In the season one finale of Ted Lasso, Jason Sudeikis’s Ted vowed to bring AFC Richmond back from relegation. That winning campaign supplied the backbone for a heart-warming season two. To kick off the Apple TV Plus series’ ambitious third run, Richmond owner Rebecca (the show’s most reliable delight, Hannah Waddingham) reminds Ted, rather inconveniently, that his promise was actually an audacious two-parter: Richmond is back in the Premier League, yes, but the coach still owes her some silverware.
Inconvenient, because the odds of a team that just about managed promotion going on to win the league, or any competition for that matter, are minimal, even in Ted Lasso’s London, a sunny land where kids are precocious, jokes are one-liners, and aphorisms get amusing little tweaks. (“One man’s grope is another woman’s gain” won’t be as creepy when you hear it in context). Still, it’s in the show’s relentlessly American, unabashedly folksy DNA – and Ted’s – to try, try, try with all your might, especially when the going gets tough, the chips are down, etc.
Which is why it’s so disconcerting that when we do catch up with Ted, after he’s spent a summer playing Fifa with his son, he’s …mopey. “I guess I do sometimes wonder what the heck I’m still doing here,” he wonders aloud to his therapist Dr Niles (Sharon Fieldstone). “I mean, I know why I came, but it’s the sticking around I can’t quite figure out.” Given the series’ structure – one season of football per season of television – there are limits to how much Ted Lasso can progress from year to year, even as Ted himself becomes more of a tragic figure than a comic one. He’s still got that hokey canned charm, but now we see the repressed sadness behind Ted’s pathological politeness. What started off as a fish-out-of-water sitcom has slyly evolved into something more compelling.
The four episodes screened for critics all clock in at 44 minutes-plus, which itself signals a transformation from zippy one-man show to ensemble drama. And given the emotional blackhole at the series’ centre, it falls on the rest of the capable cast to carry the laughs. The odd-couple pairing of Phil Dunster’s reformed bad boy Jamie Tartt and Brett Goldstein’s tough guy Roy Kent supplies some of the series’ best zingers, while Juno Temple’s mischievous WAG Keeley remains endearingly daft and freakishly insightful by turns. Overall, though, she feels too far from the action as the head of her own PR firm.
On top of Richmond’s own deep roster of cast standouts, a whole new theatre has been opened for season three. Rebecca’s ex-husband Rupert – a gleefully odious Anthony Head – is the new owner of West Ham United, who are favoured to win the league (the magic of television, eh?). He’s joined by former Richmond kit-man Nate Shelley (Nick Mohammed), who brings to the club Tim Sherwood’s love of the gilet and at least a few misgivings about his backstabbing turn. Are there too many storylines? Probably. But if you’re still watching Ted Lasso in season three, you likely have too much affection for its lovable band of misfits to want anyone cut from the squad.
Despite no confirmation from Apple, there’s been ample speculation, fuelled by Sudeikis’s comments, that this is the award-winning series’ final outing, a possibility that’s laboriously foreshadowed by Ted’s ennui. “Maybe my being here is doing more hurting than helping at this point,” he says, a little nonsensically, considering he just led Richmond back to football’s top tier, but whatever. If this is the end, I hope to see Roy Kent spray non-alcoholic champagne into the air in victory, whether it makes any sense or not.