Jason Sudeikis plays Ted Lasso, a small-time college football coach from Kansas hired to coach a professional soccer team in England, despite having no experience coaching soccer. But what he lacks in knowledge, he makes up for with optimism, underdog determination...and biscuits.
The good folks over at Ted Lasso have done it again - gone straight for the heartstrings and left no stone unturned in the second season of this very beloved AppleTV+ series. In May 2021 I spoke with co-creator, writer, and actor Brendan Hunt about the impetus of the show to staying true to the heartbeat that is the show. This go-round, I had the immense pleasure of speaking with one of the show's indispensable writers and co-executive producers Jane Becker. After speaking with her, it was quite easy to understand why her voice was just what this room needed to make this second season shine. During this interview, Jane shares the collaborative process behind breaking the second season, and how her emotional journey is imbued into the quintessential episodes she's written. Plus, she shares invaluable advice for comedy writers and tapping into your voice.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
Sadie Dean: How did the writer’s room collectively approach finding the second season’s North Star theme, in the way that you had “Dads” as the North Star in the first season?
Jane Becker: Jason had the three seasons from the beginning - he very much had it planned. And I would say as a group, we come up with these ideas, and one thing that we do is we have this big master list, and we'll go home and pick our favorites. And we all sort of came back with the same favorites, which is really cool, but it's also sort of indicative of like, ‘Oh, this room wants to tell this kind of story.’ As much as Jason's vision has gotten us through these seasons, a lot of it is what we as a collective like too.
Sadie: Yeah, and it definitely makes it feel more relatable too because you guys are tapping into these universal things that people don't readily or openly talk about. For your episode in Season Two, “No Weddings and a Funeral” – it was a heavy episode in terms of character development for everyone basically across the board. What was that writing process like?
Jane: Yeah, it was a really interesting process. We all sort of broke this season -it's such a collaborative process - and somebody came up with the idea that Rebecca's dad dies and I don't even remember whose idea it was, but it was just one of those things where, ‘Oh, this will be the funeral episode’. For me, I thought it was about Rebecca and her mom, and Ted sort of finally opening up to Sharon about his dad. Jason called it like DNA being woven between Rebecca and Ted, and how he always wanted to show this big moment that they're like, he calls it platonic soulmates - showing why they're connected, and they don't even know why they're connected, which is very cool - but I was really attracted to the mother-daughter story and couching that in the theme of grief, because I think personally, a lot of people deal with this. My relationship with my mother has changed and it's grown a lot too. This was why I got into writing in the first place, I want to use it as my own therapy. It's the only way I can sort of work through my stuff. So, it actually was a very interesting process writing this episode. And as collaborative as it is, I go off and write the first draft. It was a tricky but rewarding experience for me to do it.
Sadie: You certainly feel that personal connection to the material. It's difficult for most writers, I think to get so vulnerable on the page, but that’s where the good stuff lives.
Jane: Yeah. That's what makes the most fun writer’s room and when you get to the point where you trust each other so much that you can be that vulnerable and you feel safe doing it.
Sadie: That’s so important. You also have a background in writing for animation. I'm curious, are you tapping into those skills coming from animation comedy and bringing that over into a live show like this? Sometimes I feel like the characters could be animated characters at times.
Jane: That is funny. I wrote an episode of The Simpsons, but I was a writer's assistant. I got to watch whenever they had to tell a Homer joke or a Marge joke, you can see them go into a space in their brain that was very specific to what's in Homer's world. So, I do feel like the characters in the story are very much like that, too. Ted is a very specific guy who has a very specific set of references. Same with Beard. Same with Roy, even Hannah, and Keeley - everyone has very specific characters. I feel like when you're trying to hit a Rebecca joke or a Keeley joke, you go into a different place in your brain. And I think that's what those guys at the Simpsons definitely taught me and what I learned about writing animation - nobody has the same voice; you have to be very specific. And yeah, that's a good question. In terms of what comes out in the writing, it’s just all from my own emotions and that kind of thing. I don't have to go into the animated space in my mind, or the live-action space [laughs] it all comes from the same pot.
Sadie: There’s also this idea of what being a writer is and what you bring to the page. One of the ideas being you need to be confined to your room writing constantly, with no contact with the outside world. And I think it’s really important you do the opposite – live your life, have those experiences to bring to the page.
Jane: I love that you say that, because one of the things that I hate the most when I hear ‘write every day,’ I mean, that's strong for me to say, ‘I hate that,’ but I think it works for some people - I think that more than write every day, I want to do something different every day. Even if that's like, taking a walk in a place you've never walked before or eating something from a restaurant you've never been to, just opening up those channels in your brain helps my writing so much more than if I were to just sit at the computer and wip myself. [laughs] It shouldn't be torture, because it can be and you want to enjoy it, so try to make it fun. [laughs]
Sadie: In terms of the character development again, obviously Jason knows Ted inside and out, but all those other characters that I feel like we're kind of on the sidelines are now big, major characters with pivotal arcs to the storyline. And then of course you get sneaky Nate in there doing his thing.
Jane: Jason had thoughts for every character of what they're going to be doing for three seasons. I think Nate, as far as I know, is the one that has stayed true to his vision, that he was very clear about But for everyone else, it was fun to see them change and grow and see when you put that character into the writer's room, what's going to come out, you know, shake it up and see what comes out. [laughs] But yeah, I would say with Nate, it was very Star Wars-ian [laughs] We talked about those first three Star Wars a lot when we talked about Nate.
Sadie: Oh yeah, I can see that. Especially when he shows up in an all-black suit.
Jane: Yeah, exactly. [laughs]
Sadie: Your role has changed over the course of the two seasons, can you give us some context behind these titles and what purpose they serve in the room, from what a supervising producer does to becoming a co-executive producer?
Jane: There's basically ten different names for the same job, like from staff writer up to EP. Yes, you have more responsibility the further up you go, but we're all sitting around the table together pitching ideas, coming up with characters, storylines, all those things. So, between supervising producer and co-EP, it’s basically a year of experience. And then you get a higher title after that year. But something that's really cool about this show is the people on this team, they wouldn't have ever held that back for me. They are kind when it comes to that kind of thing. Everybody has earned their spot and they were gracious about making everyone feel valued. It's a good room and a good group of people. I'm very sappy and perfect for the show. [laughs]
Sadie: [laughs] What are you drawn to exploring through your own writing?
Jane: Most of what I write comes from truly what is going on in my life. The reason that I do this job is because it's the way that I process my emotions. My career is just my own personal therapy, so I appreciate it. [laughs] But I do like to write my way through my issues, and it can be really hard, and sometimes it doesn't feel comfortable and it's painful, but I think that every time I get to the end of something, it always feels like, ‘Oh yeah, that's why I do it.’ [laughs] Every time I'm writing, it's always a good reminder of why I sometimes torture myself doing this. [laughs]
Sadie: Do you have a writing routine or process? Are you a heavy outliner or do you just sit down dive right in and type away?
Jane: Yeah, I have tried the typing away - I wish I could be that person. [laughs] I have to outline everything or else it will be a big fat mess. [laughs] Something will happen to me that I will talk about in therapy for a year, obsess over, journal about for a year or years and then I'll eventually have some seed of an idea of what I want that to look like in a thing. And it's usually not a one for one, I like to step it out a little bit like maybe into a surreal space. I've had to journal basically my whole adult life. I was diagnosed with OCD when I was in my last year of college, that’s when it came on, and one of the ways that my therapist helped me through this was journaling. And I rolled my eyes at it because I was like, ‘This isn't gonna help me.’ And I think it was one of the ways that I found out that I wanted to do this as a career for real because it was so helpful and seeing your brain has its own language and seeing it on such a wild thing, it's different. It's not English. It's not any concept that you can grasp if you were to say it out loud or read it in a book. It's like a little magic trick or like a superpower.
Sadie: I really like the idea of you being able to have a place for all of that and having that routine and knowing where it's going to live. And just get it out which is so important.
Jane: Yeah, t's so important.
Sadie: Was becoming a TV writer always something you were drawn to or was that something that came along the way through your journaling?
Jane: It was it was not something that I always wanted to do. I was in high school, and I remember I was watching that show Stella with Michael Showalter, David Wain and Michael Ian Black. And I was like, ‘This is the stupidest thing I've ever seen.’ [laughs] ‘And also the smartest thing and I love it. And if this exists, I want to do whatever that is.’ And I had just discovered the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre in LA, and I was seeing shows and The State was doing like a reunion show there. So, I was like, ‘OK, it's all in the family. I'm going to just start taking classes.’ It wasn't like, ‘Oh, I have to do this as a career.’ I was just like, ‘I'm going to just follow this right now and started taking sketch classes.’ And it was the most fun of my life, truly the best time of my life. I just sort of have kept chasing that and met so many good people and through there; Eliza Hooper was on my team, she recommended me for The Simpsons, and then Rebecca Adelman recommended me for another job - I owe everything to these girls - I was on a house sketch team, and it was the all-girl team - those are my girls. I want to go back to those times. [laughs] I loved it.
Sadie: Would you recommend doing sketch comedy and improv for any writer?
Jane: Yeah, definitely. I think that the funniest writers are the people who've also done improv. And sketch is so useful because even now with a scene, it's like a sketch that's part of a whole you know what I mean? You always are looking for the game of the scene in every scene and what is this? Every scene in every show is the same, but it's how you deliver the information. You can do it in a million different ways and that's the fun of writing something like to Ted Lasso, you get to present it in a different way. So, I feel like sketch definitely helps with that. You're always looking for a new way in and another angle kind of thing.
Sadie: For writers who are just starting out and want to do TV, and want to write a feel-good comedy that has heart to it similarly to what your team is doing on Ted Lasso, I feel like I kind of know what your answer will be, but any advice in what writers could tap into as they’re going through that writing process?
Jane: I'm so curious to see if your answer matches mine. But mine would just be honest with yourself and tell your truth. And I remember writing one of my pilots, and I wrote something that happened to me, and I was embarrassed about it. And I put it in there like, ‘Oh, maybe nobody will see.’ And my agent was like, ‘That's the best part of this pilot. Don't ever change that part.’ And it was like a really shameful sort of secret thing about my life that I was almost embarrassed or scared to show. I feel like those are the things that everybody is dying to see like everyone wants that. Your truth, it'll make someone mad, but it'll also bring someone a lot of relief and joy. And I think that’s a good lesson to take away from writing, in general, is to just do what works for you and be your truest self.
Sadie: Well, yeah, that's exactly what I thought you were going to say. I knew you were going to bring up that pilot, too. [laughs]
Jane: [laughs] You're like word for word.
Sadie: [laughs] But I definitely agree, it's so important, because I think a lot of writers are still asking, ‘How do I find my voice?’ And the answer is there - you have it, you just need to find a way to tap in and be vulnerable so that you can get to the heart of what you’re trying to express on the page.
Season two of Ted Lasso is now streaming on Apple TV+.