The identity crisis of ‘Ted Lasso’

While a football club’s promotion to the English Premier League is always cause for celebration, it also marks the start of a new challenge. A newly promoted side cannot rest on its laurels if it wants to avoid finishing in the bottom three and falling back to the lower division. As a result, clubs must either decide to go all-in with the group of players that promoted them in the first place, or they can use resources to bring in new faces with more experience at the highest level of football. (On their return to the Premier League this season, Nottingham Forest opted for an extreme version of the latter strategy, signing an unprecedented 30 new players since the summer of 2022.)

Facing this decision, many teams that promote are going through an identity crisis – and the fictional AFC Richmond or Ted Lasso is no different. Richmond is back in the Premier League at the start Ted Lasso‘s third season: an impressive achievement that is slightly undermined by all the pundits who choose to finish last. But as Richmond returns to his underdog status, things remain interesting Ted Lasso on screen has also been there a lot of of hand wringing over the off-screen series.

If Ted Lasso is the crown jewel of Apple TV+, Apple is understandably hesitant to say goodbye to the show, even though all signs point to the latest season being its last. It doesn’t get any clearer than star and co-creator Jason Sudeikis saying, and I quote, “This is the end of this story that we wanted to tell, that we hoped to tell, that we loved to tell.” (Apple does not explicitly promote Ted Lasso(‘s third season as the show’s end has the same vibe of someone insisting they haven’t broken up with their partner, they’re just taking a “break”.) All told, there’s a lot of noise all around Ted Lasso both on the pitch and in discourse, and the series has responded by embracing a new ethos: go big or go home.

After spending the summer holidays with his son, Ted Lasso (Sudeikis) openly questions why he’s still coaching a football team in London, a confession that takes on an almost meta quality given the show’s uncertain future. What is much more certain is that Richmond will face an uphill battle to stay in the Premier League, which puts them in stark contrast to West Ham United, a powerhouse now managed by Ted’s prodigious former assistant Nate (Nick Mohammed). Nate’s heel turn in the second season – complete with a physical transformation that is share Jose Mourinhopart of Leland Twin Peaks– would be enough reason for Richmond and West Ham to develop a rivalry. But there is also the small matter of the club’s respective owners. For Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), there is no greater incentive for Richmond to succeed than the fact that her philandering ex-husband, Rupert (Anthony Head), is the new owner of West Ham. The same impulse that led Rebecca to hire Ted two seasons ago—a major league-esque ploy to thwart Rupert and his Richmond fandom by bringing in someone who has never coached football – now forces her to help the team win at the expense of her ex.

Again, there’s an interesting friction at the heart of it Ted Lasso between the intense demands of the sport and the eponymous coach who cares more about the wellbeing of his players than wins or losses. But above all, the ambition to trump West Ham means that Rebecca and other key people in Richmond are willing to go against the Lasso Way™. Case in point: When a mercurial superstar named Zava (Maximilian Osinski) becomes a free agent at the start of the season, Richmond is determined to secure his signature despite the player’s reputation for only caring about himself. (Zava is an amusing stand-in for Zlatan Ibrahimović, a larger-than-life figure who likes to refer to himself in the third person.)

It goes without saying that the biggest concern that Zava might get to Richmond is his attitude destroying the selfless culture that Ted has built. Relatedly, one wonders if Rebecca wants to sign Zava for the good of the team, or if her determination to get Rupert’s West Ham, who are also interested in the player, is clouding her vision. At the same time, if the club doesn’t try something new, Richmond could be doomed to repeat history. (For all of Ted’s infectious enthusiasm, Richmond was still relegated during his first year in charge.)

That same philosophical predicament applies to Ted Lasso‘s third season overall, which is caught between giving the familiar feel-good vibes that made the series an Emmy-winning sensation and delivering an ambitious expansion of its world. To that end, this season the show juggles the work dynamics of three distinct environments: Ted and the rest of the gang in Richmond, Nate taking on his new managerial duties at West Ham, and former model Keeley (Juno Temple) starting her own marketing . firm. Balancing all of these storylines goes a long way toward explaining why the third season has such bloated runtimes: of the four episodes offered to critics, all are over 40 minutes in length, with one even hitting the 50-minute mark. Just as Coach Lasso is far from Kansas, Ted Lasso is a long way from its half-hour sitcom roots.

Whether this development is encouraging or not may depend on what individual viewers want from this series. There is a world in which Ted Lasso completely kissed on his health and became a successor of sitcoms like Schitt’s Creek And Parks and recreation, where the fun of watching the show is seeing characters you enjoy spending time together. But to Ted LassoCourtesy of the series, the series clearly cares more about moving the story forward with its overarching message of self-improvement, even if it means the characters have to endure more hardship. (That said, these Season 3 runtimes are like someone turning in an essay that’s double the original word count — there’s no shame in an editor trimming it in bold!)

Some fans may have been upset when Nate broke down late last season, but Season 3 underscores that the character’s animosity stems from a place of deep-seated insecurity, leaving the door open to redemption. (I bet the Nate Redemption Arc takes place towards the end of the season.) Then there’s Rebecca, who falls into the same trap she did in the first season when the prospect of revenge against Rupert clouds her decision-making. Similarly, just because Ted finally opened up to a sports psychologist about his panic attacks doesn’t mean he’s impervious to setbacks, especially when his loved ones are across the pond moving on with their lives. Ted Lasso‘s heartwarming moments – rest assured, there are still plenty to go around – may have garnered some viewers when it premiered near the onset of the pandemic, but the show is at its best when that boundless optimism is up against real adversity.

That means in a strange way Ted Lasso actually contradicts itself. On the one hand, the series continues to try to shake up the status quo by introducing new conflicts and characters; on the other hand, it argues that change is not always a good thing, especially when it comes at the expense of our principles. There should be much more clarity about what kind of show Ted Lasso wants to be at the season finale, which could very likely double as a series finale. But until then, the Ted Lasso mindset is at a kind of crossroads: a show that wants to be big for go home for good.

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