An undercurrent of sadness is often what sets great storytelling apart. Sadness makes people feel seen, because unlike joy or anger — both far less complex emotions — the first impulse with sadness is to suppress it. To see others experience sadness, and emerge from it, can be almost as cathartic as addressing one’s own sorrows. And how stunning is the fact that after two massively beloved seasons, Apple’s flagship series Ted Lasso has quietly transformed from a wholesome fish-out-of-water comedy into something else entirely. Now in its third (and potentially final) season, the show has become a melancholic love story about one man trying to run away from his past, but simultaneously refusing to let go of it.
Easily the best scenes in season three are the ones in which Ted, played in an Emmy-winning turn by Jason Sudeikis, is struck by painful reminders of his loneliness — like an unexpected tackle from behind by a hulking centre-back. A fleeting moment in which he realises that he has forgotten his ex-wife’s phone number is played with such heartbreaking vulnerability by Sudeikis, it’s like watching a man fall off a cliff. What seems like a second to us must feel like an eternity to him. The moment serves as a cruel reminder that despite how hard one might try to hold on to the past, time stops for no one — it erodes pain and passion with the impartiality and brutality of VAR.
But even though scenes like this are what make Ted Lasso special, the show, as a whole, remains just as fun as it always was. Having led the perennial underdogs AFC Richmond back into the Premier League, Ted — who describes himself in one scene as ‘a work in prog-mess’ — now has his task cut out for him as Richmond faces off against some of the biggest clubs in English football. But in typical Ted Lasso fashion, the story is propelled not by plot, but by people.
Each major character — and most of the secondary ones, as well — is given a compelling journey. While Ted wrestles with unresolved feelings about his separation — he has now fully embraced therapy, by the way — on the pitch, he is pitted against his former underling Nate. Nate, you might remember, was appointed as the manager of West Ham United at the end of season two. Ted’s boss Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), on the other hand, has decided to devote all her energy to defeating her ex-husband Richard on the field. Elsewhere, Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley (Juno Temple) are having to deal with their recent breakup, an already uncomfortable situation made entirely more complicated because their paths still cross regularly at work.
The early episodes of the third season — four were provided for this review — carefully lay out the multiple plot threads that we’re expected to invest in over the next couple of months. A key new addition this season is the character Zava, a vaguely Baltic superstar who makes the shock decision to join the newly-promoted Richmond, despite interest from far bigger clubs. Zava, played by Maximilian Osinski, is a supremely talented player, but he’s also fully aware of his Chosen One status. He has the swagger (and man-bun) of Zlatan Ibrahimović and the aura of Jesus Christ himself. Like Zlatan, Zava likes refers to himself in the third person, and when he joins Richmond at the start of the season, the entire team perceives him as some sort of Saviour.
Episodes this season are also super-sized. The first four are all over 45 minutes long, twice the length of what you’d see in regular sitcoms. But the expanding run time is yet another example of how Ted Lasso has evolved over the years. The third season, it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say, is barely a sitcom at all. It’s more like a sports drama with bits of comedy thrown in — like Field of Dreams, or to use one of Ted’s own references, Hoosiers. To accommodate the bigger ensemble — even Trent Crimm, The Independent gets his own arc — the show appears to be increasing in scope. The football portions, despite being visibly filmed against a green screen for the most part, make the third season of Ted Lasso feel like a more glossier experience than ever before.
You’d imagine that a bigger budget would rob the the show of its scrappy quality, but no. Ted Lasso, at its core, is still the same programme that captured the world’s imagination in 2020. In a way, it’s fitting that the show is bidding farewell now, when people are reemerging into the light after a long hibernation. Ted Lasso came into our lives at a time when we needed it the most, and it is leaving not because we no longer have any use for it, but because it’s job here is done.
Regardless of how future generations discover it — perhaps they’ll watch it on Apple chips embedded in their skulls — Ted Lasso will always be synonymous with the pandemic. For many, it will be one of their few fond memories of a very difficult time. And that has to count for something.
Ted Lasso Season 3
Creators – Jason Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, Joe Kelly, Brendan Hunt
Cast – Jason Sudeikis, Brett Goldstein, Hannah Waddingham, Juno Temple, Nick Mohammed, Brendan Hunt
Rating – 4.5/5
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