When it debuted in summer 2020, Ted Lasso felt like the kind of whimsical, good-hearted balm perfectly suited to its time. Weddings had been canceled, happy hours were being held in the park, and people were still clapping at 7 p.m. — to say nothing of the fact that death was all around us and the air quite literally felt toxic. How wonderful it was to have a silly, mustachioed Jason Sudeikis at the center of a fish-out-of-water sitcom. In the show’s second season, however, the episodes grew longer, the silliness was now paired with revelations of suicide, and there was not one, but two episodes in which Ted and Rebecca led the ensemble in an goofy yet uplifting singalong. By that time, we were out of lockdown, the world had opened up again, and what once felt genuinely sweet now felt forced, with a slick aspartame aftertaste.
Now in its last season, Ted Lasso has taken its final form. What started as a tight sitcom about underdogs of all kinds has ballooned into a sprawling, award-winning dramedy about how those underdogs, and even the top dogs, have their own shit going on, so you might as well be kind. I think I saw an episode of Sesame Street about that once.
In short, Ted Lasso is still Ted Lasso. How that makes you feel is between you and your god; fans of the show can rejoice, and its haters will have something to tweet about. Even though the show has changed over the course of its run, at its heart it is still a series whose thesis hangs above the door to Ted Lasso’s office: Believe. In yourself, in others, in the beautiful game — you just have to believe. This is not a show in which bad things happen to good people for no reason. This is a show about bad things happening to good people so they can dream their way to a positive outcome.
In short, Ted Lasso is still Ted Lasso. How that makes you feel is between you and your god.
At the end of the second season, everything had changed for the people in and around AFC Richmond. Ted (Sudeikis) had finally confronted the trauma of his father’s suicide with the help of Dr. Fieldstone (Sarah Niles), the team therapist; Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley’s (Juno Temple) sunshine-and-gloom pairing was on the rocks; Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) watched as her ex-husband Rupert (Anthony Head) had bought West Ham United and poached Nate (Nick Mohammed) to be the team’s coach, and Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) bought a restaurant! (Would I like to watch an entire season about the always wonderful Jimoh as the owner of a Nigerian restaurant? Yeah, but unfortunately the Ted Lasso team picked a different direction for Season 3.)
In the first episode of this season, Ted is on the phone with Dr. Fieldstone, now his personal therapist. She asks him how he’s feeling about work. “Well, I guess I do sometimes wonder what the heck I’m still doing here,” he tells her. “I mean, I know why I came, but it’s the sticking around I can’t quite figure out.”
Is this a provocation to the show’s vocal minority of detractors? An admission from the show’s creator of the unease that comes with massive success? A way to kick off a season that will ultimately answer the question of why Ted stuck around? Of course the answer is D, all of the above — congrats to the team on the hat trick.
AFC Richmond is back in the Premier League after a tie at the end of last season, and every prognosticator is expecting them to finish in last place. Ted, inspired by his son wanting to face his fears after watching It, takes his despondent team down into the London sewer system to teach them a lesson about “creating an internal sewer system” within themselves. The idea here is that they will prevail if they can have access to each other’s traits (confidence, a positive attitude, enology) when they’re lacking their own. This is all going well — Ted seems to be an almost Phil Jackson–esque coach with a compulsion to making puns and a much worse team than the ’96 Bulls — until an onlooking construction worker tweets a photo of the team descending into the sewer.
Meanwhile, Nate, who we can tell is an antagonist because his hair is silver now, is thriving as the coach of West Ham United. Under the supervision of Rupert, who we can tell is an antagonist because his office is black, the former kit man has embraced being toxic, lobbing bombs at Richmond and Ted during a press conference and earning the malaprop nickname “Wonder Kid.” (Nate does point out that it should be “wunderkind,” not that anyone cares.) In a funhouse mirror version of Ted’s original problem, Nate is only able to be rude and snide following a brief panic attack. While Ted’s panic attacks spurred him to be even sunnier in an attempt to conceal a deeper trauma, Nate’s are an attempt to conceal a genuine affection for his former colleagues. You see, this isn’t who he really is, and doctors are expecting a full recovery by the series finale. In fact, the way this show has gone, I won’t be surprised if it is revealed later in the season that Rupert has some traumatic history that forces him to dress and act like Mads Mikkelsen in Casino Royale.
Rebecca, who is now desperate to beat Rupert and has the entire internet laughing at her football club, implores Ted to “fight back.” In classic Ted fashion, his version of fighting back is not going for Nate’s jugular, but instead turning a press conference into a roast of himself. “I’ve had more psychotic episodes than Twin Peaks,” he says, referring to the panic attacks that became tabloid fodder in the previous season (which Nate himself leaked). A room full of reporters has once again won over with his guileless American charm. By turning himself into the butt of the joke and refusing to get in any major digs at Nate’s expense, our hero Ted implores us to take the high road. Meanwhile, Nate watches on his laptop as tweets roll in hailing Ted and memeing the Wonder Kid. If you’re nice, you win. If you’re mean, people will make impact font memes calling you a wanker.
Like everyone else this season, Keeley and Roy have found themselves in a tricky spot. As the last season came to a close, Roy revealed that he hadn’t told his niece’s art teacher that he had a girlfriend, and Keeley revealed that Nate had kissed her and that her ex-boyfriend Jamie (Phil Dunster) was still in love with her. Taken in tandem with Keeley’s entrepreneurial era, this was all too much for them to handle, and now they are breaking up. Keeley is crying her eye makeup off onto the shirt of anyone who will lend an ear while also running her own PR firm, one that seems to employ only dullards in contrast to her ebullient nature. In the real world, this would be a great step forward for Keeley (who, like Nate, started at the bottom and in just three years has taken over the world). In Television World, it takes her out of the stadium, which makes her feel further removed from the main dramas of the plot and forces a series of new side quests for the character. (For what it’s worth, I would probably watch that spinoff, too; maybe on that show they can stop pretending that Temple’s hair isn’t naturally curly.)
Because of embargoes and a fear that Apple will make my phone stop working, I can’t say much about what happens in the following three episodes that were provided to critics. But enough seeds are planted in the first episode to indicate where things might go. AFC Richmond forces a draw in its opening match thanks to Dani (Cristo Fernández) making a goal with his face, so the team won’t go down as easily as everyone thought. Keeley struggles with being both a boss and a woman with feelings. Nate is suppressing what we are meant to believe is a kind heart, and in the Lasso-verse that is not going to end up well. And in the end of the premiere, Ted learns that his ex-wife is now seeing some guy named Jake, which will presumably send him into a tailspin.
“OK, but is it funny,” you’re asking — nay, screaming. The answer is: sometimes. There are few things funnier on the show than Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) letting out a perfectly timed shriek, which is deployed several times to great effect throughout the episodes I saw. A match that gets rough in Episode 4 nicely sends up how vicious a soccer game can get. And if what makes you laugh is a reference to a movie you’ve seen or just heard about, well, then you’ll be on the floor.
Ted’s question, and mine, is: What the heck is he still doing here? What more do he and his show have to say? Based on the episodes I watched, not much.
It’s hard to tell which goal is at the top of mind for the writers of Ted Lasso: Do they want to make you laugh or schedule an extra appointment with your therapist? It seems as though the answer is both. This is a tightrope act that must be performed with the utmost precision in order to work, and Ted Lasso prefers to storm in wearing steel-toe boots. Never fear, though, because Marcus Mumford and Tom Howe’s score will hold onto your hand with an iron grip and let you know which way to feel.
Sentimentality is hardly a sin, and wanting an audience to look inward while watching a comedy is not a crime, but Ted Lasso’s insistence that everyone, deep down, has a warm heart just waiting to be excavated by a licensed psychologist and a good chat with a friend does become grating after several 45-minute (or longer) episodes — especially if you have the gall to watch a comedy and expect to feel good afterward.
Ted’s question, and mine, is: What the heck is he still doing here? What more do he and his show have to say? Based on the episodes I watched, not much. Over and over again on this show we have seen that the real game-winning goal is to accept that no man is an island, and that a team only works if everyone is a team player. No spoilers, but they do return to that very obvious well in an even more explicit way this season.
This is a show that wants its characters to be complicated and its answers to be simple. Just believe! Yes, everyone is traumatized by something, but if you believe in yourself you can overcome any obstacle. This was revelatory in 1939 when The Wizard of Oz came out — like Dorothy, Ted is from Kansas — and in the intervening 84 years it has become trite, particularly when you stretch it out over three seasons and each one ends with a new tornado.
By the end of this series, I imagine that Roy and Jamie will (once again) get hearts, Rebecca and Keeley will (once again) get courage, Nate will (once again) get a brain, and Ted will (finally) get to go home. And as for us? Well, we’ll get the greatest gifts the Wizard has to offer, a fond memory of watching the first season of this show, when it felt totally vital, and the permission to never talk about it again. Until Emmys season, that is. ●