Spoiler Alert: This review contains spoilers from the series finale of “Ted Lasso,” now available for streaming on Apple TV+.
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Here’s the latest: Season four of “Ted Lasso” has already aired, and it didn’t quite meet expectations.
The origins of “Ted Lasso” trace back to a character created by Jason Sudekis and his colleagues for NBC Premier League promos. This character, a football coach hailing from Kansas City, unexpectedly finds himself coaching soccer in London for AFC Richmond, a team perpetually stuck in the doldrums. While it follows the classic comedic premise of a fish out of water, this approach has its limitations. These limitations become apparent as the fish metaphorically sprouts legs and learns to embrace life on land.
Despite these challenges, “Lasso” made its debut in 2020 and garnered critical acclaim, particularly for its unwavering optimism, which served as a much-needed antidote during a time when the world grappled with a deadly pandemic. The first season consisted of ten episodes, each with an average runtime of about 30 minutes, amounting to a total of 299 minutes for the season.
Now that the days of quarantine are firmly in the rearview mirror, we find ourselves back in the world, squeezed into cramped middle seats, with a determined focus on splurging our last disposable dollars on Maui rentals and impulsively investing in a jet ski we probably don’t really need. “Lasso’s” recently concluded third season joined this post-quarantine frenzy. With its 12 episodes, the show clocked in at a whopping 650 minutes – that’s 78 minutes longer than Krzystof Kieslowski’s “Dekalog,” which delved into all ten commandments.
It’s safe to assume that this expansion of the show’s runtime began with the best of intentions. Season 1 kicked off with a sharp focus on Ted and his trusty sidekick, Beard (played by Brendan Hunt), as they navigated the challenges of working for Rebecca (portrayed by Hannah Waddingham), the club’s owner, and her companion (Jeremy Swift). They believed that hiring Ted, a man who couldn’t distinguish between an offside and a side out, was the ideal way to sabotage the team Rebecca inherited from her less-than-stellar ex-husband. On the sidelines, a love triangle unfolded involving a somewhat scatterbrained team publicist, Keeley (Juno Temple), and two players: the Ken Doll-like Jamie Tart (Phil Dunster) and the modern-day misanthrope Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein). Ted remained blissfully unaware of it all, bringing Rebecca biscuits every morning in a blend reminiscent of Phil Jackson and “Being There’s” Chauncey Gardiner.
The first two seasons chugged along merrily – Rebecca eventually apologized for her Ted-related scheming, and they became confidants. There were poignant moments as Ted grappled with anxiety, divorce, and missing his son back in Kansas City. While the eccentric character of Keeley never quite won me over, there were uproarious scenes of conflict and begrudging respect between Jamie and Roy. Meanwhile, we witnessed Nate Shelley (Nick Mohammed) evolve from a kit man into a coaching prodigy and, surprisingly, into an antagonistic figure who abandoned the Lasso gang – arguably the series’ sole significant plot twist. While “Ted Lasso” never quite reached the pinnacle of excellence set by “Barry,” a show teeming with more laughs, ingenious plot twists, and emotionally charged WTF moments within its compact 30-minute episodes, it had its moments and offered a small but reassuring video Xanax in these tumultuous times.
Then came Season 3. Perhaps as a gesture of appreciation for their devoted viewers or with the aim of developing a full lineup of 11 potential spin-offs, the creative minds behind “Ted Lasso” chose to bestow each character, even the replacement kit man, with their own story arc. Keeley launches her PR firm and embarks on a romance with a billionaire. Leslie gets the opportunity to perform in a jazz show. Nate takes on a job as a waiter. AFC Richmond welcomes a superstar whose initial presence suggests a central plot thread for the season, only to see him mysteriously vanish. Rebecca encounters a man in Amsterdam, shares a meal, but never discovers his name. Trent Crimm, the deadpan and charming reporter portrayed by James Lance, pens a book about Ted. Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) opens a Nigerian restaurant, which unfortunately falls victim to an attack. A billionaire endeavors to establish a football super league, culminating in an uproarious food fight.
The saga continued, stretching into at least an extra five hours of screen time – a season that might have benefited from shedding 300 minutes. Amid Season 3’s sprawling narratives, which often felt adrift, a few elements managed to shine, alongside Trent’s ever-amusing collection of band T-shirts. These shining moments occurred when “Lasso” remained true to its original mission – the story of a stranger navigating a foreign realm, both on the pitch and in his personal life.
The standout episode of the season, titled “Mom City,” unfolded as Ted’s mother, portrayed brilliantly by Becky Ann Baker, made an unexpected appearance. Their awkward dance of politeness stemmed from their reluctance to delve into Ted’s enduring trauma from his father’s suicide during his childhood. Meanwhile, Jamie sought solace in his mother’s embrace, pouring out his heart about his alcoholic and abusive father. This episode resonated deeply because it felt earned, borne from characters we had grown with over three seasons. It inadvertently exposed the hollowness of other Season 3 plotlines, which lacked the emotional depth of the series’ earlier moments.
The series finale, which aired last night, sought to bring closure, but it left numerous casualties in its wake. The team broke into a musical number to bid farewell to Ted – a choice that a prudent showrunner might have trimmed and offered as a bonus feature (unfortunately, the showrunner happens to be Sudeikis himself). Nate completed an unlikely season-long journey, transitioning from head coach to restaurant worker to the assistant to the kit man before returning to Ted’s fold. The team almost clinched the championship, but ultimately, it was the life lessons learned that truly mattered. Jamie’s father had achieved sobriety and shared a cuppa with his son.
Ted then departed on a non-existent non-stop flight from London to Kansas City after a tearful farewell with Rebecca. As he left the airport, a young girl stumbled at childless Rebecca’s feet. To her astonishment, the girl turned out to be the daughter of – brace yourself – the mysterious Amsterdam man! Who, as it turns out, is a pilot?! The show concluded with 436 characters gathering for a cookout. In keeping with the Season 3 vibe, it might as well have been an all-you-can-eat Vegas buffet.
As I write this, the sounds of Oasis’s “Be Here Now” play in the background – a reminder of a previous British sensation that stumbled on its third attempt. For AFC Richmond, it was a lack of discipline, rather than the allure of cocaine and alcohol, that led them down the path of excessive indulgence.
Ultimately, Ted Lasso required a more adept coach.