The Apple TV+ comedy starring Jason Sudeikis expands the world of AFC Richmond and takes a few creative risks along the way.

Full disclosure: The first 10 minutes of Ted Lasso season 2 had me worried. It's challenging for any successful show to maintain its magic from year to year, let alone a surprise hit that delivered a transcendent boost of serotonin during a once-in-a-lifetime global pandemic. Sophomore slumps happen when writers and performers become too aware of everything that worked before, and there's a tendency to do a lot more of it — only louder and less effectively.

That's what happens, at least initially, with Ted Lasso's season premiere, which returns us to the world of Coach Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) and his struggling U.K. football team. The episode is front-loaded with greatest-hits material: Before the credits are even done rolling, we get rhyming rejoinders ("Now don't you fret, Boba Fett"); list jokes ("There's two buttons I never like hitting: That's panic and snooze"); a cameo by fan favorite Trent Crimm (James Lance); and a folksy, heartfelt speech from Ted that helps put this crazy thing we call life into perspective. It's all a bit sweaty and eager to please, and it's paired with a clumsy introduction of a character who's allegedly integral to the AFC Richmond team — but who wasn't mentioned or shown once last season. Hence the worry. Does Ted Lasso have a case of the yips?

It's a relief to report that the answer is no. Despite the bumpy start, season 2 of Ted Lasso (premiering July 23 on Apple TV+) maintains its comedic charm while expanding the world of its characters, and even taking a few creative risks.

Ted Lasso
Brendan Hunt, Cristo Fernández, and Jason Sudeikis in 'Ted Lasso'
| Credit: Colin Hutton/Apple TV+

A few months after the Greyhounds got booted out of the Premier League, the team is in a limbo of sorts: no wins, no losses, just seven straight draws. When one of his players is hobbled by anxiety, Coach Lasso reluctantly agrees to bring in Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles), a no-nonsense sports psychologist who is immune to Ted's effusive overtures of friendship and biscuits. Team owner Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) begins searching for a soulmate on Bantr, a new dating app her friend Keeley (Juno Temple) is helping to promote. Sidelined by a bum knee, Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) ponders his postgame purpose while spending more time with his niece, Phoebe (Elodie Blomfield). Onetime Richmond hotshot Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) books an extracurricular gig that's too ridiculously perfect to spoil.

The first six episodes feel more episodic in nature than Lasso did in season 1, though some through-lines — including Ted's lingering post-divorce malaise — remain. With Coach Lasso's underdog-to-inspiring-leader arc concluded, the writers are free to devote more time to the stellar supporting cast. Newly promoted coach Nate Shelly (the indispensable Nick Mohammed) grapples with asserting himself both on the field and off. Higgins (Jeremy Swift) debates whether to offer Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) some unsolicited (but much-needed) relationship advice, and Nigerian player Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) takes a public stand against his country's corrupt government. A meandering Christmas episode blends lovely grace notes — like Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernández) and Thierry Zoreaux (Moe Jeudy-Lamour) battling Higgins' little boy in an all-out Nerf war — with a sweetly oddball story line about Phoebe that plays out as a Love, Actually homage. (Strangely enough, the Yuletide episode also includes a blithely dark, incredibly tasteless joke about an infamous murder.)

Like his titular character, executive producer Sudeikis doesn't lead with his ego, and the best material in the new episodes goes to his fellow writer-performer Goldstein. Roy Kent is a blisteringly funny bastard with a fierce heart, and Goldstein deepens his character's emotional core every week — including, if you can believe it, as the key player in a rom-com tribute episode. The writers toy with a few other storytelling styles this season, with mixed results. Still, what a treat it is to watch a great show try to get even better, rather than running out the clock on "good enough." Grade: B+

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