‘Ted Lasso’ Season 3 Coasts on Good Vibes and Little Else
In the third season of Ted Lasso, Ted and his coaches discuss whether it’s a good idea for AFC Richmond to pursue Zava, a brilliant footballer who is also a ball-hogging diva. Adding Zava to the team would be a massive talent boost, but it would mean reconfiguring the entire offense around the new guy, sending one current starter to the reserves, changing everyone else’s role, and perhaps disrupting the harmonious locker room chemistry that has been Ted’s biggest achievement since arriving to coach in the Premier League. It’s at once an obvious choice and a difficult one.
With this new season, though, Jason Sudeikis and friends have largely chosen to not make any hard choices at all. Seemingly every idea anybody had, about any character — from major ones like Ted (Sudeikis), Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), and Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) to extremely minor ones like Richmond goalkeeper Zoreaux (Moe Jeudy-Lamour) — has made it onto the screen. In fact, there are even more characters to service this time around, since the show is now toggling between three different workplaces: AFC Richmond, where Ted and Rebecca are back in the Premier League after a year of relegation; the more glamorous football club West Ham United, where Ted’s duplicitous ex-assistant Nate (Nick Mohammed) has teamed up with Rebecca’s toxic ex-husband Rupert (Anthony Head); and the independent PR firm run by Keeley (Juno Temple), who has gone out on her own, much to the concern of boyfriend Roy.
There’s an age-old saying in writing that authors should be prepared to kill their darlings — i.e., cut out various turns of phrase, characters, subplots, etc., that give them pleasure but aren’t in service to the larger point of the story being told. As a pathologically nice, often superhumanly kind man, Ted Lasso would of course reject the notion of killing any of another person’s darlings. This, apparently, is the philosophy that the man who co-created and plays him has taken. All the darlings have survived, resulting in a show that has had to expand itself to accommodate them, for good and for ill.
Call it the Stranger Things Effect, where the creators of streaming service’s flagship show fall so in love with their characters and ideas that they decide to use all of them — and where the series is so successful that they are allowed to do so. On some level, this is a win for everyone: the streamer gets people spending more time on the service, the actors on the show get more to do, and the audience gets to spend more time with characters they enjoy. But more can often threaten to become less in this situation. The two-plus hour Stranger Things season finale was too overstuffed to be as tense or scary as it wanted to be. The early episodes of Ted Lasso Season Three all clock in at 44 minutes or more, which is rarely an ideal comedy length. Rhythms get disrupted, jokes get overplayed, etc. (See most of the super-sized episodes of The Office, for instance.)
The season premiere has an early scene where Ted FaceTimes with his therapist, Dr. Sharon (Sarah Niles), and admits that he’s not sure why he and Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) are still in England. “Maybe my being here is doing more hurting than helping at this point,” he admits. The remainder of the episode is such a long and clumsy chore that it seems fair to wonder if this is Sudeikis worrying that the series itself may have overstayed its welcome.
But conditions improve from that point, even with the unchecked sprawl. The material about Keeley’s PR firm (including For All Mankind star Jodi Balfour playing an investor) feels particularly extraneous; simply cutting it would bring the runtimes down to something more manageable. (Similarly, the check-ins with the Richmond fanboys at the local pub are adding little at this point.) A lot of the other stuff starts to work quickly, though. The scenes with the team’s fourth and fifth bananas, for instance, are often the funniest material in a given episode, like a moment where they get overly excited about the mere suggestion that Zava (Maximilian Osinski) could sign with them. Coach Beard continues to emerge as the show’s stealth comic MVP, and there’s a lot of good material about Ted, Rebecca, and Nate all emotionally struggling with this new rivalry between Richmond and West Ham. It’s still a much less tight series than it was back in that first season, but more of it still works than doesn’t.
It’s fair to wonder, though, whether Kill Your Darlings applies to a hangout show, where the punchlines and story ultimately matter much less than the chance to spend time each week with your likable, albeit fictional, friends. If the plots meander, or if the jokes don’t land with the best possible context, you still get to watch Ted, Beard, and Higgins (Jeremy Swift) get way too excited — and for Roy to get easily annoyed — about their latest advice-swapping gathering as the Diamond Dogs. Or you get more of the love/hate relationship between Roy and star striker Jamie (Phil Dunster). Though in a switch from previous seasons, Jamie seems like the more complex character, while the show starts exaggerating all of Roy’s more distinctive personality traits until he can border on caricature in some moments. This is always the risk when a show’s breakout character is a bit larger-than-life to begin with, but for now it’s in relative moderation, and we still get moments like Ted trying to explain the concept of Hallmark Christmas movies to Roy.
The new season has also, at least in the early stretch, pulled back from some of the darker emotions that were palpable throughout most of Season Two. There is still a lot of ugliness between Ted and Nate, as well as an ongoing acknowledgment that there are limits to Ted’s emotional powers. Nate and Rupert also give the series its first unabashed villains. Rebecca started out as one, when — as an homage to the plot of Major League — she hired Ted entirely to ruin the team as revenge on Rupert, but the show almost immediately turned her into one of its richest and most sympathetic characters. Rupert seems morally unsalvageable, and we’ll see if Nate can be plausibly redeemed.
Can Ted Lasso keep on expanding and expanding its roster of broken people for its hero to attempt to fix? That depends in part on what Sudeikis wants to do. He has said in the past that he viewed this as a three-season series. When Richmond was relegated at the end of Season One, Ted even gave a speech foretelling how the rest of the series seemed set to go: he would lead Richmond back from the minors, and then defy all the skeptics and (again borrowing from Major League) “win the whole fuckin’ thing.” Season Two fulfilled the first half of this plan, and there are stretches of Season Three where Richmond is on enough of a roll to perhaps fulfill the second. Apple has not, however, officially dubbed this the third and final season, and it’s hard to imagine the streamer easily letting go of by far its biggest success story. Perhaps focusing more and more on the minor characters — including reporter Trent Crimm (James Lance), who embeds with the team this year to write a book — is Sudeikis, Hunt, Goldstein, co-creator Bill Lawrence, and the rest of the writing team trying to postpone the inevitable and take more time resolving all of the emotional issues that caused Ted to leave American football and move to London.
Or maybe, like Ted, they just can’t help liking all of these people and wanting to learn more about them. There are downsides to this in coaching: even the normally-devoted Beard now gets annoyed at times that Ted emphasizes the touchy-feelie stuff while still struggling to grasp basic strategy. And there can be downsides to this in television, as the series is still chasing the creative highs of that first year. At one point, Roy recalls the moment when he decided to leave his beloved Chelsea squad after realizing he had grown a step too slow. “Lot of folks think it’s better to quit than be fired,” Ted acknowledges. Ted Lasso is in no danger of being fired by Apple, nor by its audience. The question is whether it’s content to keep ambling along like a late-career Roy Kent, or if its mustachioed star will want to walk away soon.
Season Three of Ted Lasso premieres March 15 on Apple TV+, with episodes releasing weekly. I’ve seen the season’s first four episodes.
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