Friday, May 19, 2023

What the Heck Has Happened to Ted Lasso? [Contributor: Jenn]

In March of 2020, the world shut down. We all went into lockdown, trying to find toilet paper at a grocery store was like being in the arena in The Hunger Games, we were wiping down groceries with Clorox, and making masks out of whatever scarves and fabric we could find. It was bleak and isolating, and it lasted a lot longer than we all hoped it would. When COVID-19 shook us, it shook some of us hard. I vividly remember sitting on my bedroom floor, crying, as I watched a 4K video of Magic Kingdom Park’s “Happily Ever After” firework special on YouTube. I missed people. But most of all, I missed emotional connection.

Enter: Ted Lasso on Apple TV+. That summer, the comedy series debuted to near-unanimous acclaim. Its first season was the bright spot of joy, hope, and positivity that so many of us needed. I have to believe that part of the attraction to the series — and perhaps a large part — was because it seemed to be exactly what we were missing in our personal lives. We were able to emotionally connect to characters, their arcs, watch them grow, and be reminded that goodness and hope are possible to find in the world. 

That first season was near-perfect gold.

Season two of the series was mostly good, in my opinion, but did suffer from the dreaded “sophomore slump.” If you’re unfamiliar, it’s a pretty common phenomenon in television: when shows start their series strong but inevitably begin to teeter in their second season. I knew Ted Lasso had the potential to pick up the broken pieces of the show and repair them. In fact, I was excited to see exactly how they’d do it in season three.

Well, folks, it’s season three — almost the end of the season, actually — and like many, many, many other people on the internet from fans to TV critics alike, I have no idea what the show is doing. So I write this because I need to process my feelings in something longer than a tweet. And I write to highlight the show’s weaknesses because I know its strengths; like many of you, I was enamored with this series and I’m just so baffled by what it’s become.

As a brief aside, criticism is pointing out flaws in a piece of media because you care about it — what it is, what it was, and/or what it could be. “Hate” is simply dunking on something because you dislike it, want it to fail, and want to shout that dislike from the rooftops. For example, I hate Glee (a collective fever dream if there ever was one) but I am critical of Community! If you love this season of Ted Lasso, then good for you. I will not stop you from loving it. But I will say that if your love of anything prevents you from ever being able to notice its flaws, that’s not love — that’s infatuation. Those rose-colored glasses prevent you from seeing red flags. 

In TV criticism, like most things in life, two things can be true: you can love something and also want it to do better.

For me and my journey with Ted Lasso, the rose-colored glasses of infatuation have been removed. And I dearly love this series that I believe could — and should — do better. Before we get into some of the mistakes the show has made this year though, I’d like to take a moment to note that Phil Dunster should be in Emmy consideration because his evolution of Jamie over the years — particularly this season — has been phenomenal. If you’d have told me in season one that by season three Jamie would be my favorite character, I doubt I would have believed you. But today he is! He has had all of the best writing, character growth, and some of the best scenes in the season (the Amsterdam bike ride and the Uncle Day scenes alone are top-tier). He has done nothing wrong, and I am so happy he’s gotten to shine. This article is not about him.

So with that said, let me attempt to pinpoint where I think Ted Lasso has gone awry this season and what can be done about it if the show continues next year.


The longest episode of Ted Lasso’s first season clocked in at 34 minutes. The longest episode (so far) of the current season clocked in at 66 minutes. When you take a show that, if it was on a network, would be labeled a “half-hour sitcom” and suddenly turn it into an hour-long dramedy, it just doesn’t work. The tone naturally shifts. The pacing gets rushed in places and dragged out in others. And, in points we’ll cover momentarily, we lose character development and plot threads from episode to episode because they’re naturally unsustainable. 

In fact, the show becomes a series of self-contained episodes at that point, with plots naturally just resolving within the course of 60 minutes.

If Ted Lasso had debuted as an hour-long dramedy, I would have fewer issues with this season. As it is, more doesn’t always equal better. More screentime means more storylines. More storylines means more plot development to cover. But if those plots won’t carry from episode to episode like they have in previous seasons, then what’s really the point? I believe if the show was forced, like network TV series are, to cut their episodes to 20-ish or even 30 minutes, the writers would have had to make some hard decisions this season. It might have resulted in actual tighter storytelling though. Did we really need a departure episode with five separate storylines that, combined, took up 63 minutes of our time? Or could we have narrowed the storylines down to the essential ones that had seasons-long implications — perhaps including a few brief scenes of the others? (We could have. We should have. And I know which ones I would have cut!)

Comedy series don’t always naturally lend themselves to an hour-long format. For a season and a half, Ted Lasso managed to keep its show in the roughly 30-minute range. Only around the midpoint of season two did things start to shift into 44-45 minute territory. And honestly, when your cast expands and your show’s episode length expands in an unprecedented way, things can go south pretty quickly.


Ted Lasso has always had a lot of characters; that fact has never been an issue for me because for the first few seasons, we spent significant quality time with only a few of the footballers: mostly Roy, Jamie, and Sam. Later on, Dani and Isaac became more prominent figures. This season, Colin joined that list. In an ensemble cast, that’s natural — sometimes a show will discover that their once-side characters are actually more interesting as primary characters and they bump them up from a “recurring” to a “series regular” role. 

Allow me a related tangent for a minute: For those who are fans of Community, this happened naturally with Dean Pelton (played by Jim Rash). As the seasons went on and some of the series regular cast members departed, Jim Rash got a more prominent role to play in the group. He’d been around since the pilot so it made sense to integrate him more into the show’s stories and bump him up to a series regular role. Some might argue (like me) that Dean Pelton works better as a side character who pops in and out of scenes, delivering jokes or one-liners, instead of becoming a main cast member. But the writers, for the most part, knew the appropriate balance of a character we were used to seeing on the sidelines suddenly incorporated into an A-story.

Not so with Ted Lasso. Let’s just start out by noting that the football team alone is huge. Besides Jamie, Isaac, Colin, Sam, and Dani — who were all series regulars — we also saw these characters in some capacity each episode in scenes of significance: Roy, Keeley, Rebecca, Ted, Beard, Higgins, Nate, Trent Crimm, Rupert, Nate’s girlfriend we’re meant to care about now (Jade), Keeley’s ex-girlfriend we were meant to care about for a few episodes there (Jack), Will, etc. 

(Also: did we all also forget the focus that Zava took up for the first part of this season too?!) 

I don’t think Ted Lasso needs to suddenly drop-kick characters out of its universe. 

But what I do think is that it is very, very unsure who — besides its titular character — the show is actually about

And because it is unsure, it is trying to spend too much time, equally, on everyone. It’s why Colin became a focus for a few episodes, but then Sam was the focus of another storyline. It’s why you’re beginning to see some of the recurring football players in stories (like Van Damme). But that’s also why the series is struggling: because it doesn’t know, beyond Ted, who is actually the center of the story. To me, it is always a show about Rebecca.

But do you see how things begin to bleed together rather unfortunately? If you have a season of long episode runtimes with no real direction and a huge cast, you can make episodes about anything you want! But that doesn’t mean you should, and that doesn’t mean they serve an overall purpose in the arc of season. It means you are creating a bunch of self-contained storylines that have no bearing on the overall narrative.

At the beginning of Ted Lasso’s third season, I began to think that we were headed into an interesting theme, asking the questions: “When is it time to go? How do you know you’re ready to leave? And what are the consequences if you stay somewhere too long?” Unfortunately right now, most of the stories in these episodes aren’t answering this central, thematic question at all. 

It’s like the show began on a highway, driving toward a destination. But along the way, all these side roads and off-ramps began to pop up. Some of them were paved, some were just dirt and rocks running through fields. But the show decided that every road was equally important and split off on vehicles, driving into them all. The issue here is that the writers have forgotten how to navigate back to the central highway. Some of those roads abruptly stopped shortly after they started, and some are still winding and weaving around curves, parallel to the highway — close but not quite back to where we need to be.


Sometimes (maybe three times) there’s a green matchbook. 

But is that really important this season, do you think? It was for an episode! It seemed like Rebecca had some real complex emotions over discovering she can’t have kids early in this season. So when a psychic tells her that she will become a mom, Rebecca is incredibly hurt by what she believes is the psychic taunting her. 

And even though we’ve seen the matchbook a few times this season — presumably as red herrings like the show did last year with the Ted/Rebecca texting — nothing else has resulted from that in terms of Rebecca’s overall character depth. We have spent very little time on any sort of self- 

This is when the old adage “show, don’t tell” could actually be inverted: I want to SEE how Rebecca is actually feeling about all of this. If this story is so important, why not devote time and an actual arc to it? Why not make it a central point in the season and build the stories around it? Why not show Keeley and Rebecca together more, processing the perils of wanting things as a woman, the expectations of motherhood, the desire — or not — to have children? Why not show Rebecca processing it with Dr. Sharon? Something! Anything to tell me the show remembered Rebecca actually had a really rough time with that news and that it is a core part of her character like they say it is! So far this season, that one episode is the deepest we’ve gone with Rebecca’s core desire of: “Wants to become a mother.”

This week’s episode, “International Break,” also delivered the end of a semi-baked storyline that could have been much better handled for Rebecca’s character: her desire to beat Rupert. After it has been hammered into the coaches and us all season that Rebecca just cares about getting ahead of her ex-husband, the resolution to this story — that suddenly Rebecca is reminded of why she loves football and that it doesn’t matter whether she beats Rupert or not — felt... quick. Too quick to be believable. Suddenly Rebecca feels comfortable enough around Rupert to be smiling and laughing (don’t get me started on the show making Rupert mistake that for some sort of romantic affection, ugh), then walking away from him and convincing everyone to not join Akufo’s Super League?

Power poses and little green army men can only do so much legwork for storytelling. 

I had actually really liked where I thought the story was going though in the beginning of the episode: Rebecca is put off by the Super League invitation, believing they only want her there because otherwise it is a bunch of old white men who own football teams and she’s a woman. Higgins, actually, is the one to convince Rebecca to attend the meeting by telling her that it doesn’t matter why she was invited — if she gets a seat at the table, she should take it. And then she can decide what to do with it. 

Before the lunch meeting, Rebecca has a slight anxiety/panic attack in the mirror, but when she pictures herself as a little girl, she actually begins to calm down. It’s almost as if she remembers what she affirms later on: the kid part of us that wanted to be accepted is still inside us. So she does her power pose which is mimicked by little!Rebecca in the mirror. It was a beautiful little moment about anxiety and seeing yourself for who you are. 

This is then slightly undercut by the fact that the lunch’s real purpose was not that Rebecca faced her anxiety with courage, but that Rebecca was willing to let the notion of beating Rupert go. (Rebecca and Keeley discuss it later on in the episode where Keeley tells Rebecca that her ability to do that was a huge step in progress... something I’d believe if I’d seen more of a story thread connecting this all.)


And then we have all the things with Ted and Michelle suddenly appearing again. Ted doesn’t, seemingly, care that much about Michelle’s dating life for most of this show. It stings, of course, but he’s slept with Sassy (I miss her) and seemed to be in a good emotional place after his sessions with Dr. Sharon (I miss her) last season. But now, without warning, Ted is panicked about Michelle moving on — with fans speculating that perhaps this will lead to a reconciliation where Ted chooses to go back to the U.S. to be with her and Henry. There’s no real reason for the show to do this, other than the fact that it remembered Michelle existed, and it would be a regression in Ted’s character to seek after a woman he has let go of. So where’s this plot even going? Who knows!

Also what is happening with Sam and the woman who works with him (whose name genuinely escapes me)? Were they setting them up to be close friends or something romantic (Rebecca’s little bit of jealousy suggested the latter)? What are the long-lasting consequences of his restaurant being attacked? Because we spent an entire episode with him and that story — only for the show to really never speak of it again. That’s the consequence of a season with bloated episodes: stories only matter in the episode they happen in, then very little matters after the episode concludes.


Meanwhile, the whole Roy/Keeley of it all truly bothers me — and I loved them as a couple for the last few seasons. “International Break” finds the pair reconciling... though is it healthy? The ironic dialogue Keeley is delivering to Rebecca as the latter spies Roy in Keeley’s robe suggests otherwise!

Roy and Keeley were such a core part of the series by the end of last season. When their breakup was announced at the beginning of this season, it was unclear why they broke up in the first place. In the show’s most recent episode, the two reconcile. But there’s nothing in the middle of these two episodes that suggests Roy did sufficient work on himself and/or realized he was being an idiot. Instead, the show learns on Phoebe’s teacher as the one to deliver an “a-ha” moment of emotional catharsis for our favorite curmudgeonly footballer. Which apparently involves Roy apologizing for not treating Keeley right or not valuing her as the amazing person she is? (It makes no sense; there is literally no real evidence I can find for that.)

So the choice to hinge a couple we seemingly all rooted for getting back together via a throwaway line from a woman who once flirted with Roy? A bit odd to me. Have Roy and Keeley even significantly interacted prior to this episode? Really? (I’m not counting the moment he approaches her about the video she made because that conversation ended with Roy NOT saying something helpful.)

But I think the Roy/Keeley issues are a symptom of Ted Lasso’s larger problem: there is simply too much happening to devote a significant amount of time to any of it. So the show is asking us to suspend our disbelief and accept plots that don’t quite make sense. And if the series hadn’t been so tightly written with their plot threads in past seasons, I might be willing to look the other way. As it is, I don’t even have to try to find plot holes or fraying threads now; the show is offering them up to me pretty obviously.


Separating Keeley and Rebecca this season was a bold move — and it was a bad one. Instead of Keeley being a confident boss like we saw at the end of season two, she’s being love bombed by her boss (HER BOSS, Y'ALL!!! A WOMAN IN A POSITION OF POWER OVER HER IS ALSO HER LOVE INTEREST) and not noticing that anything is awry at all. (Also “love bombing” as a psychological term is actually emotional manipulation. It is often a symptom of someone’s narcissistic personality disorder or abusive behavior, so I will need the writer who decided to make it a lighthearted joke instead of taking it seriously in a timeout corner ASAP.)

I’m glad the show decided to explore Keeley’s bisexuality. But I wish it hadn’t been right after she very clearly stated she wasn’t over Roy. Oh, right, and I wish it wasn’t WITH HER BOSS. (If I had a nickel for every time Ted Lasso did that storyline, I’d have two nickels. Which is not a lot but it is weird it happened twice, right?)

Not only does her BOSS start a relationship with someone she has power over, but her BOSS then uses said power and tries to shame Keeley into apologizing for a sex tape that got leaked without her consent. When Keeley will not, Jack breaks up with her, leaves for another country, ghosts her, pulls her funding, and “apologizes” with a shady text. All while Keeley is just... accepting this. She even pines over Jack by sending an extremely long wall of text messages. KEELEY JONES? There is only a shell of the woman we knew in seasons one and two in this storyline and I’m so mad that Keeley is one of the characters this season to suffer the most. She deserved to have better writing and she deserves the chance to shine. Instead, the show isolated her and shrunk her power down for the sake of a very bad story.

Keeley was isolated on her own PR island where she was apparently struggling to tell people what to do. I would have loved if the show chose to explore her imposter syndrome a little bit deeper than it was. I am all for realism in people struggling with new jobs, positions of power, and responsibilities. But it just seemed like at every turn, Keeley was shrinking in her confidence, incompetent, and overzealous. Her PR firm storyline was barely a story in the end.

What, exactly, did separating Keeley from the whole cast do? Nothing. The best scenes of the show work because of the dynamic between the characters, as evidenced in the Rebecca/Keeley dynamic which is truly lightning in a bottle. This PR/Jack story just made Keeley — a confident character whom Roy and Rebecca affirm in “International Break” multiple times — feel like a helpless, lost, unsteady woman instead of the confident boss she really is. It’s as if the show didn’t know who she was without the rest of the cast. I’m glad that it seems like she’s being incorporated back into the fold now but it’s almost too little, too late for me after what they chose to do this season.


My issues with Nate are pretty much everyone else’s issues with Nate. I wasn’t a huge fan of making him the villain of season two, but if we got the chance to see some sort of arc or growth in season three, I figured it would all be worth it. And, as you might have guessed, I was wrong! There is no Nate redemption arc! There’s really not even growth! 

Let’s rewind for a minute, shall we? Nate’s villainy stemmed from his deepest insecurities. Everything he does and everything he did was based on those feelings of inadequacy. He felt abandoned by Ted and he lashed out. He got the slightest taste of power and used it to hurt and humiliate Will. He believed he was entitled to his position because he worked hard to get there and thought Ted did not. He assumed that if he just succeeded, he could earn the love and adoration of other people and maybe — just maybe — that would be enough to make him feel like he was something. But no acclaim and no accolades can fill the void in Nate’s heart.

Unfortunately Nate learned very little after season two. Until the most recent episode where he quits West Ham, he’s perfectly fine with mocking and humiliating Ted Lasso and his former teammates to earn the acclaim and approval of Rupert (anyone else see a pattern here?). He doesn’t apologize to Ted in the elevator. He mocks him in a press conference. He becomes Rupert’s shadow and when Rupert apologizes for the fact that Ted, Henry, and Beard are at a West Ham game, Nate deletes the response saying that it was okay and sends exactly what Rupert wants to hear.

After one conversation with his father — a very brief one at that — we’re supposed to believe Nate is going to turn a corner? Because he played the violin and his dad said all he wanted was for Nate to be happy? One brief conversation does not erase years of family trauma, especially if the only progress that has been made on this relationship happened in this scene alone.

Also, I’m sorry: a card apology to Will and a clean/laundered Greyhound locker room does not make up for the horrible way Nate treated him. There is nothing the show can do within the next two episodes that will suddenly make Nate’s “redemption” arc an actual thing. The show should have spent the entire season showing us Nate realizing that chasing fame and adoration is wrong. Instead, we just get more scenes of him scrolling social media and news articles looking for validation. The show could have shown us what happens when you choose to follow a morally bankrupt leader instead of a flawed, kind one. Instead, the writers decided that the moment Nate realized Rupert didn’t actually want to hang out with him for a guys’ night was the last straw. Not, you know, anything else horrible Rupert did that Nate knew about from working at Richmond all those years. Ugh. Y’all, this whole character “arc” is not an arc at all. It’s a bunch of random dots on a scatter plot.

The worst part of it is that the Ted Lasso writers put Nate together with Jade — a woman who found Nate bothersome and then suddenly, with no explanation, has decided that she wants to date him. We don’t have time to unpack all of that so I’ll just breeze right past it and ask: Are we supposed to care more about Nate now that he has a girlfriend? Does the show think that this will soften him for us and/or erase our memories of how Nate outed Ted’s mental health crisis to everyone? Is there actually a point to any of this meandering story? (No.)

Isolating Nate in his own storyline this season was necessary, but the problem is that the writers didn’t devote the necessary time and effort to making Nate grow as a person. There is no reason for me, Ted, or any of the Greyhounds to believe Nate has learned anything at all between the time he left Richmond and now. 

Because he hasn’t.


Do I think that all hope is lost for Ted Lasso? No. I wouldn’t write this if I didn’t think there were things that the show is doing well or that it could improve. I just hope that the show realizes where its strengths are (concentrated, tight stories with a few characters as a focus) and where its weaknesses are too. At the end of the day, I’m still rooting for Richmond and I know that so many others are too.

Because it is okay to like something and still want it to be better.


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