents with his son in America via FaceTime — a minutes-long activity that instead leaves him drinking alone at home and watching a rerun of “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

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Filming takes place on the set of "Ted Lasso's" Christmas episode, featuring Hannah Waddingham.
Filming takes place on the set of “Ted Lasso’s” Christmas episode, featuring Hannah Waddingham, who, as Rebecca, is trying to brighten Ted’s holiday.
(Apple)

Thankfully, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) invites him to pose as Santa’s helper with her and distribute gifts to local children — a tradition she kept up while married and had since abandoned. “I know all too well how stunningly s— your first Christmas after you get divorced can be, so I just wanted to make sure you’re OK,” she tells him afterward.

“Writing for ‘Ted Lasso’ means writing conflict without one-dimensional villains who show up to do horrible things because they’re evil and want to rule the world or whatever,” said Kelly. “The only ‘villain’ in this episode is depression, which really is a powerful villain in real life. The idea that Rebecca swoops in and helps defeat that for Ted for a moment is so sweet, especially after everything that happened between them in Season 1.”

The ‘Ted Lasso’ cast and crew are delighted that Alex Morgan, Sacha Kljestan, Gregg Berhalter and Jill Ellis are among the fans who say it captures the spirit of soccer teams.

Meanwhile, Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley (Juno Temple) forgo their “sexy Christmas” plans to help Roy’s young niece Phoebe (Elodie Blomfield) with a problem that a “Ted Lasso” writer experienced in real life: a kid embarrassed about her mysteriously bad breath.

They go on a door-to-door search of a dentist, who confirms the symptom is caused by Phoebe’s new antihistamine. (As a Christmas surprise for his family, Kelly named Phoebe’s cat Dauphine, after his mother-in-law, and the episode is called “Carol of the Bells” as a shoutout to his own mother — “because if I did one without the other, I never would’ve heard the end of it.”)

A man, a woman and a young girl stand before a store window
Brett Goldstein, Elodie Blomfield, center, and Juno Temple pay tribute to “Love Actually” in the holiday episode of “Ted Lasso.”
(Apple)

Another gift: The dentist onscreen is played by Claire Skinner, the real-life mother of the series’ “ussie” requestor, Bill Skinner, who asks Keeley for a signature photo. Roy, Keeley and Phoebe then stand outside a classmate’s home for a comical tribute to “Love Actually,” in which Phoebe kindly scolds him for making fun of her bad breath. “Unless you make thoughtful amends, you will stink forever,” read her cue cards.

Elsewhere, Higgins (Jeremy Swift) opens his home for team members who don’t have family in town — an evening usually spent with only a couple players. This year, though, nearly the entire team ends up in attendance. “They don’t have enough room to fit all the people who came to this party, which is such a sweet, lovely problem to have,” said Kelly.

In Apple’s “Ted Lasso,” Jason Sudeikis plays an American football coach turned English soccer manager. But the character’s origins date back almost 20 years.

They make do with a surfboard and a billiards table, covered in dishes from each player‘s home country: Sam’s (Toheeb Jimoh) Nigerian classic jollof rice; Dani Rojas’ (Cristo Fernández) traditional Mexican ponche; Richard’s (Stephen Manas) French specialties, foie gras and champagne. It’s captured in a lengthy tracking shot inspired by the 1927 silent movie “Wings” and specifically requested by Sudeikis. “It was only difficult to get because the team loves being together, so when you put them all around the table for a scene, it’s hard to get them to pay attention,” said Lowney.

At the end of the meal, Higgins makes a brief speech, listing the players’ hometowns — the actual cities the actors are from. “I know you’d prefer to have been with them, but it was truly an honor to have you with us to share our traditions and help make a few new ones,” he tells them. “To the family we’re born with, and to the family we make along the way.”

VIDEO | 01:08
In “Ted Lasso,” Higgins delivers a sweet holiday speech

The series’ Christmas episode sees Higgins (Jeremy Swift) saluting the varied hometowns of the diverse football team.

The episode ends with Rebecca passing up Elton John’s annual bash to sing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” with Ted and a band of buskers outside Higgins’ home. “That was just me wanting to hear Hannah sing again,” said Kelly in reference to Waddingham’s “Frozen” cover in Season 1. “She said, ‘Remember, I’m a professional singer, but Rebecca’s not.’ I find it amazing that the singing she does on the show is her bringing it down a few notches from what she can really do, in order to stay in character.”

On the day of the shoot, Waddingham abandoned her prerecorded vocals and instead requested to perform live. “It was the first time we had extras and cast in such big numbers together,” said Lowney of filming the episode amid the pandemic. “That was also why the atmosphere was so lovely — everyone was so happy they got to be together and see each other’s smiling faces.”

The episode was written just before the holiday season thwarted by the coronavirus pandemic. So the fact that the holiday treat is dropping in the middle of August can be “another chance at Christmas cheer, since we all maybe missed it last year,” said Lowney.

Added Kelley, “It might be a good thing; we’re getting at it early, when there aren’t already a hundred Christmas commercials and episodes. I hope people don’t think it’s too early for a Christmas episode, and I hope they’ll rewatch it at Christmas and enjoy it again.”

‘Ted Lasso’




Where: Apple TV+

When: Any time, new episodes released on Fridays

Rating: TV-MA (may be unsuitable for children under the age of 17)








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