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Ted Lasso Should Leave the Past in the Past

The series stumbles when trying to recreate the magic of its first season.
  • Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso (Photo: Apple TV+)
    Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso (Photo: Apple TV+)

    During a trip to Amsterdam with the AFC Richmond crew, Higgins (Jeremy Swift) makes it clear that he’s hitting the red light district. Within the first 10 minutes of Ted Lasso Season 3, Episode 6, “Sunflowers,” he repeats the phrase several times, sometimes with a literal eyebrow raise, while various characters around him look confused, then scandalized, then ultimately laugh it off with an over-the-top “Nah!” It’s a joke that may have worked once, maybe even twice, but the constant and immediate repetition is indicative of what’s wrong with Ted Lasso’s final season as a whole: It’s spending more time trying to replicate past success than treading new ground.

    Season 3 has now passed the midseason mark, and not much has changed for Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis). He’s still struggling with being away from his family; he’s still figuring out exactly how to be a good coach (one who actually wins games); and he’s still mostly alone once he steps off the pitch. His stagnancy affects everyone around him, most directly the rest of AFC Richmond who are stuck in a perpetual loop of failures — as of now, even the biggest change to the team this season, the addition of star player Zava (Maximilian Osinski), has proven unsuccessful. The team is right back to where it started at the beginning of Season 1, albeit with slightly less ego and slightly more looking on the bright side, no matter what.

    What’s most frustrating about the constant attempts to recapture former glory is that the series has shown that it can pave the way for new stories (a good sign for any inevitable spinoffs). Season 3 has allowed other characters to take center stage, spending more time away from the soccer field and less time with Ted. It’s in the moments showing Keeley (Juno Temple) struggle to run her own business, Colin (Billy Harris) grappling with his sexuality, and Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) attempting to become a mother and focus on her personal life that the series becomes something new and more compelling, inspiring some of the best performances of the season. Rebecca’s side story within “Sunflowers” is all the evidence necessary to give Waddingham a rom-com, stat.

    But just as quickly as a refreshing new storyline unfolds, an old plot point or recurring bit stops any momentum in its tracks. Joke structures that were charming, surprising, and, yes, very funny in Season 1 have by this point been repeated to the point of losing all meaning — “Trent Crimm, The Independent” can no longer be played for a laugh. In particular, returning to the well of Ted’s misunderstanding of British and European culture as a means for a punchline and the constant flow of hokey Kansas aphorisms feels like an all-too-desperate attempt to remind viewers of the early days of Ted Lasso. The problem is that those are actually a reminder that three years later, Ted hasn’t really changed at all even though the show seems to want us to believe that he somehow has.

    It’s not impossible for a show to successfully retread old ground — the final season of Succession is narratively following in many of the exact footsteps laid out in Season 1. But in the HBO drama, we’re seeing how differently characters who have evolved over the course of four seasons would handle similar situations, making it all the more compelling. The Roys are no longer spinning their wheels, and there’s been a major revelation in every episode of Season 4 so far. Many episodes of Season 3 of Ted Lasso, on the other hand, could be dropped into any other season without making much of a splash.

    By the end of “Sunflowers,” Ted thinks he’s figured out the perfect play to get AFC Richmond on the right track. It came to him during a supposed drug trip (with repeat elements of Season 2’s “Beard After Hours”), and it turns out that even that play is something that’s been done before — in fact it’s one of the most famous Dutch systems called “Total Football.” Maybe repeating this style of playing is just what AFC Richmond needs to get out of its rut. Or maybe it’s just another instance of Ted Lasso relying too much on the past to find success in the present. 

    New episodes of Ted Lasso drop every Wednesday on Apple TV+. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Brianna Wellen is a TV Reporter at Primetimer who became obsessed with television when her parents let her stay up late to watch E.R. 

    TOPICS: Ted Lasso, Apple TV+, Succession, Billy Harris, Hannah Waddingham, Jason Sudeikis, Jeremy Swift , Juno Temple