The feel-good sitcom Ted Lasso is based on an absurd premise: an American college football coach takes on manager duties at a small club in the English Premier League, despite knowing almost nothing about soccer. And despite the typically short shelf-life inherent in the job, he managed to keep the gig. People (mostly) love him, the team (eventually) played well, and here we are with Ted (Jason Sudeikis) preparing for his third season in charge. It brings with it a burning question: what the hell is he still doing here?
Note: this review is based on the first episode of Ted Lasso season 3, which premieres on March 15th. It includes very light spoilers.
The opening episode of Ted Lasso’s third season is best described as an existential crisis for the perpetually chipper coach. While he maintains a positive demeanor — it’s basically his entire personality — the cracks have been showing for some time, from his struggle to deal with a changing family back home in Kansas to his inability to manage his talented former assistant coach Nate (Nick Mohammed). An important plot thread in season 2 was Ted embracing his therapist Dr. Fieldstone (Sarah Niles) and trying to deal with these problems in a more serious way. Early on in the premiere episode, we see Ted is still checking in with her, putting in the work.
Ted was already going through a lot, and life doesn’t get any easier as the new season begins. It opens with the coach dropping off his son for the long flight home after an extended visit in London. Then he heads to the office to learn that every newspaper and website in the country has predicted AFC Richmond (the club he coaches) to finish dead last this year.
Meanwhile, as Ted is seemingly stuck in this rut, many of the important people around him are dealing with exciting changes: Roy (Brett Goldstein) is settling into his role as Ted’s new assistant, Keeley (Juno Temple) has started her own PR firm, and, most significantly, Nate has left Richmond to take the reins at rival club West Ham United. (For added drama, West Ham is owned by Rupert [Anthony Head], whose divorce from Richmond owner Rebecca [Hannah Waddingham] kicked off the whole Ted Lasso hiring in the first place.)
Nate’s turn is especially important here. His rise has been dramatic: at the start of the show, he was in charge of team uniforms, was eventually promoted to assistant coach, and, after both proving himself a tactical genius and having a falling out with Ted, is now in charge of a contending team. That’s quite the rise in two years. But Nate slowly grew more and more jaded with Ted’s overbearing positivity and the lack of attention he received in season 2 — you could even see his hair turn steadily grey over the course of the season — and now he’s just a straight-up villain. He dresses in black, berates his players, and takes meetings with Rupert in what looks like a supervillain’s lair. He even insults Ted in his very first press conference (which Ted, naturally, embraces with even more folksy positivity).
Nate is a sympathetic villain, of course, and it’s easy to understand why, after years of being underappreciated at work and at home, he embraces the support of Rupert. Everyone wants to feel needed. But on the other hand, he’s also become a real dick, the IRL version of a troll who will say anything if it gets a reaction. The show is clearly building up to some kind of showdown between Nate and Ted’s contrasting styles: a cartoonish villain against a cartoonishly cheerful hero.
But before that happens, it seems like Ted has to deal with his own problems. His unorthodox approach to managing Richmond is causing issues. Rebecca desperately wants to beat her ex-husband and worries Ted isn’t taking the challenge seriously enough. He still barely understands the sport — though he might know more than he lets on. At one point, his staff is very impressed when Ted shows some tactical awareness. Meanwhile, a recent team excursion has caused a negative stir on social media, making things even messier. And all of this is happening while Ted is feeling alone in another country, miles away from his son.
The show seems to be setting him up for a loss on the field — but Ted could use a win of any kind. Otherwise, what’s the point in continuing to stick around?
Ted Lasso season 3 starts streaming on Apple TV Plus on March 15th, with new episodes every Wednesday.