Game Reviews

Ted Lasso turned a lovable soccer team into a bunch of boring therapists

Ted Lasso has ended, and everyone is handling it great.

We don’t see the moment when Ted (Jason Sudeikis) announces he’s leaving AFC Richmond and England to head home to Kansas City; that happened between the last two episodes. People are a little sad, but that’s OK. This is the story of a man who made the club what it is: caring and emotionally in touch with each other. They almost won the title, just as Ted promised they would in the season 1 finale. But at least Ted Lasso can rest easy knowing it made its characters into better people who are able to talk about their feelings. Unfortunately, that “growth” came entirely at the cost of the show’s quality.

Ted Lasso seemed like a breath of fresh, pandemic-free air when it first premiered. Dropping in 2020, the Apple TV Plus show became a sleeper hit, thanks to the half-hour comedy ease with which it tackled everything from big character divisions to soccer drills. Though the truths of Richmond’s situation could be tough to reconcile (an owner actively trying to tank the team; a coach going through a slow divorce), the solutions were always so clearly rooted in the characters. In this way, Ted seemed like proof of concept: He’s an optimistic person because he chooses to be, not because nothing has happened in his life to make him angry. Some of the first season’s most pivotal moments — the darts monologue or Rebecca’s confession — are powerful because they acknowledge how instructive his philosophy could be. They’re quieter wins than they might be on a different show. But they work! If other people just followed his lead — hey, the world could just be a better place. You just had to, as the sign said, believe.

By contrast, season 3 was ultimately so frictionless it’s hard to believe anything anymore. Almost every plot development feels set up for minimal payoff: Superstar new roster addition Zava (Maximilian Osinski) came and went, changing little about either the show or the football season. Nate (Nick Mohammed) went to West Ham only to be surprised his cad of a boss was, indeed, a cad.

Nate (Nick Mohammed) sits at a desk in his West Ham office

Image: Apple TV Plus

Keely (Juno Temple), Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), and Leslie (Jeremy Swift) sit and clap in the owner’s box seats

Image: Apple TV Plus

The problem isn’t that these developments get undone. It’s that there’s nothing important that gets yielded from any of them, aside from killing time and doing locker room PSAs about nudes. These ideas get less and less compelling as the show snowballs through them; instead of fulfilling season arcs, the series takes on the duty of being a cultural atlas for all positive masculine behavior. It’s exhausting, and the effect is short shifting characters left and right as major developments of the final season happen off screen. Nate makes peace with his dad over a lifetime of pent-up disappointment because he realizes his dad just wanted him to be happy. Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) briefly feels like Rupert (Anthony Head) has grown only to find out he hasn’t, which makes sense since the entire show has made him unforgivably cruel. Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley (Juno Temple) have their long-awaited reunion because Roy says their problems — which also happened off screen and between seasons — were never about her and it was always him.

So when the finale brings everything together in a montage of people being happy, it feels right for a show that’s become so disinterested in what its characters’ choices actually mean, either for what motivated them in the first place or the fallout of those decisions. Everyone can diagnose their own problems and hang-ups, since every character now speaks like their thinking has already undergone peer review by a therapist. Who the characters were, how they might process their troubles (or not!), and the ways in which that conflict could be productive fell by the wayside. Goodness became so equated with filtering one’s feelings clearly and with tidy resolution that everyone simply does that.

In that way, it makes sense that everything clicked into place so cleanly, from Nate’s return to Richmond to Jamie making peace with his toxic dad. Both involve interrogating messy emotions, and giving characters space to respond to things imperfectly. In its final season, Ted Lasso made a lot of time for things, but it couldn’t make time for that. Though run times ballooned to more than double that of the first season average, the show was too interested in being a soapbox for the importance of feelings and emotions to make time for its characters to actually have them. This is the end of the world as Ted Lasso knows it. There’s no room for anything less than feeling fine.

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