Ted Lasso season 3 review: Wins big again with assured (final?) outing
The Apple TV+ comedy remains a heartwarming hit.
OK, here goes - I'm going to make it my genuine goal not to make any football puns for this entire review. I've already kind of failed, haven't I?
The truth is it's difficult not to, perhaps because it's one of the only times football will really come into the discussion here. After all, Ted Lasso's sports genre trappings are not, and never have been what make it such a success.
Of course this has all been noted before. By this point we know what it is about the hopeful, unabashedly and refreshingly sentimental comedy series that works. Thankfully, the creators know this too, and have leaned into it for season 3.
At the start of this new season everything is firing on all cylinders - the characters are just as fleshed out and as engaging as ever, and their relationships a joy to return to.
Watching the first episode in this new season of Ted Lasso was like sinking into a warm bath - familiar, comforting and all the better for it. Overall, it's good to be back.
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It's been a year and a half since we last saw Ted and the team at AFC Richmond, but this season picks up mere months after the end of season 2, at the start of the new football season. Ted is under increasing pressure to "win the whole f**king thing" from Rebecca, while Nate is looking to make his mark at West Ham - putting the two of them in direct competition.
As per usual, subplots abound, with Roy, Keeley, Jamie, Sam and more all getting their due. No matter how much the creators talk about the overall story arc (and one is of course necessary to make the dramatic side of the show satisfying), this series is really character-led, with each plot point feeling like a natural continuation for each individual.
Still, the decision to focus in primarily on Ted and Nate's 'conflict' is smart. Nathan's gradual turn from mild-mannered former kit-man to spiteful, condescending rival manager was one of the strongest elements of season 2, and Mohammed's performance makes him the perfect antagonist for Ted.
He is not a bad person and nowhere near the inexorable negative force of Anthony Head's Rupert, but has allowed himself to be hardened and petty to counter his own anxieties and crippling self-doubt. In the face of Ted's endless optimism and innate charm and popularity, it's a totally realistic trajectory, making him a tragic and compelling figure to watch.
When it comes to the comedy, the series remains quick-witted, laugh-out-loud and above all goofy, a trait which has become one of the show's key selling points.
Ted's world-view and boyish, sentimental cheerfulness have by this point fully infected the team and those around them, allowing the show to go bigger with the comedy to counter what have steadily become heightened emotional stakes.
It's this perfectly executed blend of tones that means the emotion, when it does arrive, still really kicks. A final, seemingly small moment between Ted and his son at the end of episode 1 is quietly devastating, with Sudeikis selling us on Ted's inner turmoil with just a look.
It's impressive that Ted Lasso has never, as of yet, strayed into mawkishness. It would be so easy for a show so wound up in its own philosophy to essentially become a barrage of motivational quotes without context (I'm looking at you, Oscar-winning short film The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse).
But it doesn't because everything remains grounded in character, and for every rumination on life, friendship or kindness there's a Roy Kent putdown or an inappropriately-timed interruption from Higgins, punctuating the intense geniality.
The cast all continue to put in stellar work, moving their characters forward while still retaining what made them such good fun to spend time with in the first place.
To single anyone out for praise would be immaterial given how everyone is firing on all cylinders in this early part of the season, but Head, James Lance and Billy Harris all do a lot with expanded roles this season.
Of course, we have to address the question of whether this is the end for Ted Lasso, and there are already plenty of hints to this in the first episode, let alone those which follow. It now seems apparent that we're going to be kept in the dark, likely until the credits have rolled on the 12th and final episode this season.
It's a smart move which means the narrative retains its mystery and fans can enjoy the ride rather than putting too much emphasis on that final episode.
Sudeikis previously hinted that fans may be happy for the show to end once they've seen how things play out, and there could certainly be some truth to that. At this point it's unclear whether it's best for the team to end things on a high or keep going while things are strong, because we don't know where the narrative is being taken.
The show is in the enviable position that it has such loveable characters, that the longer it goes on and the more we get to know them, the more enticing, funny and heartwarming it becomes.
If this is to be the last time we see them (and even if this iteration of the show does end, that seems unlikely), then based on the assured strength of these opening episodes, the finest series to have come from Apple TV+ thus far will end with a clean sheet. Sorry, had to.
Ted Lasso seasons 1-2 are streaming now on Apple TV+ and season 3 is dropping new episodes each Wednesday — you can sign up to Apple TV+ here.