Ted Lasso’s second series opened with one of the AFC Richmond players killing a dog. Accidentally, obviously, but traumatically – there’s blood splatter! – and in a way that felt pointedly uncharacteristic of the show up to that moment. In reaching for something so totally and exaggeratedly counter to the endearing if slight “nicecore” vibes of the first series, it seemed like Ted Lasso was drawing a line in the sand (or on the pitch, if that analogy works); what followed was a more ambitious but less surefooted instalment of the show, gradually reinventing itself from a comedy into a drama week by week.
The third series doesn’t make any similar efforts at self-reinvention, nor does it really revert to a previously established mean: it does, however, feel like a more certain piece of television, confident in itself and what it is, and what it is now is a 50-minute drama rather than the 35-minute comedy it started as. There’s a recognisable throughline there, certainly, but it’s also clear enough that the fish-out-of-water sitcom is now a drama about how the fish is only just barely holding it together now it’s outside the bowl. How welcome – and at times how effective – that change is is perhaps another question, but still.
Series 3 begins a short while after Series 2 ended. Keeley (Juno Temple) is settling into a leadership role at her new public relations firm KJPR, but still consulting regularly with Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) and Higgins (Jeremy Swift) at AFC Richmond. Nate (Nick Mohammad) is the new head coach at West Ham, with Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Beard (Brendan Hunt) stepping up at Richmond in his absence. Ted (Jason Sudeikis), meanwhile, is at something of an impasse, questioning what the point of moving halfway around the world to coach football really was – is his heart still actually in it anymore?
There’s been back and forth over whether Ted Lasso, by some margin the most popular show on Apple TV+, would end with its third series; each time Sudeikis has carefully suggested that Series 3 would be the conclusion of a particular chapter of the story rather than the end of the show outright, it seems a little like he’s publicly negotiating for an extra zero on the end of a paycheque somewhere. Whatever the case, though, Series 3 feels like it’s been written as the final series – there’s something of an air of finality to it, a feeling that it’s building up to a grand conclusion both on and off the pitch.
It’s a strong opening, generally speaking; while Series 3 doesn’t reinvent itself the way Series 2 did, it does feel like there’s a been a conscious effort to address some of the flaws that cropped up previously. Keeley gets better material to work with, in contrast to the relative backseat she took last year, while the football is both foregrounded and better integrated across the show as whole too. Again, it comes back to that sense that this is a more finely-tuned, more confident piece of television – or at the very least that the nature of the production this time allowed for a few more drafts to be written before scripts went in front of the camera.
Granted, it’s not perfect still. That tendency to write jokes clearly intended exclusively to be screencapped on twitter persists – namedropping Joe Rogan, Paddington Bear’s twitter, and The Princess Diaries are all examples of a slightly winking “did you understand that we understand that you understand that reference” style of comedy the series returns to regularly despite it not actually being funny – and there are moments where it’s hard not to wish Ted Lasso was a little more disciplined and a little less sprawling in its move to 50 minute episodes. It’s surer of itself, yes, but in a way sometimes still veers towards the self-indulgent.
What it comes down to – again as before – is just how endearing you find the basic building blocks of Ted Lasso. There’s still a lot of charm there, and the new dramatic version of the show continues to benefit from the efforts made across Series 2 to introduce more substance to the comic caricatures; its strongest ongoing plotline remains the soured relationship between Nate and Ted, with both Mohammed and Sudeikis building nicely on their performances last series. Even aspects that might be cause for concern on some level – the unexpected promotion of a handful of fan-favourite supporting characters to the regular cast, taking up more screentime in a show that’s long since burst at the seams – are mitigated against by the fact that, well, there’s a reason why those characters were fan-favourites in the first place.
It’ll be interesting to see how this probably-but-not-necessarily final series unfolds: even by the end of the fourth episode, it feels like everything is essentially still to play for. Ted Lasso might yet settle into its new format – or maybe it’ll become increasingly bloated, with episodes starting to exceed the length of actual football matches. If nothing else, they seem to have a gameplan – the third episode builds on a stray line from an earlier Series 2 episode in interesting and compelling ways – so maybe Ted Lasso can still go on to win the whole thing yet.
Ted Lasso Series 3 begins on Apple TV+ on Wednesday 15 March, with new episodes airing weekly. I watched the first four episodes of an eventual 12 before writing this review. You can read more of our Ted Lasso coverage here, and sign up for Apple TV+ here.
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