By Bryan Kalbrosky August 6, 2021 9:06 am
By Bryan Kalbrosky | August 6, 2021 9:06 am ET
WARNING: This episode contains spoilers for Season Two, Episode 3 of Ted Lasso.
You’re going to want to stop and pay extra close attention to episode three when you’re watching the new season of Ted Lasso on Apple TV+.
It primarily focuses on the unique power of activism and protest in sports. While typically known as a lighthearted and easy-to-watch show, this episode wasn’t afraid to swing a little bit bigger on this one. The creators were inspired by the likes of Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling and Rio Ferdinand in the Premier League as well as folks like Colin Kaepernick in the NFL.
This particular episode was a one-off directed by Ezra Edelman, the Oscar-winning director of the documentary OJ: Made In America.
“He was the perfect director for this episode because he was able to help us find the nuance in what would be a valuable gesture and what would be performative allyship,” explained Brendan Hunt, a Ted Lasso writer and co-creator who also stars as Coach Beard. “We wanted to find a way that wasn’t forcing it that would reflect the current mood where athletes are using their voices more.”
Ashley Nicole Black, formerly a writer and correspondent on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee who now acts and writes in A Black Lady Sketch Show on HBO, wrote the episode.
Once the creative team was assembled, they had to decide who was protesting — and what they were upset about. They landed on a plot involving Sam Obisanya and their fictional jersey sponsor, Dubai Air.
Toheeb Jimoh, a young British actor who portrays Sam on the show and supports Manchester United in real life, was thrilled when Jason Sudeikis sent him a WhatsApp message telling him he would star in this episode.
“I’m a massive believer and a massive fan of people who use their platform to inspire change,” Jimoh said during a recent press junket for Ted Lasso. “I think political activism in sport, and in anything you do that’s public-facing, is massively important and I 100 percent stand by it.”
In the episode, Sam is given the opportunity to be the face of Dubai Air’s new ad campaign.
The showrunners settled on Dubai Air because it would have been harder to pull off making it a protest about a topic with a real-world nemesis. Ultimately, they thought it would be more powerful to have a less specific face as an antagonist while still drawing from all of the horrid, real-life consequences of corporate greed, oil spills and bribery.
Before Sam learns about any of this, though, he’s massively flattered and he wants to do the campaign. His teammates are enthusiastic about it, too, and offer him some gentle ribbing and a joke about defacing the ad with childish graffiti once it’s displayed at the tube station.
Excited as we’ve seen him on the floor, Sam shares the update with his family. But his father promptly tells him Dubai Air is owned by an oil company destroying the environment in Nigeria and making it impossible for people to live and survive there.
The text from his father reads: “To see you choose to be a shill for a corporation that has ruined the lives of so many breaks my heart.”
It’s absolutely devastating to watch how quickly Sam’s energy turns from jubilant to crushed. However, it’s also what makes this episode so genuine. While the plot does tackle activism, it also keeps Sam’s arc and development at its core.
“It’s about a character dealing with new knowledge that puts him in a very uncomfortable position,” said Brett Goldstein, a writer on the show who also plays Roy Kent. “It’s a very relatable thing where — you can call it ignorance — but he didn’t know what he’d been a part of. Most people don’t. But once he has the knowledge, what do you do with that knowledge? That is a challenge we all face at some point in this life.”
The decision to have this episode focus on Sam is particularly fascinating because when we meet him in the first season, we were given little inklings of his potential leanings towards political activism.
Started watching TED LASSO. Ted gives out Army toy soldiers as inspirations to his team. The young Nigerian player Sam declines with a smile, saying, The American military doesn't inspire the same feeling in me.
That was unexpected!
— Viet Thanh Nguyen (@viet_t_nguyen) August 5, 2021
In the second episode of the series Ted offers Sam a little green toy soldier as a birthday gift to keep him safe. Sam declines, however, offering a polite but very stern declaration that he doesn’t have the same appreciation for the U.S. Army or, specifically, symbols of American imperialism.
Flash forward to the second season and Sam has to make a decision on whether he can promote a company like Dubai Air — can he take their money, have their name on his chest or even play for a team that does?
Fortunately, he plays for a team with an incredibly empathetic coach. Time and time again, we’ve seen Lasso’s leadership reflected as someone who stands with the team and its goals rather than dictating what those goals should be. That allows for more nuance and acceptance than he would be afforded on most real-life pro sports teams.
“Because of the nourishment that he has gotten from Ted and the support that he’s gotten, he feels comfortable enough to make a stand,” Jimoh said. “I just think that’s great. It’s a testament to the work Ted has done with his team.”
Ultimately, in a powerful moment, Sam decides to grab some black tape and cover the Dubai Air logo. He tells his teammates the horrors of the company, which turned his home into a “hellish, fiery swamp” and he will never wear their name on his chest again.
The central question of the episode then becomes whether the team would stand by him while he goes on this protest.
First, his teammates of Nigerian descent grab the tape and decide to join him. Sam tells the rest of his team they don’t have to join him but — in a charge led by, of all people, Jamie Tartt — every single player opts to participate as well.
“That’s just an important message about allyship. That’s what you need. That’s how you stand by somebody. That’s how you pull up,” Jimoh said. “I think that’s why people don’t make those big stands. They’re afraid of the backlash. They’re afraid that they’ll be shunned because there is a version of this where Sam could have done that and the team could have axed him.”
After the game, Ted allows Sam to take the mic at the press conference to address the decision.
Sam tells the media he wasn’t there to talk about the game but rather to make a desperate plea to the Nigerian government: Put an end to the decades of environmental destruction caused by the oil company that owns Dubai Air.
As they walk back to the locker room, Ted tells Sam something that summarizes the episode fairly well: “Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing.”
Overall, this episode is about Sam as a character, and Jimoh as an actor, having the courage to find their voice. When reflecting on the episode with For The Win, Jimoh couldn’t help but get emotional. He emphasized how grateful he was toward Sudeikis and the other showrunners for trusting him to handle the storyline.
“They decided it was important for them to show this and to have a young black man take on that responsibility, especially in the time we’re at now.
“I can’t champion them enough.”
apple tv, Brendan Hunt, Brett Goldstein, Jason Sudeikis, Ted Lasso, Toheeb Jimoh, Culture
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Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing.