Four episodes were screened for this review
What’s Ted (Jason Sudeikis) still doing in England? That’s the question of the season. It was a shock when Apple TV’s blowout hit comedy Ted Lasso, about a relentlessly positive American who takes a job as the coach of a British soccer team, announced it would be ending with only its third season. But from the outset of Season 3, the series makes a very good case for why its time is coming to a close.
After a sad Ted puts his son Henry (Gus Turner) on a plane back to the States following a summer of getting to be together, Ted tells his therapist Dr. Sharon Fieldstone (Sarah Niles) that he does “sometimes wonder what the heck [he’s] still doing here.” Nate’s (Nick Mohammed) speech in last season’s finale about how Ted has “abandoned” him was mostly deranged and narcissistic, but the one part of it that made sense was that Ted belongs in Kansas with his son. Clearly, that sentiment has hit home for Ted as well.
When Ted first arrived in England, he was fleeing a bad marriage, and the team he was set to coach was a toxic mess that needed an emotional overhaul. Since then, Ted has made progress in accepting the death of his marriage, has gone into some much-needed therapy, and the team has been transformed into a group of men who love and respect each other. Even self-absorbed hotshot Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) has, under Ted’s tutelage, become a mature and sensitive young man. It would feel false if the show had to keep inventing reasons for Ted to stay when we know there’s no real excuse for continuing to miss his son’s childhood. To that end, it’s fitting that this is the final season, but with that being the case, it has high expectations.
And does it meet them? Well, a large part of why people were drawn to Ted Lasso in the first place was its feel-good nature, but that seems to be in short supply this season, at least in the four episodes released to the press. Our characters are all in a bad place at the moment. AFC Richmond heads into a new season after being promoted back to the Premier League, and everyone predicts the team will finish last.
The team’s owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) is obsessed with beating her awful ex-husband Rupert (an appropriately menacing and slimy Anthony Head), who has recently bought an opposing team, West Ham United. It’s a big backslide for Rebecca to what she was like in Season 1, unraveling all the work she’s done to focus on herself and what makes her happy, rather than hating Rupert. Meanwhile, Nate is coaching West Ham United and has settled on being mean as a way to garner respect.
Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley (Juno Temple) are going through a rough patch, as Keeley has become overwhelmed by running her new PR firm, where she is profoundly miserable. Roy is also busier than usual as he and Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) step up to replace Nate’s brilliant on-field strategies. So, instead of watching everyone’s favorite couple attempt to do things like Sexy Christmas, we instead watch as they exchange painful looks while passing each other in the hallway. “I’m so busy I literally have to make time in my schedule to sit at my desk and cry,” Keeley laments to Rebecca.
The season’s tone is a bit of a bummer and is weak on the comedy element. That being said, the character arc that does hold its own as strong, vital, and deliberate, belongs to Ted, delivered brilliantly by Sudeikis. Last season, the series started to dig into why Ted’s so positive all the time when we learned that Ted’s father committed suicide, and it continues that journey this season. It’s good to look on the upside of things, but Ted’s tendency to use it to cover up any pain he’s actually feeling is unhealthy.
Learning to feel his feelings even when they’re negative, and express them out loud is a big step for Ted and a reminder of why we love this show so much. It’s not just because it’s “feel-good,” but because it has actually important things to say about mental health. “Am I a mess?” Ted goes around asking people for one episode. To his surprise, they each immediately reply with yes. It’s a revelation for him but helps him realize just how much work he still has to do on himself.
Nate also has some character growth towards the end of the four episodes I’ve seen, but since the last time we saw him was in the season premiere, making fun of Ted on national TV, the growth feels unearned. We don’t get to really see him coach his team, and we’re missing an important part of the story because of it. What with Nate’s way of putting people down, I would’ve liked to see how that’s affecting his players.
One nice thing is that after two seasons as mostly a background character, Colin (Billy Harris) gets an interesting storyline that adds a major and much-needed element to the show, and I’m excited to see where it goes (I won’t say more for fear of spoilers).
Overall, the season so far is a mixed bag. The episodes are messy, and not as tight and cohesive as they used to be. This is unsurprising when you look at the episode runtimes. While Season 1 episodes ran around 30 minutes each, and Season 2 ran for an average of 35 minutes until its last five episodes ran in the forties, Season 3’s episodes are longer than ever. Episodes 1-4 run from 43 to 50 minutes, and it makes the episodes unwieldy. When a show’s episodes become a lot longer, it’s often not because the series has more to say, but because it’s lost direction (just take a look at the most recent season of Stranger Things).
I don’t know where the season’s going next, or what the rest of those twelve episodes will look like, but I hope it manages to pull it together for a strong final season of what’s been a wonderful show. If nothing else, Ted Lasso demonstrates that it still has plenty of kicks left to get in before it officially leaves the pitch and that it knows what it’s doing by ending the story when it’s time.
Feature image courtesy of Apple TV+
Ted Lasso Season 3 premieres March 15 on Apple TV+