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It's Painfully Clear That Ted Lasso Doesn't Need a Big Romantic Payoff

The comedy has never been about coupling up, and that shouldn't change now.
  • Jodi Balfour and Juno Temple in Ted Lasso
    Jodi Balfour and Juno Temple in Ted Lasso

    [Editor’s Note: This post contains spoilers for Ted Lasso Episode 7, “The Strings That Bind Us.”]

    Ted Lasso isn’t a particularly romantic show. It certainly has its moments — most recently “Sunflowers” gave Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) a charming love story and Season 2’s “Rainbow” was all about rom-com tropes. But the initial thrust of the show was much more about failing romantic relationships, primarily Ted’s (Jason Sudeikis) s and Rebecca’s respective marriages — the whole reason Ted ended up in London coaching football was because Rebecca wanted to ruin the thing her ex-husband Rupert (Anthony Head) loved most. As Season 3 gets closer to its end (which could very well be the end of the entire series), the show seems to be scrambling to line up some endgame couples, with little thought going into whether the pairings are appropriate or not.

    The April 26 episode “The Strings That Bind Us” hints at who may go the distance. Keeley (Juno Temple) and her boss Jack (Jodi Balfour) are now in a full-fledged relationship, complete with lots of love bombing. Nate (Nick Mohammed), inspired by his parents’ own love story, finally asks out Jade (Edyta Budnik), the hostess as his favorite restaurant — and she says yes. And there’s an obvious chemistry between Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) and Simi (Precious Mustapha), the head chef at his restaurant. But the episode also reminds us of Rebecca and Sam’s fling from Season 2, and in doing so, highlights everything that’s wrong with how so many of these romantic storylines have played out.

    There was nothing particularly scandalous about how Sam and Rebecca got together — they had no idea who was on the other end of the Bantr app when they first started chatting. But once they met, they acknowledged the problems with their dynamic. Rebecca was not only older, but in a position of power over Sam. If things went wrong in the relationship, she could easily have him kicked off the team. But instead of exploring those complicated dynamics or commenting on how inappropriate workplace relationships can take many forms, the show positioned the couple as one worth ’shipping. Even in Season 3, after Rebecca and Sam have ended their relationship, all references to the pairing are rose-tinted and made without criticism.

    That dynamic paved the way for Jack and Keeley to get together with a similar power imbalance at play. In “The Strings That Bind Us,” Jack makes a point of saying that there’s nothing wrong with her relationship with Keeley, announcing to the entire company that they are in fact dating, and are consensual adults doing so. But in nearly the same breath, Jack presents Keeley with expensive gifts, a reminder that it’s her money that’s keeping the PR firm KJPR afloat. At the episode’s end, Keeley is empowered to tell Jack that she’s uncomfortable with all the gifts, and Jack acquiesces, but little else is done to address the problems that could arise. The series doesn’t explore why Jack feels the need to continually shower Keeley with expensive things , even though those actions are more in line with infatuation than real love. While their relationship is no longer a secret at the company, there have been no conversations about how their personal and professional lives will intersect — Jack filling Keeley’s office with flowers doesn’t show the best understanding of boundaries.

    Other potential couples suffer from the same problem. While Sam and Simi have yet to actually get together, Sam is technically Simi’s boss. If they go anywhere from here, he’d simply be on the other end of an inappropriate relationship. The other big pairing that fans seem to be ’shipping is Rebecca and Ted, which would also see a professional boundary crossed — Rebecca would once again have the upperhand in terms of Ted’s career — and on top of that, the groundwork hasn’t been laid to set them up as the show’s big final couple, no matter how many clues were dropped by a psychic at the beginning of the season.

    Ted Lasso has shown it can get romance right with at least one duo. Keeley and Roy (Brett Goldstein) managed to have a fairly drama-free relationship, taking their time to get together after Jamie (Phil Dunster) split, supporting each other and making each other better. Even their breakup was handled with a maturity and subtlety lacking in many other aspects of the show. Seeing these two pairings handled so well makes it even more frustrating that none of the other couples seem to make sense.

    Ted Lasso has plenty of story lines left to wrap up this season, it barely has room to bring all these love stories into the mix. Freeing Keeley from the confines of a relationship at the start of Season 3 allowed her character to grow in exciting new ways and get out of the rut that’s trapped so many others on the show. Opening a restaurant has given Sam a chance to highlight his own culture and establish a more meaningful character arc. Rebecca’s staunch independence has always been one of her defining traits. And Ted just might finally be getting the hang of this coaching thing. Wrapping any of these storylines with a relationship just for the sake of bringing the season to a big passionate ending hardly feels worth it. Ted Lasso has never been a romance, and it doesn’t need to try to be one now.

    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+, Anthony Head, Brett Goldstein, Hannah Waddingham, Jason Sudeikis, Jodi Balfour, Juno Temple, Nick Mohammed, Phil Dunster, Precious Mustapha, Toheeb Jimoh