The problem with Ted Lasso’s success

Ted Lasso likes to say that winning isn’t everything. The popular American manager of struggling British soccer club AFC Richmond, Ted (played by Jason Sudeikis) is expected to care about scoring goals — but, as he insists to a reporter at one point, “For me, success is not about wins and losses”. And he really means it. Ted preaches the idea even as the team suffers devastating losses time and time again. “We may not have won,” he explains after one such loss, “but you sure did.”

As it turns out, that unwavering optimism worked. As the third (and reportedly final) season of the AppleTV+ comedy kicks off, the club is coming off a major win: At the end of the second season, the team scored enough points to be promoted back to the top-flight Premier League. And yet, the upgrade seems to have left everyone but Ted on edge. Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), the team’s owner, examines every newspaper for their predictions. Higgins (Jeremy Swift), Richmond’s business manager, compiles a list of potential hires. And the players are distracted in training, worried about what the football pundits are saying about them.

This creates a compelling tension between Ted and the team regarding their expectations for the upcoming matches. Ted’s soft-spoken idealism clashes with his players’ need to achieve real goals—like netting—after their previous victory. But the show doesn’t just question whether Ted’s goodness is flawed. following the team as they were welcomed back into the Premier League, he also looks at whether winning is a worthwhile endeavor in the first place. Richmond got what they wanted, only to face more pressure and scrutiny than ever before. The result is a season that, at least in the four episodes screened for critics, feels more cohesive than the last.

First, the heartfelt return to the football field allows the show to more keenly observe Ted’s relationship with his work. Season 2 spent much of its time deconstructing Ted’s positive thinking off the field through his sessions with the team’s therapist. To make up for the lack of sports, the show also devoted significant screen time to expanding the personal narratives of the supporting cast, as if it was uncertain whether Ted’s journey would hold viewers’ attention. The move made Ted’s inner turmoil seem like a distraction, an emotional arc that never meshed with the rest of the ensemble stories. In Season 3, the show better aligns its anxieties with the interests of its players, allowing it to more closely explore the limits of Ted’s optimism. In an upcoming episode, Ted discusses with his assistant coaches whether to motivate the team to upset her. at home, Ted struggles with how honest he should be with his ex-wife about his anger at her new romance. As Ted’s drive for harmony is tested both on and off the court, the stakes of his choices feel higher than last season — and what he decides to do is also heavier.

These interwoven story threads also help the show convey the suffocating nature of success. Ted was a fish out of water to try anything. now he’s less willing to shake things up, because he knows how much his players want to keep winning. In Season 1, for example, Ted had no qualms about benching his protagonist, Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), to teach him a lesson in teamwork. In Season 3, despite Jamie’s imploring Ted to impart similar wisdom to a talented new colleague, Ted can’t bring himself to do so. The team’s goal was to return to the Premier League by any means necessary. Now that that has been achieved, AFC Richmond are faced with a more uncomfortable question: Can either of them risk losing again?

Colin Hutton / Apple TV+

That’s not what it means Ted Lasso has become a show about soccer strategy. the sport largely still functions as a metaphor. Each character struggles to maintain momentum. most of them try to do it without compromising their happiness. The team’s former PR consultant, Keeley (Juno Temple), who started her own agency at the end of Season 2, happily shows Rebecca her new office, but curls up in her arms behind closed doors, overwhelmed by the work. Keeley’s boyfriend and Richmond captain-turned-assistant coach Roy (Brett Goldstein), meanwhile, breaks up with her. he fears that their bliss will not last. And Nate (Nick Mohammed), the one-time Richmond jock who resented Ted and quit the team, sacrificed his friendships so he could lead his own team.

These tighter themes unify the season at its early start – something very different Ted Lassoits sprawling second installment, which overstuffed its narrative with stand-alone “experts” and dropped narratives (remember Sam’s crusade against Dubai Air?); The focus on how Richmond deals with its fortunes also works because it feels true to life, doubling as a reflection of the show’s stumbles after being unexpectedly hit early in the pandemic. Season 2 arrived with high expectations and awkwardly tried to balance its sunny reputation with more dramatic concerns. (That’s also when the show’s runtime skyrocketed: half-hour episodes sneaked into near-hour-long installments.)

Ted Lasso she no longer seems shy of its darker emotional arcs nor so encumbered by its reputation as a fictional fantasy. Ted still can’t resist a pop culture reference, and every scene is still packed with one-liners, but the show doesn’t shy away from having each episode last around 45 minutes and carry an undercurrent of unease. The show may have explored the flaws that come with Ted’s kindness, but it ultimately fully embraces the idea that doubt has a place in even the most optimistic person’s thoughts. It’s a reminder that trying to maintain happiness from one moment to the next, while difficult, can be rewarding. Despite what he had said in the past, Ted had always known that it was impossible to feel good all the time. Now he seems to be learning not just to recognize evil but to accept it as a part of life.

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