I promise I’ll stop ragging on Ted Lasso and its self-indulgent hour-long episodes soon—likely by season’s end. But I cannot stress enough how much that episode length has hurt what was once one of the sunniest, funniest comedies around. Indeed, if you were to just tune in for a specific violin-scored scene in “International Break,” you’d be forgiven for thinking this was a heart-rending after-school special about the beauty of soccer (and, perhaps, also about the joy of seeing immigrant fathers coming around to unabashedly supporting their kids’ interests). Yes, so contrived did I find that scene that, no matter how much I enjoy Hannah Waddingham as Rebecca, her voiceover (with lines like “Football isn’t just a game” and “Just because we own these teams doesn’t mean they belong to us”) had me rolling my eyes, the latest example in Ted Lasso’s ability to lose its way in wanting to tell heartwarming stories and stumbling, instead, into didactic PSAs that ring hollow not in spite but because of their gleeful earnestness.
This is a criticism I’ve been making of the season as a whole, which is why I’m feeling less and less inclined to repeat it. There’s a good (nay, a great!) show here buried somewhere. But with cloying speeches, maudlin reunions, and key plot points that are introduced only to then be immediately resolved (hello Super League! ditto Keeley’s agency folding!), this Emmy-winning series cannot seem to get out of its own way.
Part of it is that with its ballooned runtime, each episode feels like a clown car of B-plots all vying for our attention. “International Break” alone has us follow Rebecca as she finally moves on from wanting to beat Rupert (huzzah!), Nate as he stands by his principles after quitting West Ham (hoorah?), and Keeley as she struggles with the imminent demise of her business (yikes!)—all while also giving us time to check in with a Dani/Van Damme riff, a Roy/Phoebe reunion, and a Sam/Akufo rematch. It’s a lot.
Of those various storylines, the one true highlight was seeing Roy’s niece Phoebe back as she celebrated Uncle Day with everyone’s favorite cantankerous coach—who, as it turns out, may finally be mellowing enough to wear a colorful tie-dye shirt no matter how ridiculous he may feel. It’s in that scene, where Roy gets a tad annoyed for rightfully being told he and Jamie are now basically BFFs, that we get one of the episode’s most tightly constructed jokes, all around Phoebe’s swear jar and a soccer jersey where Roy’s last name has had its E changed into a U (classic Jamie!). Phoebe has long been a bright spot in the show and in Roy’s life so it makes sense her return would be highlight—and a nudge toward seeing Roy make further inroads into softening enough to finally reach out to Keeley, setting up their eventual make-up hook up, which wryly gets the Rebecca seal of approval. Oh, and gives us a shot of Roy in another one of Keeley’s frilly robes, which: A-plus.
Sadly, much of the episode is taken up by two twinned narratives about hitting rock bottom and getting back up again. (This is oppressively positive, remember?) Nate and Keeley, he after quitting West Ham, she after losing funding for her PR firm, are at a loss as to how to move on. Both had clearly been on a golden path toward success on the heels of what they’d learned about themselves while at Richmond and under the banner of Ted and Rebecca, respectively. Could they find a way forward now that everything they’d worked toward had, well, vanished?
The question is obviously rhetorical as Ted Lasso has yet to meet a thorny plot it cannot neatly solve within an episode’s time. And so, yes, Nate does eventually get out of bed at his parents’ place, and Keeley, swallowing her pride, allows Rebecca to help her out, and both seem, by episode’s end, to have found their footing once again. Their crises of confidence are shown to be mere speed bumps that maybe (finally?) will get them folded back into the fabric of the show with more finesse than we’ve seen this entire season.
Similarly, Rebecca’s stand off against Rupert and Akufo (which ends, inexplicably, in a food fight-esque climax we don’t get to see) has the hallmarks of a season-three Ted Lasso storyline in that it feels reverse engineered to have taught us (and Rebecca) a lesson in standing up for yourself. Put aside the reasoning behind why Rupert’s fellow team owners would ever listen to Rebecca in forgoing their wish to make more profits from their football teams and you’re left with a plot merely designed to get our fearless AFC Richmond owner to, well, own both the old white men who’ve long underestimated her and the Nigerian billionaire who’s made a sport of humiliating Sam. It’s all too neat, as ever, with the comedy taking a backseat to moments that are supposed to make us cheer with tears at how far our characters have come.
We’re only a few episodes away from what seems to be the end of Ted Lasso and so it makes sense some of these series long threads (about Rupert/Rebecca, Roy/Keeley) are now being neatly tied up. (She refuses his kiss! She has him sleep over!) But there’s very little here that makes me root for them, especially in episodes so listlessly presented as “International Break.” Can Ted Lasso turn it around in its upcoming final installments? Color me curious but skeptical.
- Really? An old man can’t tell whether to push or pull on a door as an extended bit? In 2023? In this economy?
- Okay, when I asked for more depth for Dani Rojas, I didn’t expect the Ted Lasso writers to turn him abruptly into a ruthless nose-breaking player for the duration of his stint as a Mexico player. Better than letting him be friendly and sunny all the time, I guess?
- Roy’s “ROY/Red Yellow Orange” shirt may have gotten the spotlight (and prompted a welcome shirtless Goldstein moment), but I’m going to need the show to acknowledge Trent Crimm’s A-plus tee game at some point. His Dolly one this week? Chef’s kiss.
- “Any day that annoyed Roy is a holiday to me!” God I missed Roy/Phoebe quality family time!
- Funny: the photo of Rebecca that Keeley has on her phone. Not funny: the fact that Rebecca has Rupert as “The Devil” on her phone (and the subsequent “joke” that followed that visual gag wherein we got Lasso Tedsplaining said gag.)
- If nothing else, I’m glad Sam Richardson got to showcase his great accent work, even if I remain unconvinced we needed another visit from his Edwin Afuko, who apparently is a cartoonish villain whose sole purpose is to ruin Sam’s life and, in true supervillain mode, has decided he wants to make football unaffordable and profitable in equal measure. (The greatest fiction of Ted Lasso is that such a character would be defeated with a mere rousing speech; you know he’d fit right in at Succession, no?)
- Ted saying “He’s a talented little boy” about Hockney serves as a reminder that only intermittently are we getting folksy Ted as of late.
- Honestly, I’m so happy we get more of Barbara because deadpan lines like “I like clothes that tell the truth” (ABOUT HER JUICY SWEATPANTS!) are one of the few bright spots this season has offered us.