'Ted Lasso' Recap, Season 2, Episode 4: At Christmas, Sam Gets His Goat
The Christmas episode is a standard of television — and especially of British television, which Ted Lasso is not, but which it sometimes, for brief moments, feels like it is. In this particular Christmas episode, even though Ted is feeling blue, the team finds joy in bonding over dinner, while Roy and Keeley try out door-to-door dentistry.
We first find the team in the middle of a gift exchange, where "Christmas In Hollis" is playing, because that's the law. Colin has gotten a scarf, and everybody else has gotten booze. But in fairness, it's a really nice scarf — handmade! Isaac sits in the center of the room in his Santa outfit directing the action, because Isaac is the captain of the team and if you haven't heard, Santa is the captain of Team North Pole. Jamie, of course, has forgotten to buy a gift for Secret Santa (he may have changed, but he's still himself), so Ted and the rest of the coaches help him put together an emergency present. Jamie's response: "God bless me, every one." Never change, beautiful goober.
We've skipped ahead a bit in the timeline, because while the team broke the streak of draws with its first loss last season, we see that the white board in the Diamond Dogs lounge (Ted's office) now shows that they have four wins and four losses. And, of course, 14 draws — or Ds, to which entry someone has helpfully added "(NUTZ)."
Plans for Christmas vary and create the structure of the episode: Keeley is plotting "sexy Christmas" with Roy, Nate is seeing his family, Beard is still entangled with Jane to the point where they're going to see Stonehenge "as friends," Rebecca is going to Elton John's holiday party, and Higgins and his wife will be holding their annual Christmas dinner, to which they always invite the players who don't have families locally. Somewhat sheepishly, Higgins says they typically get maybe two players, and it honestly seems like maybe he's exaggerating. Ted has promised his son that they can all open presents together over FaceTime, since this is the first Christmas since the divorce.
After a version of the opening titles that replaces the usual visuals with Claymation-ish renditions of the cast, we find Keeley at home, where the Christmas decor includes the leg lamp from A Christmas Story, a terrific little touch. But the plans for Sexy Christmas hit a snag when Phoebe's mom is stuck at work and she needs to hang out with her Uncle Roy. What's more, Phoebe has been in a bad mood all week and nobody knows why.
Eventually, Phoebe does explain why she's down: A boy in her class gave her a Christmas card that mocked her terrible breath. Roy and Keeley are appalled, right up until they smell her breath and realize that something is indeed very much amiss — as Keeley puts it, her breath is medically bad. (All hail Brett Goldstein and Juno Temple for their creative silent communication of just how bad this breath is when they first get a face full of it.) But of course, it's Christmas Eve, so there's nowhere to take her.
Roy can only think of one solution, since there's no star that shines in the night sky that will lead you to a dentist: knocking on doors until he finds one. Eventually, they are successful in locating a pleasant woman who recognizes Roy and is happy to help out. She confirms that this is some terrible breath, and she soon susses out that Phoebe has dry mouth from the antihistamines she's been taking to deal with her cat allergies, and dry mouth leads to bad breath. The dentist suggests getting rid of the cat, but the very protective Keeley is having none of it. So Phoebe gets a prescription for some medication, and that should be that. But Roy being Roy, he's not quite done yet. What does he need? Poster board and markers.
Hmm, poster board, some markers, where are we going with this in a Christmas episode? Well, to Love, Actually, of course. Roy and Keeley take Phoebe over to the home of Bernard (the mean boy), where she shows him a series of Love Actually-style signs that explain that he hurt Phoebe's feelings, and if he doesn't make "amends," he'll face the wrath of Roy and Keeley. Roy growls to emphasize the point. Young Bernard, seemingly truly sorry, apologizes, and Phoebe beams.
And as this little family wanders off, you get the playing of "Fairytale Of New York" to which you are contractually entitled.
The team dinner
Over at Chez Higgins, where expectations for the dinner are modest, the most interesting thing happens: one Sam Obisanya arrives a little early. Higgins is nervous at first about saying the wrong thing — when he asks Sam what Christmas makes him think of back home, Sam says "colonization" — but Sam (quickly earning the title of World's Most Gracious Man) puts him at ease by saying he's still happy to share the day with the Higgins family, and by offering some jollof rice that he has combined with chicken instead of the traditional goat, for which Higgins is grateful. (For the record, as many of you will know, goat is really good. If you have a chance to eat goat or chicken, eat the goat!)
Sam is in the middle of bonding with a young Higgins son when more of the boys show: Dani, Jan, and Richard (who has brought a date). They've each brought something to share, and before you know it, Thierry is there, too. So at this point, Higgins is more than doubling his usual numbers, and it's only beginning. The boys continue to arrive and arrive and arrive, to the delight of Higgins, his wife, and his sons, who all seem thoroughly starstruck.
There's a great and very funny scene in which the team gets involved in a vicious Nerf war in the Higgins living and dining rooms, complete with Dani and Thierry seeking cover long enough to have a "tell my wife I love her" conversation. Even though this is a purely comedic scene, it's so good to see Dani getting lines — getting jokes — that aren't born of the kind of over-the-top "football is life" flamboyance they established in him last season. Here, he's just a buddy among buddies.
The refreshing thing about this party sequence is that it seems like it's going to be a "Higgins is a lovable loser" joke, where maybe one person will come over and he'll decide he doesn't mind how small the party is, something like that. But without belaboring how it came to be, the episode just makes it clear that these guys decided this was what they would do on Christmas. The shot of the improvised dinner table that's grown and grown and grown to encompass practically every flat surface in the house including the ironing board and the pool table is a gorgeous and effective heart-tugging holiday detail, a perfect metaphor for how we ideally expand our lives and homes to make room for everyone.
And when Sam leads the boys in a toast of "To the family Higgins!", it's such an important reminder that this is an ensemble, and there can be important emotional scenes without Ted, without Ted's help. And when Higgins names all of their hometowns one by one, it doesn't just show that he pays attention to things; it's the best the show has done so far at embracing, with some specificity, the fact that one great thing about AFC Richmond is that it brings together young men from all over the world.
Speaking of which: another great moment in this sequence, which goes by in a flash, shows you that while Sam brought his jollof rice dish with chicken to accommodate the Higginses, he's overjoyed to see that one of his teammates has brought it with goat, because that's what he really wants, that's how you really make it. It's a small moment, but it makes a great point: A genuinely diverse group is one where you have company in loving what you love, not one where you're trying to come up with a version of the thing you love that won't seem off-putting to some imagined "default" palate. "To the family we're born with," Higgins says, "and to the family we make along the way."
Ted and Rebecca get generous
Over at Ted's, things have not gone to plan. Kids being kids, once Henry starts opening presents, he's more interested in playing with them than in opening more, so the virtual Christmas morning comes to a close and Ted moves on to whiskey and It's A Wonderful Life. But in a witty little overlay with the scene in which George Bailey is rescued from despair by his guardian angel, Ted hears a noise outside, and it turns out that Rebecca has arranged tinsel garlands on the ground to spell "HI TED." It seems she suspected Ted's Christmas might go badly, so she's come to take him on a Christmas adventure.
It turns out that what she likes to do on Christmas is give away money and gifts, and she feels bad that she skipped it last year because of everything that was going on with Rupert. She has some sort of an inside track on access to letters kids send to Santa, and on the day, she puts on her elf hat and goes from house to house fulfilling the wishes of various children. And let's face it, Ted is born to pretend to be an elf, so he fits right into this scheme.
In the end, we must weave some strands together, so Rebecca decides she's going to ditch Elton John's party and follow her heart. So she and Ted get together with some very good buskers they saw earlier (featuring UK artist Adam Taylor, who goes by ADMT) to serenade the Higgins party with "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." So out in the street, people dance, and they sing, and it's snowing, and it's Christmas.
And what's most interesting is that all this warmth, while Ted certainly has played a role in building the team dynamics, was really created by others, and that's important. It's important for the show as a show, because a version of Ted Lasso where Ted was eternally the source of all joy and fellowship would quickly get boring. And it's important for Ted as a character, because one good thing about trying to create positivity around you is that when you are troubled and you can't lead the singing, somebody else can pick up the slack. Ted has been a leader in the changes in this group of people, but he's also a beneficiary.
The Week In Ted
"Hold me closer, Tiny Dancer, Prancer and Vixen."
James Bond, Biggie Smalls, Once, John Holmes
Mental Image Of The Week
Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz's puppet show
Line Reading Of The Week
"Am I getting notes of Beijing?"
Assist Of The Week
Elodie Blomfield, who plays Phoebe, is plenty funny on her own, but she's also wonderful at setting up Brett Goldstein as her Uncle Roy, as when she wails, "Uncle Roy, this is embarrassing!" which leads to his bit about what's really embarrassing.
Mary Roscoe, as Higgins' wife Julie, brings that role a marvelous sense of balance. With different acting and writing, Julie could so easily come off as just Some Guy's Square Wife, but she's really kind and excited for her husband. She seems very proud of Leslie for the friends he's made and so pleased for him that his work situation has clearly changed.
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