Ted Lasso” grew out a character created by Jason Sudekis and friends for NBC Premier League promos, a Kansas City-based football coach who somehow finds himself coaching the other football in London for AFC Richmond, a chronically downtrodden franchise. It’s a typical fish-out-of water premise, which is a classic comedy trope, but comes with some limitations — namely, when the fish becomes an amphibian and begins to love land life. Mindful of those constraints, “Lasso” debuted in 2020 to acclaim, with critics lauding its cock-eyed optimism as the world struggled with a deadly pandemic. Season 1’s 10 episodes ran an average of 30 minutes apiece, totaling 299 minutes for the season.
Now quarantine is long gone, and we are out in the world crammed into middle seats, intent on spending our last disposable dollar on Maui rentals and a down payment on a jet ski we definitely don’t need. “Lasso’s” recently completed third season joined the bacchanal. The show’s 12 episodes ran 650 MINUTES. That is 78 minutes longer than Krzystof Kieslowski’s “Dekalog,” which dealt with all 10 of the commandments.
I’m sure it all began with the best of intentions. Season 1 began with a tight focus on Ted and his sidekick Beard (Brendan Hunt) trying to negotiate their way around a proverbial plate of bangers and mash as they work for Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), the club’s owner and her sidekick (Jeremy Swift), who think hiring Ted — who doesn’t know the difference between an offside and a side out — is the best way to submarine the team that Rebecca inherited from her super-pig ex-husband. To the side was a love triangle between a ditzy team publicist Keeley (Juno Temple) and two players, Jamie Tart (Phil Dunster), a Ken Doll, and Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), a misanthrope for the modern age. Ted is oblivious to all, and brings Rebecca biscuits every morning in a merging of Phil Jackson and “Being There’s” Chauncey Gardiner.
The first two seasons chug along merrily — Rebecca apologizes for sabotaging Ted, and they become confidants — and there are touching moments as Ted deals with anxiety, divorce and missing his boy back in Kansas City. While I never bought into Temple’s painfully eccentric character, there were hilarious scenes of conflict, and then grudging respect, between Jamie and Roy. Meanwhile, we watch Nate Shelley (Nick Mohammed) develop from kit man to coaching prodigy to asshole villain who deserts the Lasso gang — the only true left turn in the series. Now, none of this reached the excellence of “Barry,” a show that contained more laughs, ingenious plot twists and WTF emotional turns while sticking to a 30-minute run time. Still, “Ted Lasso” had its moments and provided a small but comforting video Xanax for these trying times.
Then came Season 3. Maybe out of gratitude for their loyal service, or out of a desire to field a team of 11 potential spin-offs, the folks at “Ted Lasso” decided to give every character — including the kit man who replaced the original kit man — their own arc. Keeley opens a PR firm and dates a billionaire! Leslie gets to play a jazz show! Nate works as a waiter! AFC Richmond gets a superstar who at first seems to be a major throughline in the season and then he disappears! Rebecca meets a man in Amsterdam, has dinner, but doesn’t learn his name! Trent Crimm — the reporter played by the delightfully droll James Lance — writes a book about Ted! Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) opens a Nigerian restaurant, and then it is attacked! A gazillionare tries to create a football super league, and it ends in a food fight!
On it went, into at least five hours of extra time — the season would have been better if it lost 300 minutes. The few parts in Season 3 that work, besides Trent’s band T-shirts, is when “Lasso” sticks to its original mission, a stranger in a strange land trying to find his way on the pitch and in his own life. “Mom City,” the show’s penultimate episode, was the season standout, as Ted’s mom — the sublime Becky Ann Baker — arrived unannounced, and the two do a painful dance of politeness because no one on wants to talk about Ted still being haunted by the suicide of his father when he was a boy. Meanwhile, Jamie literally climbs into his mum’s lap and wails about his alcoholic and abusive father. The episode resonates because it feels earned by two characters who we have lived with for three seasons, and unwittingly damns the rest of Season 3 plot lines that have all the resonance of a generic “Love, Actually.”
Last night’s series finale tried to land the plane, but there were many, many causalities. The team breaks into a musical number to say goodbye to Ted — one that any sensible showrunner would have cut and released as a bonus track. (Too bad the showrunner is Sudeikis himself.) Nate completes an improbable season arc that takes him from head coach to restaurant worker to the assistant to the kit man and then nestling back in Ted’s bosom. The team almost wins the championship, but hey, it’s OK — everyone learned something. Jamie’s father is now sober, and shares a cuppa with his boy.
Ted then flies home on a nonexistent London to Kansas City non-stop after a tearful goodbye with Rebecca. On the way out of the airport, a little girl falls at the childless Rebecca’s feet. She looks up and it is the daughter of — wait for it — the mysterious Amsterdam man! Who is a pilot?!? The show ends with 436 of the characters showing up for a cookout. Staying with the Season 3 vibe, it should have been an all-you-can-eat Vegas buffet.