TV: Ted Lasso (Season 3)

Ted Lasso arrived like a meteor, and it was the show the world needed right when it needed it most. It departs, almost four years later, an awkward shadow of itself, still gamely shoehorning its delightful characters into madcap sportsy situations, but weirdly out of step with itself. It’s difficult to pinpoint what precisely went wrong, but the general sense is of a show striving so strenuously to retain its lightning-in-a-bottle magic that it very nearly squeezes that magic out of existence.

Having won promotion back to the Premier League, coach Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) and the players and personnel of AFC Richmond enter another season, determined to redeem themselves on the big stage. Their goal is to win it all, and they seem to have the pieces—a winning culture, a talented striker in Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), committed ownership from Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham), and an increasingly confident and well-rounded roster. But for all his positive attitude and can-do spirit, Ted still hasn’t fully come to terms with his broken family life, panic attacks, and homesickness, a personal struggle that informs the team’s rocky, up-and-down efforts as they take a run at a championship.

Purportedly, Ted Lasso was conceived to be a three-season show. One has to wonder if that limitation made it a victim of its own success. Ted’s story clocks in nicely at three seasons, but surrounding him was a robust, talented ensemble of supporting players who inspired passionate fandom. Given the challenge of sending everyone off effectively, one last season was hardly enough time to get the job done. Recognizing this, season three extends to twelve episodes and nearly doubles its running time. While this does afford more room for storylines for all the characters, the time isn’t always judiciously spent. For every welcome subplot—Rebecca finally working through her toxic break-up with the dastardly Rupert (Anthony Stewart Head), the dark journey of Nate Shelley (Nick Mohammed), the unexpected friendship of Jamie and Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein)—there is a wheel-spinning dead end. One involves a superstar striker named Zava (well played by Maximillian Osinski), another involves an immature old friend of Keeley Jones (Juno Temple) who joins her PR firm, a third involves Keeley’s romantic pivot toward the wealthy woman backing her firm. While the messaging remains positive, the season over-reaches constantly—lurching from sweet to saccharine, true to trite. Every episode has great moments, but many of them stumble into very-special-episode territory, or rely on overwrought writer’s-room cleverness, or write the subtext right into the dialogue. In trying to do everything, season may in fact do too much—cramming two or three seasons worth of effort into twelve episodes, and failing to notice the parts that aren’t working.

Which isn’t to say that nothing is working. The characters are all still delightful, the performances lively and effective, and a majority of the sports sequences are as inspiring as ever. (Oh, there are plenty of moments on the pitch that don’t ring authentic, but it’s still fun in the usual, manipulative sports-comedy way.) One performance in particular—that of Nick Mohammed, whose apology scene alone should win him an award—is outstanding. At the end of it all, my memory of Ted Lasso will hardly be tarnished by the final season’s numerous imperfections. But considering how much it had going for it, and how it did so many things so right in its earlier seasons, Ted Lasso leaves the field awkwardly, still wonderfully fun in many ways, but suddenly wildly uneven.

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