“I believe in communism. Rom-communism, that is.” Ted Lasso, Season 2, Episode 5 – ‘Rainbow’
Today’s media landscape has taken a drastic swing from the romantic comedies that dominated our screens in the 90s and early 2000s. Moving on from the likes of You’ve Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, and Notting Hill, present-day romance stories – though still in existence – rarely lean into comedy. Instead, they have been largely co-opted by girlboss narratives and a general unwillingness to let female characters, in particular, be that well-loved combination of messy, sexual, smart, and silly all at the same time – while also demonstrating a strange discomfort in allowing a narrative based upon finding love to be the central theme in today’s storylines.
It is in this arena that Ted Lasso premiered in 2020 on AppleTV+. The show follows the titular character (played by show creator Jason Sudeikis), an American football coach brought from Kansas to London after being hired by Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) to coach her Premier League football team, AFC Richmond. Unbeknownst to Ted, Rebecca hired him as part of her plan to ruin the club as a means of revenge upon her ex-husband while she reeled from her recent painful divorce.
When Ted Lasso debuted, the show’s creators maintained that it would only last three seasons, having planned out the story from start to end to fit within this time frame. In today’s world of meandering, overly drawn-out television arcs, it is both refreshing and reassuring to know there is a specific story that the creators are telling, and that the arcs are built into the seasons from the pilot episode itself. We can rest assured that what we see playing out on our screens has significance for future storylines and character beats. Ted Lasso’s use of a three-season story arc brings to the forefront a popular writing tool – the rule of three, and, more specifically, the three-part romantic comedy structure. This rule, particularly in comedy, is a quintessential formula: (1) set up; (2) build anticipation; (3) punchline. When applied to the structure of romantic comedies, we have seen it play out countless times before: (1) The couple meets and develops chemistry; (2) conflict throws a wedge between the couple; (3) the couple resolves the conflict, finds their way to each other, and falls in love.
But what does all of this have to do with Ted Lasso and Rebecca Welton?
There is an inherent romanticism to opposing leads in any form of media, which has come into play in Ted and Rebecca’s burgeoning relationship over the past two seasons. Many fans of the show have celebrated this interpretation but it has also received a startling level of pushback from audience members who would rather Ted and Rebecca remain friends. Ted Lasso‘s creators and writers have also been unnervingly quiet about the trajectory of Ted and Rebecca’s relationship. In an age where will-they-won’t-they television couples are quite obviously referred to as such, the silence around Ted and Rebecca has led to fevered speculation. This brings me to the crux of this article, in which I explore my belief that with Ted Lasso’s use of the three-season arc, the show is bringing back the quintessential three-part rom-com to tell a slow-burn love story between its two main characters against the backdrop of a sports comedy.
“I believe some people call it white-knighting, but I’m just following my gut here.” – Ted Lasso, Season 1, Episode 8 – ‘The Diamond Dogs’
Act One of the rom-com structure – couple meets and develops chemistry – is fulfilled during season one. A veritable mesh of tropes throws Ted and Rebecca together. Rebecca’s plan to use Ted to destroy AFC Richmond creates a backdrop of tension for the audience as we watch their relationship begin to blossom (much to Rebecca’s chagrin). Ted sees through Rebecca’s cold façade from the start. He is the first person in her life to understanding that Rebecca is using the anger from her divorce to hide her vulnerability and pain while trying to recover from an emotionally abusive 12-year marriage and an ex-husband, Rupert Mannion (Anthony Head), who continues to inflict emotional turmoil upon her. In only the show’s fourth episode, “For the Children,” Rebecca opens up to Ted in her first truly honest moment, telling him through tears, “I don’t want to be alone.”
Three episodes later, Rebecca finds Ted in the middle of a panic attack as he struggles with the fallout of his impending divorce. In a moving scene drastically different in tone from the rest of the season, Rebecca’s voice cuts through Ted’s panic attack as she manages to help him calm down. It’s the first time Rebecca sees Ted’s own hidden struggles and the first time she sees the similarities in the pain with which they both live.
The pivotal moment of the season between Ted and Rebecca arrives in the penultimate episode, “All Apologies.” Rebecca, deeply shaken by yet another crushing encounter with her ex-husband, confesses her scheme to Ted. Though she expects reprisal, Ted surprises her by forgiving her, understanding that “divorce is hard.” Waddingham’s beautiful performance manages to weave pain, desperation, and a yearning to love and be loved: Rebecca realizes the depth of Ted’s kindness, throwing herself into his arms while he reassures her, “If you care about someone, and you got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothing you can’t get through together.“ His words are a balm for Rebecca, who has been conditioned never to expect kindness or forgiveness and are what kickstart her toward finding herself again.
Ted and Rebecca’s season one relationship goes against the grain of most will-they-won’t-they television relationships in that it is not portrayed as outwardly sexual or romantic in nature. Instead, we see two people, dealing with similar, parallel journeys, finding understanding, solace, kindness, and love in one another. It’s a gentle melding of hearts and minds but one that is no less affecting. They have changed each other in ways that reverberate throughout the show: Rebecca is now on a path to healing, and Ted begins to come to terms with his new place in life. Though they’re both building a family at AFC Richmond, it is only with each other that Ted and Rebecca allow themselves to open up and explore their shared pain and experiences. Doing so implies the deepening of their relationship in the future. Theirs is a unique, refreshing, and moving portrayal of a relationship in the story’s first act, and, as the season ends with Rebecca insisting that Ted stay on as coach of AFC Richmond, we move to the next part of their journey.
“You just listen to your gut, okay? And on your way down to your gut, check in with your heart. Between those two things, they’ll let you know what’s what.” – Ted Lasso, Season 2, Episode 11 – ‘Midnight Train to Royston’
In an about-face, season two separates Ted and Rebecca for the majority of the season, pulling them apart emotionally and physically as they deal with their own internalized conflicts and mental and emotional fallouts – and thus fulfilling Act Two of the rom-com structure, conflict that drives a wedge between the main couple. In season two, the arrival of sports therapist Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles) leads Ted on his own journey to overcome his mistrust of therapy and unpack his past traumas and the collapse of his marriage. At the beginning of the season, with Ted slowly spiraling deeper into himself, unable to talk about or share what’s weighing down on him, he becomes a bit more manic in his tone of voice, a bit more long-winded with his stories. And we see him begin to slowly but surely pull away from Rebecca.
On the other hand, Rebecca attempts to move on from her divorce by searching for love via the world of dating apps. As the season progresses, we see her move from man to man, eventually beginning a sexual relationship with Richmond midfielder Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) despite the considerable age gap and imbalanced power dynamic. It’s an uncharacteristic failing from a show previously dedicated to accountability that season two of Ted Lasso never delves into Rebecca’s psyche in the same way it does Ted’s, and the omission stutters and stalls Rebecca’s arc toward the end of the season. The audience is seemingly meant to understand that Rebecca is falling into old patterns and repeating cycles of trauma by entering into a relationship with Sam. Still, we are never allowed to see Rebecca work through and unpack her choices, wants, or needs, which leaves her story feeling awkward and hollow by the close of the season. (Can we hope that this will be addressed in season three?)
However, while season one focuses on Ted reaching out to Rebecca, season two pays more attention to Rebecca trying to reach out to Ted. In “Carol of the Bells,” the second season’s much-loved Christmas episode, Ted begins to spiral into drunkenness and despair until Rebecca saves him by showing up at his window to spread Christmas cheer. Two episodes later, in “The Signal,” Ted reaches his first breaking point of the season, suffering a panic attack in the middle of a match and running off the pitch. Somehow, in a sea of thousands in the stadium, Rebecca is again the only one to realize what is wrong with Ted and leaves the match immediately to try and find him. When she can’t, she calls Ted but receives no answer, and the gulf between them widens.
“No Weddings and a Funeral,” the second season’s tenth episode, delivers one of the most moving scenes of the entire show, revealing how and when both Ted and Rebecca’s lives changed irrevocably. Against the backdrop of Rebecca’s father’s funeral, both characters (though, again, in different locations) break down and confess their deepest traumas. For Ted, it was his father committing suicide while Ted was in the house with him. For Rebecca, it was walking in on her father cheating on her mother. Both events happened on the same date – Friday, September 13th, 1991 – and molded Ted and Rebecca into the people they became. Ted being present at his father’s suicide fueled his need to ensure no one ever feels unseen or alone; Rebecca witnessing her father’s betrayal shaped every subsequent romantic relationship in her life. The scene’s haunting editing and the deliberate intertwining of Ted and Rebecca’s stories – Rebecca tells her half of the story to her mother while in a back room at the church; Ted shares his with Dr. Sharon in his living room after calling her in the middle of another panic attack – lends an almost ethereal aura to the moment. In a season in which Ted and Rebecca shared a handful of scenes, it is almost jarring to be reminded that even in their darkest moments, the two of them are still connected by an invisible string that has seemingly existed for three decades.
Following these revelations, Rebecca breaks down while delivering her father’s eulogy and is only able to find the strength to go on once Ted enters the church. It is a beautiful and quiet moment, solidifying the bond between the two, and begins to bridge the distance they have imposed on each other all season.
Season two of Ted Lasso is subtle in its development of Ted and Rebecca’s relationship. Though season one constructed it in ways that may have felt more tangible and apparent, season two attempts to establish the fact that Ted and Rebecca are connected in ways that transcend the physical. While both Sudeikis and Waddingham have referred to Ted and Rebecca as “soulmates,” their story has an added element of choice, not just mere fate, that elevates their relationship and links their parallel journeys. What is abundantly clear is that both Ted and Rebecca are brimming with love and looking for someone to share it all with. It is difficult to believe that if they do somehow end up with other people in their quests for love, they would be able to find anyone who understands them with the same strength that Ted and Rebecca hold between each other. Ted, whose ex-wife told him he was “too much,” fits perfectly with Rebecca, whose ex-husband made her feel like she was not enough – like two puzzle pieces of healing and love.
Ted Lasso‘s season three began filming this month. If the rom-com structure trajectory continues, we will see Ted and Rebecca find their way back to each other and realize the true nature of what’s been building between them. Should this turn out to be true, it would have been extremely brave of the show to space out a slow-burn relationship across three years worth of build-up, separation, anticipation, intimacy, and love, and it will make the satisfaction of the ending all the sweeter. In an age of media that deems narratives of love between older characters unnecessary and recoils from female characters who are allowed the space to be strong and messy in their search for love, Ted Lasso offers us a new way forward. As Sudeikis so aptly said back in 2020 when describing the show, “What if Nora Ephron wrote a sports film?”
So: are Ted and Rebecca an ode to the slow-burn rom-com couple? Only season three will tell – but I really do hope so. After all, believing in rom-communism means believing that everything’s gonna work out in the end.