We’re almost done with Ted Lasso’s second season. It has been, to say the least, an unexpected ride. And our attention is no doubt turning toward the thinkpieces to come: the takes so spiced they act like “hot” is a flavor; the melancholic, disappointed reflections; the Tedbecca endgame trutherism, and so on.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t look back to that beautifully naïve period ending a week and a half ago, about two-thirds of the way through “No Weddings and a Funeral.” We were so much younger then. We didn’t yet know that Rupert had a nasty plan in store, and that his ambiguous exchange with Nate meant that Nate was doomed, as well. We remained overfull of the energy we were still blissfully unaware we’d need for worrying over what Rupert wanted Nate for, and how nuclear Nate would go when he finally abandoned Richmond for whatever he thought was his due.
In fact, if you’re anything like me, you’ve been too fearful of Season 2’s sure-to-be-disastrous conclusion that you failed to recognize one of the strangest and most transcendental moments of Ted Lasso‘s entire run. I’m talking, of course, about the show’s use of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” as a funeral eulogy.
General opinion of this moment seems have ossified: it was the Ted Lasso Rickrolling. The show Rickrolled us all. This was one of the most out-of-nowhere Rickrolls of all time. Which, for a meme built upon stealthy execution, is saying something. But thinking of the scene as a Ted Lasso Rickrolling ultimately renders it…just another Rickrolling. More clever than most; even more unexpected — but, still, a Rickrolling. This puts the meme before the show, acknowledges the show’s submission to the demands of a prank.
Furthermore, it implies the entire hierarchy of Rickrolling, in turn inviting consideration of how Ted Lasso‘s use compares to other noteworthy examples. Before long, the conversation has turned, then turned again. Depending on who you’re with and how melancholy you’re feeling, the Ted Lasso Rickrolling is likely an amusing footnote in the biography of the song, sandwiched between Astley himself Rickrolling the 2008 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the Reddit post of Astley getting Rickrolled that was the most upvoted on the site last year.
Again — that’s only likely where you land. You might not even rate Ted Lasso‘s use that highly; Rickrolling has a crowded history, after all. I haven’t mentioned even a handful of its major appearances: at baseball games, during the weather report, in huge movie franchises. Whether you’re an event producer or a content-ish creator looking for quick clicks, inserting “Never Gonna Give You Up” at an unexpected moment is a tool you always want in your toolbox.
We reached Rickrolling supersaturation approximately around the time of Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States. Since then, while its usage has dropped, it’s never gone away, nor has reaction to it ever really soured. Rick Astley himself has long embraced the repurposing of his biggest hit.
Plus, everybody knows that song. It’s a catchy-ass song! It’s impossible to hate. But, thanks to its second life, it’s also long been impossible to hear “Never Gonna Give You Up” as anything other than either a punchline. Or, at most, a catchy-ass song. Rickrolling giveth, and Rickrolling taketh away.
I submit that either of these choices is the wrong way to look at “No Weddings and a Funeral,” because “No Weddings and a Funeral” takes a different approach to “Never Gonna Give You Up.” It asks that we listen to this song with a different set of ears than the ones we’ve been using since Rickrolling went from being A Thing to Hilarious to just there.
Rebecca herself sets the stage for us early in the episode, when she’s first awoken and then utterly befuddled by her mother’s choice of “Never Gonna Give You Up” as wake-up music, blaring all through the impressive house on a no doubt equally impressive speaker system. “The whole world used to love that song,” Rebecca tells her curiously chipper mother, on the day they’re to bury Deborah’s unfaithful husband. “And then we heard it ad nauseum, and now we’re over it.”
Deborah, though, is undeterred. She tells Rebecca that the song makes her happy. She adds, “You should be happy every day, Rebecca.” We’re almost meant to take Deborah’s admission as a punchline — it’s the day of her husband Paul’s funeral, after all, and “Never Gonna Give You Up” has been played ad nauseum, ever since its release thirty-four years ago. That is a long time to listen in earnest to a song that’s lived a good portion of its existence in so-bad-it’s-good territory. But I think that’s also exactly why Deborah’s line isn’t supposed to be funny. She’s found something she loves; it makes her happy; she keeps doing it. The connection isn’t any more complicated than that.
It gets dramatically more complicated just before the funeral service. Rebecca doesn’t want to deliver a eulogy for her father because she’s hated him ever since she discovered him cheating on her mother — and then he never addressed the matter with his daughter, instead leaving her to deal with a lifetime of shame over something she had no reason to be ashamed of having seen. When Deborah tells Rebecca she knew about Paul’s affairs (because of course there wasn’t just one), and stayed with him despite them, Rebecca tells her mother she hates her, too.
It almost seems like Rebecca is eager for a fight with her mother. She’s raises her voice and thrusts with verbal daggers; she compares her own divorce from Rupert and the “fucking horrible” loneliness she’s still suffering as a result to her mother’s cowardice in never leaving Paul despite separating from him regularly. But Deborah, as patient and visionary as ever a mother has been, merely admits she’s “not as strong as” Rebecca. She was too scared to leave. And, in spite of everything, being with Paul made her happy. So she kept on being married to him.
I re-recap these scenes in particular, instead of just getting to the goddamn song, to highlight one of Deborah’s exceptional attributes. Because it isn’t easy to decide to be happy every day. Even when you’ve got a textbook upbeat pop track to bounce you out of bed in the morning. And especially when you know, in the darkest forests of your brain if nowhere else, that making the decision has no effect on the result. Waking in the dark and deciding to be happy is like staring down a hurricane and deciding to be dry.
Deborah does it regardless. And she admires Rebecca in spite of her hate. “Anyway, when all’s said and done,” Deborah says, “what’s more important: being loving, or being right?”
Then they have to go and bury Paul. And after all that, it’s no surprise that Rebecca can’t think of anything to say to eulogize the man. Almost literally. It’s worth pointing out the entirety of Rebecca’s funeral eulogy before she gets the Astley assist. Here it is: “I don’t really know what to say. Um. Um. My father…was — um…”
It’s in this context that a well-worn, nearly clichéd sentiment like “Never Gonna Give You Up” can become something more than what we all think we know it as. By “this context,” I don’t just mean because we’re at a funeral. One of the things Ted Lasso does best is use its characters to serve as audience surrogates for the emotional journey of accepting something that seems, at first glance, merely hokey and trite. There’s no better example than Ted’s entire existence in Season 1. He shows up at Richmond’s training ground talking about how he believes in ghosts but it’s more important that they believe in themselves and telling his players to be goldfish and the universal reaction to him is an unspoken “What the fuck?” (Though Trent Crimm, in his first scene with Ted, does almost say exactly that.)
Nobody can believe that any person earth could be this naïve as a way of life. For a laugh, sure. For a fake-out, maybe. But everything Ted says and does in S1 is intended to reflect his beautiful one-word mantra. If you only believe — in yourself, in your team, in your ability to get through a eulogy — you’ll be OK. Belief is the first step. You can figure the rest out as you go.
Season 2 has been all about exploring the many limitations of belief as a guiding principle unto itself. But right now, in this setting, we’ve already heard Deborah explain to Rebecca how it works for her — without ever saying the word. Ted’s late arrival at the funeral is a walking reminder to Rebecca that it can work for her, too. And so she turns from an impromptu eulogy to a set of words she knows so well she doesn’t even have to reference them. At first, Rebecca speaks the lyrics to “Never Gonna Give You Up”; when she does start singing them, her voice is such a strained whisper the words don’t come out at all.
There are looks of confusion among the mourners, but they’re less “What the fuck?” and more genuine uncertainty. Once Rebecca gets her voice, the confusion turns into smiles. Once she gets to “Never gonna say” and can’t go on with the next word, Ted is there to pick it up for her. Once Ted, with nothing more than a nod, encourages everyone to join in, everyone joins in — because everyone knows the words to “Never Gonna Give You Up” without having to reference them. After that, all Rebecca has to do is lead the church in the call-and-response bit. The entire scene isn’t quite three minutes long. At the start of it, Rebecca is bewildered, sad, and alone. By the end, she’s gotten her footing, smiled through tears, and found herself surrounded by love.
And when I say “everyone joins in” I of course mean “everyone except Rupert and Bex.” I’ve watched this scene over and over and I’m convinced the only reason he even looks up is to get in a quick Rickroll of his eyes.
It helps that Rebecca isn’t only eulogizing her father. “Never Gonna Give You Up” is just as much Rebecca’s olive branch to her mother, alone there in the front pew at Paul’s funeral, having endured Rebecca’s considerable scorn only moments before. It’s Deborah’s face we see most often during Rebecca’s song, suffering and singing and remembering along with her daughter. We get Deborah’s pained reaction an instant before Rebecca starts singing “Never gonna say goodbye”; she’s not too caught up in the moment to recognize how painful those words are at a funeral, and she is too well-seasoned by decades of listening to Rick Astley first thing in the morning to forget where the line comes in the song.
But a degree of forgetfulness is what makes belief so powerful. When you’re willing to step outside of yourself a little bit and put your faith into possibility, you’ve acknowledged that the you you just left, with all its preconceived notions and hardened responses to the awkward and strange, might not be the best judge for this moment. This is what Ted Lasso does with Rickrolling — it takes “Never Gonna Give You Up” out of its best-known context and instead makes it a prayer. Astley himself was moved to tears by the scene, despite what he may say to the contrary:
— Rick Astley (@rickastley) September 25, 2021
In the most literal sense, we can’t say to another person that we’ll never give you up, or let you down, or run around, or desert you; we can’t honestly vow that we’ll never make you cry, or say goodbye, or tell a lie, or hurt you. To promise that is to pledge the impossible. To accept that promise — again, we’re talking literally — is to play the fool. A prayer, on the other hand, carries with it an acknowledgement of failures yet to come. Belief needs repetition: try, try, try again. The next time you hear “Never Gonna Give You Up,” spare a second to ponder the meaning of boundless fidelity; then, remember you’ll likely be hearing this song regularly if sporadically for the rest of your life.
Or, just enjoy the song! It’s still a good song. Rickrolling can still be good for a laugh. I suspect we’re going to start hearing it at a lot more funerals going forward. Be sure you tell your loved ones know how you feel. Whatever your final wishes, you’ve got to make them understand.
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