Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, similarly, when it comes to Ted Lasso season three, “good” is entirely down to how much you like this show, and these characters. With four episodes available to review (out of twelve), the third and final-season-centered-on-Ted-anyway shows a lot of wear and tear. Bloat is a real problem, with episodes ranging from forty-five to fifty minutes each, which means the twelve-episode third season is stretched to the max. So far, there are no standalone episodes like the Christmas or Coach Beard episodes from season two, but whew, do you feel the drag through the first three episodes of season three.
But the bloat expands past runtime. In a way, Ted Lasso is a victim of its success. The show gifted us a set of characters so immediately lovable and beloved, the writers are now working overtime to give everyone their due, with a plethora of subplots and an ensemble expanding like the Blob consuming everything in its path. Anthony Head is now a series regular as Rebecca’s evil ex, Rupert Mannion (hilariously, always dressed in black), and James Lance is also now a full ensemble member as former journalist Trent Crimm. We also gain a new player, with Maximilian Osinski as superstar international footballer, Zava. Also, Keeley has a new friend who joins her PR company, Shandy (Ambreen Razia), as well as a surly CFO, Barbara (Katy Wix), whom Keeley must charm. And Sassy’s back and Sam Obisanya has a new love interest, as does Colin the Welsh footballer, plus Sam’s restaurant is opening, and—and—and—
It literally never stops. Through four episodes, new and returning characters enter and exit like they’re on Willy Wonka’s nightmare boat, slowly gaining momentum as more, more, more gets piled on the story barge. It’s a lot, and it blatantly feels like setting up potential, Ted-less spin-offs. There could be any number—Keeley and her PR firm, a gal pal workplace comedy; AFC Richmond as managed by Roy Kent, a sensitive bro workplace comedy (the most likely to share DNA with Ted Lasso as is); Sam and his restaurant, a lighter take on The Bear; the adventures of Jamie Tartt, a reality show mockumentary.
It’s too much! Of all the storylines introduced, the only interesting new one revolves around Colin (Billy Harris), and the only other subplots with any momentum are those carried from previous seasons: Ted’s ongoing mental health journey, and Jamie Tartt’s redemption arc (Phil Dunster is OUTSTANDING as a humbled, motivated Jamie, also, it is hilarious how many takes made it into the show where he is blatantly breaking in the background. Keep your eyes on Dunster in ensemble scenes).
Or maybe, from another perspective, it’s just right. Because even as I recognize the problems—the too muchness of it all—the characters are so endearing, it’s nice to just hang out with them. At its best, in its third season, Ted Lasso hits perfect hangout comedy vibes, just a fun group of characters and actors having fun playing them, working through some great comedy bits and the occasional humdinger emotional moment. There’s too much going on, there is no arguing that, but how much that bugs you depends on how much you like spending time with these characters.
The fourth episode does start to crystallize the key conflicts, though, as AFC Richmond and West Ham, Nate’s new team, face off for the first time. On Ted’s side of the line, the “downward spiral” vibes of season two are gone, as Ted continues his therapy journey and works through his personal problems, no longer hiding behind a wall of toxic positivity. Oh, he’s still positive, but Jason Sudeikis introduces new, more melancholy tones as Ted is more willing to admit when he’s struggling and lean on his friends when he needs support. The tone of season three is, then, lighter than last season, as it feels like Ted is making real progress to finding the balance between his innate optimism and understanding it’s okay to not be fine all the time.
On the other side of the line, NATE STILL SUCKS, but Nick Mohammed remains incredible playing the conflicted new manager working for Rupert’s evil empire. And it’s genuinely painful how Nate is floundering on his own. Oh sure, he’s coaching a great team that wins a lot, but he still has his self-esteem issues, and success and praise are only making them worse, as he is unable to accept positive reinforcement and continues to engage in self-degradation and overemphasizing the few criticisms that come his way.
In some ways, crossing paths with Ted was good for Nate, because it jumpstarted his career as a manager, but in others, it might have been the worst thing for him, because Nate is unable to cope with what he did to Ted. We don’t see a ton of Nate through four episodes, but you can feel the meltdown coming every moment he is on screen, and you know it’s going to be bad. Ted’s emotions turn inward, eating him from the inside via panic attacks, but when Nate’s emotions finally fly out of control, you know it will be an outward explosion. The only question is who gets caught in his shrapnel field. (Rupert, hopefully.)
The ensemble remains great, from Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) to Keeley (Juno Temple) to Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) to all the players, et cetera, but there is just so much going on it’s hard to focus on any of the many subplots. It’s nice when various storylines pop up, such as the state of Keeley and Roy’s relationship, but with all the other storylines that must be serviced, most of these threads feel undercooked. There are still eight episodes to go, and given how long these episodes are so far, there is time to bring them back into focus, but the balance is definitely off. The tidy, tight pacing of the first season is long gone, and how much that bothers you is between you and how much you enjoy the characters of Ted Lasso.
Ted Lasso streams new episodes every Wednesday from March 15, on Apple TV+.