Mild spoilers follow for Ted Lasso season 3's first four episodes.
Ted Lasso is in a strange place heading into its eagerly anticipated third and potentially final season. To use some sports-based terminology, the award-winning Apple TV Plus series was plagued by off-the-field issues between its second and third installments. Shooting schedule disruptions, script rewrites, and other production problems affected its development, leading some fans to wonder if Ted Lasso’s time at the top had come to an end.
But rumors of its demise have been greatly exaggerated. I’ve watched the first four episodes of Ted Lasso season 3 and, without meaning to sound hyperbolic, the hugely popular soccer comedy-drama delivers another match-winning performance. Brimming with its signature style and substance, plus some fresh ideas and fascinating additions to its eccentric character roster, Ted Lasso’s latest chapter is as delightfully charming, thought-provoking, and crowd-pleasing as it gets.
Tinkering with tactics
Unusually for one of the best Apple TV Plus shows around, Ted Lasso season 3 opens at the start of a, well, new season. The titular character – portrayed with optimistic glee and emotional gravitas once more by Jason Sudeikis – has spent the summer with his son Henry in the UK.
With Henry flying home to the US before the new school year begins, Ted’s attention must quickly turn elsewhere. Namely, keeping AFC Richmond in the English Premier League (EPL) after their promotion from the second tier in Ted Lasso‘s season 2 finale.
Doing so won’t be easy, however, with the media predicting the Diamond Dogs will finish bottom of the pile. Nate Shelley (Nick Mohammed), now in charge of fellow EPL outfit West Ham United, is gunning for his former mentor, too, following his explosive falling out with Ted in last season’s final episode. With other personal and professional challenges set to befall Ted and company, season 3 promises to put the show’s core mantra – ‘Believe’ – to the ultimate test.
Like any real-life soccer team during the off-season, Ted Lasso undergoes an evolution, rather than a revolution, in its third season.
Ted Lasso season 3 continues to focus on the exploits of AFC Richmond but, occasionally, viewers are treated to a look behind the scenes at West Ham. These trips across the English capital offer insights into Richmond’s now-bitter rivals and prevent the show’s storylines from becoming too formulaic.
It’s this bilateral observation that gives Ted Lasso fresh narrative impetus. For the first time in the series, we closely follow two clubs, which lends a pleasing dualism to proceedings. Seeing how Nate operates differently to Ted – in a public-facing capacity, anyway – raises the soccer-based stakes and puts their rivalry (one Ted has no interest participating in, admittedly) front and center for us to enjoy. Ted Lasso has explored the art of rivalry before, but not on this scale – and certainly not between clubs. Well, aside from Richmond’s heartbreaking encounters against Manchester City in previous seasons, which pale in comparison to how season 3’s first act – particularly its fourth episode – plays out.
Season 3’s overarching conflict also preserves Ted Lasso’s homage to Star Wars, the legendary sci-fi franchise being a key influence on the show’s movie trilogy-like structure and themes. Richmond is equivalent to the Resistance, a plucky underdog battling against the odds to win the day. Meanwhile, West Ham is positioned as a Galactic Empire-style adversary, with Hammers owner Rupert Mannion (played by the devilishly captivating Anthony Head) and the tragic Nate comparable to Emperor Palpatine and Darth Vader.
The only blot on season 3’s copybook is its sporadic tendency to meander from a story perspective. Episode 3’s final 10 minutes, for example, feel tacked on and a tad superfluous. There are essential narrative beats in this sequence that contextually require inclusion but, personally, I felt those elements could’ve been examined in half the time. The first four episodes of season 3 are some of the longest entries in the show, and it largely makes full use of each episode’s runtime. But there are instances where storylines and/or scenes are unnecessarily drawn out.
The battle between Richmond and West Ham – and, by proxy, Ted and Nate – isn’t to the detriment of other storylines, though (more on these later).
Season 3’s opening episode, which recaps what occurred in its predecessor’s finale, jumps between the clubs with unabashed regularity, as does its fourth entry. Save for a few West Ham-based shenanigans, though, the intervening episodes prioritize Richmond and its eclectic cast of characters, juggling their arcs and wider subplots with aplomb.
As a comedy-infused series, Ted Lasso season 3 doesn’t hold back on its penchant for anecdotes, cultural references, or awkward sitcom-based situations. From Ted’s quippy one-liners and the expletive-laden outbursts of Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), to the amusingly unusual dynamics between characters and cleverly devised group scenarios – one locker room scene in episode 2 is packed with laugh-out-loud moments – Ted Lasso season 3 fine-tunes the show’s signature humor and delivers, in my view, some of the best jokes in its history.
The introduction of new characters elevates things further. The arrival of Zava (Maximilian Osinski), a caricature of world-class Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic – complete with man bun and an exceedingly high opinion of himself – opens up new joke-filled avenues, fascinating squad dynamics, and intriguing future storylines to explore as the season progresses. Keeley Jones’ (Juno Temple) newly-formed PR company and its serious-cum-bookish staff, such as Barbara (Katy Wix), present more opportunities for amusingly uncomfortable scenarios, especially when venture capitalist Jack (Jodi Balfour) is introduced.
Like its predecessors, though, it’s the emotion-laden and drama-fuelled story beats where I found Ted Lasso season 3 at its captivating best. The show’s soccer-based action and comedy are structural pillars in its makeup, but it’s the relatability of Ted Lasso’s characters – individually and collectively – that give this sports drama its off-piste flavor.
As with any serialized TV show, character arcs in season 3 build on what’s previously been explored. Ted continues to be plagued by PTSD and familial issues. Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) confronts his soccer-based insecurities again with Zava’s arrival. Roy and Keeley are forced to face up to the breakdown in their relationship. Rebecca’s emotional wounds are laid bare once more whenever she encounters ex-husband Rupert in person or online.
Rather than rehash the same subplots and character arcs from previous seasons, however, season 3 pleasingly progresses each individual’s story in nuanced ways. Ted’s support system, including psychologist Sharon (Sarah Niles), helps him cope with his inner demons. Jamie trains harder to try to usurp Zava as Richmond’s star player. Roy and Keeley deal with their split amicably and maturely. Rebecca outmaneuvers Rupert in some situations to prove she’s as adept an owner of a soccer club as he is.
As the great Rocky Balboa once said: "It’s not how hard you get hit. It’s how hard you get hit and keep moving forward", and Ted Lasso’s spirited but damaged crew certainly upholds that saying. It’s that character growth that keeps us engrossed in Ted Lasso, and continues to act as the essential fulcrum that drives its multifaceted story along at a gratifying pace.
Ted Lasso season 3 is shaping up to be the most funny, dramatically intense, and thematically dense entry in Apple’s beloved TV show yet. Its surprising twists and turns, expanded narratives, escalated character development, and high-brow humor bolster its position as the jewel in Apple TV Plus’ crown, even if it’s got fierce competition in the form of sci-fi hit Severance on Apple's streamer now.
It’s still got the capacity to kick you in the shins – Ted Lasso is a show laced with traumatic undercurrents, after all – and, with eight more episodes to come, it’s unclear if AFC Richmond will get its fairytale ending, especially if the series bows out after three seasons. Regardless of whether it does or not, Ted Lasso season 3 is a title-winning triumph that charmed, shocked, gut-punched, and cheered my soul – all the while cracking me up with its witty, slapstick, and absurd humor. If season 3’s remaining episodes are as thrilling, entertaining, painful, and funny as this, Ted Lasso will not only cement itself as one of the best shows of 2023, but one of the best TV series period.
Ted Lasso season 3 debuts on Apple TV Plus with a one-episode premiere on Wednesday, March 15. New episodes will be released weekly after that.