What a long, strange, uneventful season it’s been.
“Ted Lasso” closes the book on its third and (maybe) final season this week. But a note the title character leaves to journalist Trent Crimm, who was embedded with the Richmond football club all season, suggests a way forward without its star Jason Sudeikis, who is perhaps ready to move onto other things.
Trent has titled his book “The Lasso Way,” and on the cover page of an early draft, Ted has scribbled: “One small suggestion … I’d change the title. It’s not about me. It never was.”
And so the book becomes “The Richmond Way.”
I’ve no doubt Apple TV+ would love to see one of its buzziest offerings continue, and it’s not hard to envision a (Sudeikis-less) spinoff called “The Richmond Way.” The show’s finale leaves enough breadcrumbs to hint at where future storylines may lie.
Would a new series retain “Ted Lasso’s” openhearted optimism without Ted at its center? When the show premiered three seasons ago, it felt like an outlier with his cheery — and fantastical — vision of the world, where sincerity, masculinity and emotional vulnerability exist as complementary rather than competing notions.
The show was the anti-“Succession” (which also had its series finale this week) and it dared to ask: What would it look like if people actually cared about one another? Like, genuinely cared. And what if one person’s ridiculous faith in human decency was enough to tip the scales?
The series ends with the last match of the season, which will be Ted’s last match at Richmond as well. He’s stepping down. Moving back to Kansas City to be with his son. The news has left Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddingham) quietly reeling despite her exquisite manners. But like so many pivotal moments this season, Ted’s decision happens off-camera, and he is noticeably subdued and detached about it.
At the outset of the series, Ted may have seemed like Ned Flanders come to life, with his sunny, can-do disposition a Teflon to negativity. The panic attacks that plagued him last season laid bare that lie — no person is the equivalent of a nonstick surface — but I’m not sure the character became any deeper or more interesting as a result.
Maybe the opposite. We all maintain a facade. When you let people see the real you, cracks and all, there’s always the risk of rejection, but it can also create truer relationships. I’m not sure that was the case for Ted, who was warm to a point, but ultimately preferred to keep people at arm’s length. “It’s not about me. It never was.” Maybe that’s not a statement of modesty so much as a way to feign intimacy.
For some viewers, Ted and Rebecca’s easy chemistry seemed headed toward something more. I never got that impression. But the finale does tease (taunt?) anyone who was hoping the pair would come together in the end, playing around with a couple of romantic comedy tropes, only to subvert them with a joke or wistful smile.
Over the show’s run, Rebecca felt like a character we hadn’t seen for too long in TV or film, both gloriously elegant and willing to be a clown. One of the show’s great gifts was introducing Waddingham to American audiences. Her wit and timing and impeccable sense of style and the way she would let an emotion play out across her face gave “Ted Lasso’’ the boost it needed. Even so, I’m not sure the series did her justice this season. Rebecca was forever at loose ends, searching for something more in her life than the status quo, only to have all that vague, unspecified longing satisfied thanks to the unexpected reunion with her Amsterdam one-night stand.
The real romance of the season, it turns out, was the bromance between the growling Roy Kent and the preening Jamie Tartt (Brett Goldstein and Phil Dunster), who began the series at loggerheads and ended it as genuine friends.
Ironically, the focus on expanded storylines (and episode running time) left the show adrift, introducing ideas only to wander away from them. “Ted Lasso” attempted to be two things at once in its final go: A hangout sitcom where things happen just because they’re funny, but also a serialized drama where things happen because they fit into a larger story arc. I don’t think the show fully succeeded on either front.
With Nate (Nick Mohammed), we saw real anger roiling beneath the surface — a dangerous kind of anger that was alien, and impervious, to the Ted Lasso ethos. This was a man burning with resentments and who became obsessed with his public image. And then suddenly, all of that was washed away, or at least tempered, by the fact that he finally had a girlfriend? I got weird incel vibes from that storyline, which seemed to be saying: See? If only this woman hadn’t ignored him before, he wouldn’t have been forced into such a dark place. It’s a deranged message and one that feels at odds with the show’s overall refusal to justify toxic masculinity. That Nate never makes amends is an important step that’s missing. What does it look like to not only regret the errors of our ways, but to meaningfully make them right? What happens when the forgiveness you seek remains elusive? Sorting that through on screen would have been far more compelling than what we got, which was nothing.
How did “Ted Lasso’’ squander so much good will? It remained an enjoyable show to the end, but lacked the necessary connective tissue to bind things together in ways that felt satisfying. Maybe that’s because it strayed from its original format. What was once a well-paced half-hour comedy became something quite different: A one-hour light drama.
Premium cable and streaming have muddied the distinction between comedy and drama, which used to be more rigid when network TV was dominant. But even taking that into account, I don’t think I’ve seen a series so radically alter its format — all while pretending it’s done nothing of the sort. Tonally it felt the same, but in a practical sense it became a different show.
At its best, “Ted Lasso” kept things bouncy and funny and ladled in a pithy observation or two about human nature. Ultimately it preferred to be a gentle but firm hand on your shoulder, reassuring you that there’s a better way to move through the world than giving in to your worst impulses. That you can come back from mistakes. That optimism isn’t overrated. That the tattered pieces of a “believe” sign once torn asunder can be glued back together again.
The ending works, even if it isn’t terribly ambitious. Ted may have coached his team to a win, but we don’t see their celebration afterward at Sam’s restaurant, or watch as Ted packs up his things and says his final goodbyes, or see him wondering if he should leave a recipe on Rebecca’s desk for those shortbread cookies he would so lovingly bake and bring to her every morning.
All that will have to exist in your imagination. Instead, he simply arrives at the airport to make his way home, back to middle America.
A lot of unbelievable things happened on “Ted Lasso,” someone pointed out on Twitter, but the direct flight from London to Kansas City might be the craziest one of them all.