Welcome to Previously On, a column that gives you the rundown on the latest TV. In this edition, Valerie Ettenhofer reviews season 3 of Apple TV’s Ted Lasso.
I want to believe in Ted Lasso. Believe is, after all, what’s written in blue marker on the yellow sign that hangs above the locker room on AFC Richmond’s home turf. It was easy to believe in the sweet, funny Apple TV+ comedy for its first two seasons, which became Emmy-winning smash hits that deserved the praise heaped upon them. But so far, in the four episodes available for review, the third season of Ted Lasso isn’t giving me much to believe in.
It’s possible that the show’s third season, which the cast has previously hinted will be its last, just has to get over a case of the yips. With twelve episodes planned and only a third of those available in advance, it’s difficult to get a good picture of what Ted Lasso’s potential last bow will look like. A trailer that features pretty much no plot or dialogue doesn’t help much, either. Regardless of the reasoning, though, Ted Lasso season three isn’t off to the strongest start. Its episodes are overlong and somewhat shapeless, a few of its plots feel redundant, and most alarmingly, its previously warm and silly sense of comedy seems to have all but evaporated.
Ted Lasso at least seems aware of its identity crisis. In fact, it’s baked into the plot of the new season. Ted (Jason Sudeikis), the American football coach who accidentally ended up coaching a UK football (aka soccer) team, opens the first episode wondering why exactly he’s still here. Given the therapeutic underpinnings of the show’s second season, this could well be a philosophical question, but Ted means it literally: what’s he doing with his life? He’s not the only person who seems unmoored. In plots that feel like retreads of territory the show has already covered, Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) can’t seem to shake off her ex, while Nate (Nick Mohammed), now working for him at West Ham, is still weirdly committed to acting like a cartoon villain.
If the season finds any semblance of an overarching plot in its first four episodes, it’s to do with a man named Zava (Maximilian Osinski), an enigmatic, tempestuous, ultra-famous player who has his eye on AFC Richmond. The show seems especially fixated on what it means to be a leader this season (Juno Temple’s Keeley, too, is leading with a new business that strands her away from the core cast), and Zava’s guru-like quality plays into that. The show once again ponders what it takes to lead, to win, and to show kindness, but so far, it doesn’t come up with any concrete answers.
It’s also not particularly funny, either. The whole season so far is strangely one-note in its comedy and leans more toward low-stakes drama than sitcom territory. Gone are many of the pop culture references and moments of quirky wordplay that used to make Ted Lasso’s scripts feel feather-light; in their place are super-predictable punchlines to jokes that are few and far between. When the Diamond Dogs finally get together and riff about Julie Andrews in episode three, it’s a moment of familiar humor that I felt myself clinging to like a life raft.
Ted Lasso has always walked a fine line between cute and cutesy, and this season so far also teeters on the wrong side of that equation. In the past, the Richmond team has come across as a group of delightful, goofy young men whose sports culture veneer hides their softer sides. In the new episodes, the guys just seem childish and dumb. Great castmates like Toheeb Jimoh and Cristo Fernandez, who play Sam and Dani, respectively, have melted into the background. Even the great Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) doesn’t have a ton to do.
All of Ted Lasso’s season three growing pains seem to be a matter of writing and pacing. The show’s direction is still assured if unshowy, and its cast is still aces. Temple infuses every scene she’s in with a sense of offbeat energy that promises something more exciting than the plots we’re getting, and Sudeikis handles Ted’s muted pain over changes to his family dynamic well. There’s not a single weak link in the cast, but without the material to make their performances pop, few people really shine, either.
As a Ted Lasso fan since day one, I like to believe the show will pull a Richmond and come up with a miracle at the last minute. With a twelve-episode arc planned, it’s perfectly possible that Ted Lasso’s third season hasn’t hit its stride yet. But with plots that sequester some characters and leave others treading water, plus comedy and characterization that’s clearly gone down a caliber, it’s hard to call this season of Ted Lasso a winner just yet.
Ted Lasso season 3 begins airing on Apple TV+ on March 15, 2023.
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