Ted Lasso has lost the spring in his step
“Ted Lasso” began as a fish-out-of-water comedy, of the eternally upbeat Ted running headlong into the British skepticism of anyone invested in the Premier League soccer team — sorry, football club — known as AFC Richmond. With his can-do spirit winning over the doubters, Season 2 took a different tack, revealing a more complicated man behind the mustache and a deep well of sadness beneath his sunny facade. With Season 3, it’s too early to tell what the overall theme might be just yet; only four of the 12 episodes were provided to critics. But Ted has noticeably lost a spring in his step.
So has the series. Some of that is due to the expanded episode length. The first season stuck pretty close to 30-minute episodes. That inched upward the following season. This time, episodes are in the 44-50 minute range — roughly the equivalent of two half-hour network comedies — and it makes you wonder why they didn’t just slice things up differently and make it a season of 24 half-hour episodes instead of a bloated 12. As it is, the pacing meanders and the show’s signature tonal assuredness feels off-balance.
I wonder if that matters, though, when we’re talking about a show filled with characters with whom you want to spend time. Creators Jason Sudeikis (who also stars as Ted), Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt (who plays Coach Beard) and Joe Kelly have laid enough groundwork to ensure that you’re invested in these people — from team owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) to PR maven Keeley (Juno Temple) to the perfectly grumpy Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) — even if the show itself has lost some of its comedic snap and focus.
There’s a melancholic cloud hanging over Ted this season. No longer burdened with hiding his panic attacks, he’s an aimless man simply going through the motions. “I guess I do sometimes wonder what the heck I’m still doing here,” he says. “I mean, I know why I came. It’s the stickin’ around I can’t quite figure out.” The show doesn’t seem to know either, at least in the season’s early going. But the writers of the series are too smart to plant seeds they have no intention of growing.
This year, the sports punditry have picked Richmond to finish last. Underdogs yet again! But a star player from Italy suddenly becomes available and he might just improve their chances — as well as upset the team’s delicate balance.
Keeley’s unshakable brightness remains intact. She has her own PR company now but is struggling to run it the way that she wants. She and Roy are in splitsville, a breakup from which they are both quietly reeling.
Rebecca looks fabulous as always, all stiletto heels and perfectly tailored pencil skirts, but has regressed back to obsessing over her ex Rupert (Anthony Head), a snob of the worst kind who owns rival team West Ham. Rupert has lured away Nate (Nick Mohammed), Richmond’s kit man-turned-coaching ace, and that’s one of the more meaningful wrinkles of the season.
Journalist Trent Crimm (James Lance) is writing a book about Richmond and as a result, he’s been invited into the fold. And the players are as endearing and delightfully antic as ever, even if Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) doesn’t have much to do besides being the object of Rebecca’s subtle but longing stares.
Coach Beard remains his usual oddball self, although I prefer the old contrast of Ted’s chatty optimism and Beard’s still-waters-run-deep quiet reticence of the first season. The show has shifted away from that and maybe it’s because Hunt wanted a bit more to do, character-wise. But it’s made Beard less of an enigma and that also disrupts some of the show’s original comedic framework.
If the writing doesn’t quite pop, there’s the occasional line that does stand out. Ted’s description of rugby: “If American football and sumo wrestling gave birth to a baby with huge muscular thighs all caked in mud.” Or this pearl of wisdom courtesy of Rebecca: “Crying is like an orgasm for the soul.”
“Ted Lasso” has gradually become more of a light drama than a comedy, but it’s such a pleasant one that it seems churlish to even point this out. In that dramatic vein, the show’s depiction of Nate is more compelling than I might have anticipated. The series has never been particularly interested in validating the man-child archetype, but it is interested in how insecurity can manifest itself into toxic behavior and Nate is the epitome of that.
His hair has turned almost entirely gray, as if to visually convey that he has shed what he perhaps viewed as the meek, simpering modesty of his youth and has now come into his own as a man. Except he doesn’t know how to be a man at all. Not really. He’s rude and arrogant but he’s still awkward deep down. There’s something so dark and complex about what they’re doing with this character. To combat his feelings of inadequacy, he overcompensates with a bravado that gives off all kinds of dangerous incel red flags. I’m fascinated to see how his arc is resolved. This may be the final season for the show and there’s a silent question dangling over all of the Nate scenes: Is “Ted Lasso” the kind of series to end on what would probably be a more realistic note, with Nate doubling down on his worst impulses? I suspect not, but it would be a radical choice.
“Brevity is nice but sometimes clarity is the true soul of wit,” someone says. Time will tell if the show’s third season follows suit.