“Ted Lasso,” like Ted Lasso, is going through an existential crisis of its own. The Apple TV+ show was a pandemic bastion, to be sure, a paean to the kind of niceness and positivity we’d like to believe will win the day amid a world that grows more cynical every passing moment. (It also managed to snag nearly a dozen Emmys for the trouble.) Season Two started to show the cracks in the Lasso firmament, as creators Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt, and Joe Kelly struggled to build more dramatic angles with which to attack Coach Ted’s omnipresent chipperness.
Season Three is a slight return to form, offering more time to hang out with its disarming, charming cast of characters. But even the show’s warmth is starting to wear thin, especially now that the sunshine has to spread across more characters, settings, and conflicts.
When last season ended, Ted managed to pull his team through its season of ignominy after being relegated out of the Premier League; now, they’re back in, but pundit after pundit predicts they’ll end up in last place. If that’s not enough, their quest to beat West Ham is doubly personal: Rebecca’s (Hannah Waddingham) ex-husband Rupert (Anthony Head) just bought the team, and Ted’s former protege Nate (Nick Mohammed) has taken a coaching gig under Rupert’s wing. Add to that Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley Jones (Juno Temple) breaking up, and the latter pouring her focus on her new PR company, and you’ve got, as Ted might put it, more stories to juggle than a book-fair party clown.
Perhaps recognizing that “Ted Lasso” is a bit overstuffed, the first four episodes provided for review range from around 47-50 minutes in length, a step beyond the breezy half-hours the show is used to giving us. Granted, the latter act of Season Two also approached that runtime, but in Season Three, it feels necessary just to accommodate the seemingly-exponential number of plot threads bouncing around the series. In the first episode alone, there’s a lot to unpack. There’s Rebecca’s zeal to beat Rupert at his own game (her purchase of Richmond, and Lasso’s subversive hiring, kicked off the whole story in the first place). Nate struggles to fit into his new role as the “Wonder Kid” at West Ham, ruling with an iron fist and nasty words in press conferences, almost as a deliberate rejoinder to Ted’s folksy positivity. And, of course, Ted himself is asking the big questions about whether it’s even worth it for him to be here.