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Hear Me Out

AFC Richmond Deserves Better Than Ted Lasso

Ted's charm papers over real concerns about his inexperience and unfamiliarity with football.
  • Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso (Photo: Apple TV+)
    Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso (Photo: Apple TV+)

    In Hear Me Out, Primetimer staffers and contributors espouse their pet theories, spicy takes, and even the occasional galaxy-brain idea.

    Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) may have been hired precisely because of his inexperience, but the Apple TV+ comedy’s spent the past two seasons attempting to prove that his unfamiliarity with football is his greatest strength. Who needs a basic understanding of Premier League structure or offensive strategy, the show reasons, when you have kindness and a killer biscuit recipe? The first two episodes of Season 3 only add to this mythos, presenting Ted as a man uniquely positioned to motivate AFC Richmond with his unconventional methods. But what the show’s steadfast belief in the Ted Lasso Way doesn’t take into account is that Ted’s aggressively positive attitude and folksy charm may actually be hurting the organization and its players, who deserve a coach who understands that winning and empathy are not mutually exclusive.

    [Editor’s Note: Spoilers ahead for the first two episodes of Ted Lasso Season 3, “Smells Like Mean Spirit” and “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea.”]

    AFC Richmond begins Ted Lasso Season 3 in good spirits after rejoining the Premier League, but this win papers over the fraught journey towards promotion. In Season 2, the Greyhounds became stuck in a frustrating cycle of draws, racking up 14 ties by the halfway point in the football season. They also suffered a series of bad losses, including a 5-0 rout at Manchester City that prompted Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) to do some soul searching on the streets of London. It wasn’t until Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) joined the coaching staff and Nate’s (Nick Mohammed) tactical planning began to bear fruit that Richmond righted the ship, improving their record to an improbable 21-6-16.

    These may seem like decisions made by Ted — as the manager, he’s the one doing the hiring and promoting — but when it came time to make a call, he almost always deferred to someone else. Even when Ted wanted to stick with “Nate’s false nine” in the Season 2 finale, he doubted his instincts, instead leaving the final decision up to the players themselves. While they ended up siding with their manager, if the players demanded a change to the game plan, Ted would surely have followed their lead, even if it meant doing something with which he didn’t agree. That’s not leadership; it’s affability, and in that moment, it nearly cost Richmond a spot in the Premier League.

    In Season 3, Ted Lasso is even more confident that its protagonist’s geniality and unflappable persona is the best way forward. The premiere, “Smells Like Mean Spirit,” sees Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) approach Ted about preseason rankings predicting Richmond will come in 20th (of 20 total teams) this football season. He waves her off, but after some words of encouragement, Ted promises to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee.” And yet, his actions prove he’s unwilling to do what it takes to land a knockout punch (not to mention that he fundamentally misunderstands Muhammad Ali’s dominance in the ring). With the polls casting a pall on practice, Ted organizes a field trip to the London sewer system, where he encourages the players to wade through “other people’s dookie” and “help each other keep that flow” of positive vibes.

    This kind of uplifting message is quintessentially Ted Lasso, but it’s also one the team has heard for the past two seasons, ad nauseam. It feels especially redundant now that matters of team chemistry have been settled: Jamie (Phil Dunster) has learned to be less selfish; Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) has shifted into a leadership role; and Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernández) has overcome his “yips” and the resulting ridicule. If Richmond really wants to silence the haters, they’re better off refining their skills on the pitch. Pulling the team out of practice for a feel-good history lesson on London’s sewers isn’t going to cut it when you’re looking to get an edge on Man City or score an equalizer against Chelsea. But do you know what might? Practicing set pieces, or improving conditioning, or even playing freaking keepaway for 45 minutes.

    For about five minutes, Ted Lasso entertains the idea that Ted’s approach may be a problem, only to walk it back. Rebecca pleads with Ted to “fight back” against Nate, the newly-installed coach at rival West Ham United, and those laughing at Richmond, but her stance softens when Ted charms his way through a press conference. A text from Keeley (Juno Temple) reminds Rebecca that there’s value in “letting Ted be Ted,” but the creative team (which includes Sudeikis, Hunt, and showrunner Bill Lawrence) don’t seem willing to acknowledge that there’s value in listening to one’s gut, too. There’s a reason Rebecca begins to have doubts about the way Ted is running her team, if only the show were brave enough to give her the space to raise them.

    Ted’s lack of operational knowledge rears its ugly head again in Episode 2, “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea,” when he happily agrees to let Trent Crimm (James Lance), formerly of The Independent, follow the club over the course of the season. Rebecca, Keeley, and Leslie Higgins (Jeremy Swift) — the team’s owner, public relations consultant, and director of football operations, respectively — all encourage Ted to turn down Trent’s offer, but he ignores them, inviting the journalist to start work immediately. I’m all for the fourth estate, but the trio is right to be wary of Trent: The team’s position is incredibly precarious, and any misstep could lead to a PR nightmare. But Ted doesn’t subscribe to this way of thinking. To him, a problem is just a resolution yet to be discovered, and Trent a new pal to impress with his puns and pop culture deep-cuts.

    Later, with Richmond down at the half to Chelsea, Ted focuses not on the team’s strategy, but on Roy’s long-standing beef with Trent. “Your ego’s about to sabotage a whole lot more than a silly football match,” he tells his assistant coach, in a rare moment of seriousness.

    Ted’s tough love is partially a matter of necessity: Roy has told the players not to say anything with Trent around (given the above PR concerns, this is probably a good move), so with Trent in the locker room, they’re reluctant to offer input on the game. Ted’s also correct that reconciliation is important for Roy’s personal development, but there’s no need to frame it in direct opposition with the game itself — and fans likely wouldn’t appreciate their manager calling a key intra-city matchup “silly.” Obviously, many things are more important than football (and Ted has yet to find one that doesn’t fall into this category), but there are plenty of ways to maintain this perspective while also doing your job of leading a team to victory, including waiting until after the game to force a confrontation between Roy and Trent.

    The sports world is rife with toxic masculinity, and I’m by no means suggesting that Ted should eschew compassion and embrace the win-at-all-costs mentality that consumed Nate last season. Ted Lasso has always suggested that Ted’s and Nate’s worldviews are in conflict — either you lead with kindness, or your desire to win hardens you, turning you into a gray-haired villain — but there’s no reason they need to be. If Ted puts as much effort into learning about the game and ensuring AFC Richmond remains at an elite level as he does bantering with the Diamond Dogs, he has a chance to actually earn the praise he’s already been given. If not, Rebecca should begin looking for a manager with proven experience, one who not only knows about “living legend” Zava, but understands how best to utilize him on the field.

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

    Claire Spellberg Lustig is the Senior Editor at Primetimer and a scholar of The View. Follow her on Twitter at @c_spellberg.

    TOPICS: Ted Lasso, Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt, Brett Goldstein, Hannah Waddingham, Jason Sudeikis, Nick Mohammed