He’s not wrong. Success does seem to have altered the show, though only at the margins and little if any to its detriment. The first season felt like a happy accident, an island of hope and decency in a prestige-TV ocean of antiheroes, violence and dysfunction. Season 2 looks to be a touch more polished and self-confident, the humor a little broader and the writing a little more meta and refined. It was easy to forget last season that the show was not some out-of-nowhere hit but was made possible by the participation of Lawrence, who has been churning out stateside comedies (“Spin City,” “Scrubs,” “Cougartown”) for more than two decades.
You can see the additional layer of polish in the very first, ostentatiously slow-mo’d scene, in which a potentially tiebreaking penalty kick by the gleeful striker Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernández) instead collides with and kills the team’s canine mascot. Thus, the episode’s title, “Goodbye, Earl,” in honor of the elderly greyhound whose effort to catch an airborne pigeon instead resulted in his ascent to heaven.
Dani, the team’s best player, is disconsolate, and he immediately loses all ability to kick in a straight line. He wakes from terrible nightmares. (I confess I wasn’t a big fan of the cartoon-dog goalkeeper who haunted the one we saw.) But unlike the rest of us, when Dani bolts upright in bed in terror, he does it between a pair of beautiful paramours. I mean, why make existential despair any worse than it has to be?
And so, our first big plot development: Given Dani’s case of — don’t say it out loud! — the “yips” (a psychological condition in which athletes lose the ability to perform even the most basic skills of their sport), Higgins (Jeremy Swift) persuades Ted to hire the team a sports psychologist named Sharon Fieldstone, played by Sarah Niles. (Niles, seen previously in “Catastrophe” and “Beautiful People” among other series, is the principal addition to the cast this season.) Ted’s discomfort with the hire is immediately apparent: Even as he says yes, he’s shaking his head no. As he explains to Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) over beers, “I think there’s part of me that just doesn’t trust therapists.”
Things hardly improve when Sharon arrives at the office to meet the coaches. She is unamused by the men’s customary antics, demonstrates strong displeasure at being called “Doc,” and informs Ted that however good he is at his job, she is twice as good at hers. I confess that this is definitely not something I would tell my boss on my first day at a new job. But maybe shrinks are cleverer about these things.