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In the second-most-overblown scene from HBO’s oppressively/gloriously overblown dramedy The Newsroom, Will McAvoy refuses — because he’s a time-traveler from the future with 20/20 hindsight on all things — to go along with the prevailing media narrative in the aftermath of the 2011 shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. He boldly declares, “A doctor pronounces her dead, not the news!”
That’s the way I feel about everybody associated with Ted Lasso hinting at the idea that the show’s upcoming third season will also be its last. Sure, star and co-creator Jason Sudeikis may be telling everybody that they’ve finished the story they set out to tell, but the soccer comedy feels too valuable for Apple TV+ to surrender without a fight, or at least promotional hype. Until the first ad arrives calling this “the third and final season,” I assume that backroom negotiations are ongoing.
Cast: Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham, Jeremy Swift, Phil Dunster, Brett Goldstein, Brendan Hunt, Nick Mohammed, Anthony Head, Toheeb Jimoh, Cristo Fernandez, Kola Bokinni, Billy Harris, James Lance with Juno Temple
Creators: Jason Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt, Joe Kelly
Still, based on the four episodes sent to critics, Ted Lasso absolutely feels like a show that’s treating this run as an end, if not the end. It’s backward-looking more than forward-looking and the shape of an overall series narrative is becoming increasingly clear. At the same time, the show continues what could either complimentarily be called its expansion or critically deemed its bloat. These four episodes are all between 44 and 50 minutes, without adapting their tone or structural rhythms from back when this was a 30-minute show. The result is unwieldy, like a solid eight-episode season squished together with little regard for flow or repetition.
Odd dragging moments aside, though, I have so much affection for so many of these characters — too many, if we’re being honest — that the comfort from their return is tremendous and the enjoyment frequent.
In case you’ve forgotten, after a season fighting panic attacks and insecurities, Sudeikis’ Ted led AFC Richmond back to the Premiere League, but Nate (Nick Mohammed) went full Judas (or Darth Vader) and accepted Rupert’s (Anthony Head) offer to coach West Ham.
Still, Ted achieved his basic goal in coming to coach the team and, after seeing his son off at the airport in the season three premiere, he ponders, “I guess I do sometimes wonder what the heck I’m still doing here. I mean, I know why I came, but it’s the sticking around I can’t quite figure out.”
Whether or not the show is on the brink of conclusion, Ted sees his place in the narrative as coming to an end and he wonders what that end would look like.
We pick up at the start of the new soccer season. All the pundits are picking Richmond to finish last and, thus, face relegation. This upsets Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) mostly because West Ham, now owned by her ex-husband, is expected to finish in the top five. Will hope come in the form of mercurially brilliant striker Zava (Maximilian Osinski) or will the Zlatan Ibrahimović-esque international transfer choose West Ham as well?
Lots of other stuff is happening. Too much stuff. Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley’s (Juno Temple) relationship remains strained, but at least her new PR shingle is up and running. Ongoing player-centric storylines involve Jamie’s (Phil Dunster) maturation and Sam’s (Toheeb Jimoh) new restaurant, while there are key and semi-key new plots tied to Colin (Billy Harris) and Thierry Zoreaux (Moe Jeudy-Lamour). The show’s ultimate irony is going to be if it concludes at exactly the moment I’ve finally begun to identify and care about each and every member of the team.
The problem isn’t that, in expanding its profile to an hourlong comedy, Ted Lasso has spread itself too thin. Exactly the opposite. It’s spread too thick. By rights, Apple TV+ should have three or four interconnected spinoffs at this point. We should have Ted Lasso: Even Keeley, about Keeley’s evolution from stereotypical WAG to mature professional. There should be Ted Lasso: Player’s Club, a La Ronde-style anthology in which each episode is a stand-alone profile of a different player. There should be Ted Lasso: Roy Story with Roy Kent and Muppets, and Ted Lasso: Shrinking, in which Sarah Niles’ Sharon moves to Los Angeles and joins the practice with the cast of Shrinking. And those are the spinoffs I truly want. I’m not reaching for the likes of Ted Lasso: Those Three Guys at the Pub or Sassy!, in which the great Ellie Taylor gets the spotlight she so richly deserves.
Instead, Ted Lasso has become a show in which every character feels worthy of being the star of their own show — which is awesome in a landscape where many series don’t have a single character worthy of anchoring a show — and every one feels as if they’re only being half-serviced. This is amplified because the show’s ostensible main character is in a rut that he partially understands and the show partially, frustratingly, doesn’t.
After last season, how can Ted still be going around asking other characters if he’s a mess? Wasn’t the entire point of season two making both the audience and Ted realize all the ways in which his ultra-chipper attitude and impenetrable optimism were a mask for decades of repressed sadness? I get that it’s all part of Ted realizing that the premise of the series was his trying to run away from self-denied traumas, but the only person capable of truly reaching Ted was Sharon, and she’s been reduced to a Zoom/phone-only capacity.
The third season begins to feel like it’s half setting up any or all of those possible spinoffs and half-resolving Ted Lasso’s arc, underlining all the while that Ted Lasso has probably become the least compelling part of Ted Lasso. Everybody else is in this for the long-haul, but Ted has already checked out, whether he realizes it or not.
It isn’t that I dislike Sudeikis’ performance at all, especially the earnest pathos he foregrounded in the second season. It’s just that I love the supporting cast.
Just because we’ve seen Waddingham play Rebecca’s simmering resentment at Rupert before — Head, now a cast regular, is wonderfully venal — doesn’t mean that it isn’t delightful to watch her get pushed closer and closer to her latest breaking point.
Just because we’ve spent two years watching Goldstein, or at least Roy Kent, swearing at men, women and children alike doesn’t mean that the new season isn’t packed with some of my favorite Roy Kent obscenities. I offer “Fuck yeah, Princess Diaries” out-of-context as just one of several gems.
Mohammed is great as Nate battles for what’s left of his soul. Dunster continues to make Jamie’s hero turn more believable than it should be. After picking up a well-deserved Emmy nomination for the second season, Jimoh is a forgotten man in the early going here, but whatever material he’s given is a reminder of why audiences and Rebecca fell for his character. Cristo Fernández, Charlie Hiscock, Harriet Walter, Andrea Anders, Elodie Blomfield, Adam Colborne, Bronson Webb and Kevin Garry are among the many supporting players capable of stealing scenes or whole episodes when given the opportunity. And don’t get me started, again, on Ellie Taylor.
Maybe we should actually be relieved, with all of these pieces, that Ted Lasso didn’t go full-Stranger Things this season — and I’ve hardly mentioned the new additions including Osinski (funny but in a role that feels like too many preexisting characters on the show), the always-welcome Jodi Balfour and more.
It’s a series that’s bursting at the seams. Devoted fans are sure to feel like you can’t have too much of a good thing, and Apple TV+ is probably hoping that when those seams burst, they burst into multiple stand-alone shows.
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