As “Man City” drew to a close, it didn’t look like Coach Beard was headed anywhere good. Asking to be left alone to “shake this off” following AFC Richmond’s humiliating loss at Wembley, he walks off into the night toward some unknown destination with seemingly no interest in heeding Ted’s advice to “be careful out there.” We’ve only gotten glimpses of Beard’s life away from the pitch and hints of a wild past that might not be that far in the past. It seemed like he could be heading anywhere and that anything could happen.
So it comes as a bit of a surprise that “Beard After Hours,” an entire episode devoted to what happens to Coach Beard after the credits of “Man City,” opens with Beard going home. Accompanied by a wistful version of the Ted Lasso theme performed by Jeff Tweedy, Beard looks reflective and a little angry as his Tube ride brings him closer to home, a round of rumination that only ends when he realizes he has taken a scowling contest with the little kid on the seat next to him too far. He is not in a good place, and as he walks home under a full moon, it seems like a beer and a sulk might be all he has in him.
Until, that is, the hallucinations kick in. As Beard watches Thierry Henry and Gary Lineker recap the loss, their criticisms turn personal, noting his failures as a coach and his sad single-man chessboard coffee table. Clearly he has to get out. And though Beard chooses the most obvious destination, the Crown & Anchor pub where Mae (Annette Badland) and the trio of Greyhounds fans — Baz (Adam Colborne), Jeremy (Bronson Webb), and Paul (Kevin “KG” Garry) — seem permanently ensconced, he is not destined to stick around for the whole night. After recapping his thoughts on simulation theory and finishing off a round of drinks, he seemingly has two options: Seek out Jane (Phoebe Walsh), who has reached out despite the state of their relationship and asked him to come find her, or hit the town with the boys.
The boys win, and it’s here that the title, “Beard After Hours,” reveals itself as an acknowledgment of the deep debt the episode, written by (admitted cinephile) Brett Goldstein and Joe Kelly, owes to Martin Scorsese’s 1985 film, After Hours, which sends an ordinary white-collar New Yorker, played by Griffin Dunne, through the wilds of the city’s wild after-dark underside. However, Beard’s journey begins with an attempt to infiltrate the Bones and Honey club, a place so exclusive it once reportedly turned away Cher.
Beard is no Cher, and though he and his companions do their best to match the Bones and Honey dress code with items from the pub’s lost and found, it still takes a bit of deception to get in. Although their methods are pretty mean — tricking the snooty greeter into thinking her apartment is on fire — Beard justifies it with some logic borrowed from Fight Club. (Scorsese’s not the only one getting a tip of the hat in this episode.) And while Ted Lasso easily could have built a whole episode around Beard and the lads hanging out with a bunch of elites, adopting funny accents and offering convincing supporting details about Beard’s time as a professor at Oxford, the Bones and Honey club is just the first stop on Beard’s odyssey.
It’s a kind of siren that lures him away, a bewitching woman — referred to later as “Mary” but listed in the credits simply as “Red” (Charlotte Spencer) — wearing a red dress who keeps making eye contact with Beard. She lures him first into a private room where Henry and Lineker’s criticisms continue, then finds him in the alley after he is ejected as a trespasser. Adding to the humiliation, he rips his pants in the process. Fortunately, Mary is something of an expert on men’s pants, both how to repair and collect them.
But where it looks at first as if Beard has connected with Mary, this turns out to be an illusion. She delivers a monologue about how people come and go in her life, leaving only their pants behind, then offers him a pair of flashy pants from a dead lover (though they look like they could have belonged to Elton John). But there is a man with a seemingly permanent place in her life: Darren (Charlie Rawes), a jealous bruiser who chases Beard around like Andy in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.
Beard escapes via a daring leap, but Darren catches up with him a few misadventures later, after he’s been kicked off a bus and nearly beaten senseless by Jamie Tartt’s father and his gang of ruffians. Beard is grateful after Darren apologizes, mentioning he was motivated by jealousy and then explaining his own history with cheating. He’s a thoughtful guy under all that bluster and muscle, but Beard’s relief doesn’t last. Discovering that Jane has not only been in touch but said she loves him, just as his phone dies, he launches into a fit of panic and frustration. There is really nothing to do but go home.
Except he can’t. A broken key — its fragility teased throughout the episode — sends him back into the night and into a church, one that turns out to be part of the club where Jane has spent the evening. Beard only finds this out after he spends some time praying, and the discovery feels a bit like an answered prayer. While Baz, Jeremy, and Paul explore the sacred grounds of Nelson Road Stadium, home of the AFC Richmond Greyhounds, Beard dances and Hula-Hoops the night away before reuniting with Jane, just barely showing up in time for the morning meeting, then dozing off while Ted plays back the “highlights” of the most recent match, sped up and matched to “Yakety Sax,” a song made famous as the theme to The Benny Hill Show.
And that’s that for this episode, a fun departure that reveals details of how Beard lives and how he views life yet leaves him only slightly less mysterious than before. Brendan Hunt’s more than up to the task of shouldering the whole episode. He doesn’t really diverge from the Beard we know so much as expand on the character, playing him as deeply emotional beneath his gnomic surface and letting the dual heartbreaks of his breakup with Jane and the loss of the match drive him to clownish extremes. It’s cleverly structured and proves Ted Lasso can (and should) break formula from time to time. We learn nothing of how other story lines advance, but the season had reached a point where it was probably necessary to take a break.
The big question: Does Beard’s story line advance? It’s never clear whether or not Jane is good for him. She’s clearly not good for him in the traditional sense. All of Higgins’s objections ring true by those standards. But Beard also seems a bit lost without her. Is “Beard After Hours” the story of a welcome reunion, or does its round-and-round, shaggy-dog-story construction reflect the cyclical state of their relationship? The episode doesn’t provide an answer if there is one, but it makes it fun to ponder the question.
• Critics sometimes receive in-progress, just-short-of-being-finished versions of the episodes that air. Usually, there’s little to say about crowds added via digital effects later and other such details. But there are a couple of interesting bits in the unpolished version of “Beard After Hours”: (1) The presence of wires suggests Hunt performed the leap-off-the-rooftop stunt himself (though his initial leap might be blended with a digital effect — it’s hard to tell), and (2) there are no visible wires in the Hula-Hoop routine. Is this pure Hunt? Could that moment have been written to spotlight his Hula-Hoop expertise?
• There are movie allusions I’m sure I did not catch, but here are a few of the obvious ones (and please offer more in the comments):
• Jamie’s dad and friends appear in the alley backlit and framed in such a way that they resemble the droogs from A Clockwork Orange.
• The scene set to “Blue Moon” pays homage to An American Werewolf in London, which closes with the better-known version of that song.
• Beard’s interaction with the testy hotel desk clerk brings to mind another Kubrick film, Eyes Wide Shut. Tom Cruise has a similarly difficult exchange with a character played by Alan Cumming. That’s not a London movie (though it was shot there), but it uses the same into-the-night setup as After Hours.
• It’s nice, too, to give a little more spotlight to Mae and the pub patrons, who consistently deliver the goods during their brief appearances but here get a little more space. It’s easy to imagine a Cheers-like spinoff with that gang, which apparently also includes a Frasier-like pedant who unsuccessfully dated Mae.