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It's time for a halftime huddle: 'Ted Lasso' Season 3 should refocus on relationships

The first half of Season 3 hasn't been nearly as rich as earlier seasons — but, as Ted (Jason Sudeikis) might put it: There's still a lot of game left to play.
Apple TV+
The first half of Season 3 hasn't been nearly as rich as earlier seasons — but, as Ted (Jason Sudeikis) might put it: There's still a lot of game left to play.

There's a big difference between "it's not good" and "it's not for me." Most often, this difference comes up with genres: musicals, horror, romance, whatever. You could make the best slasher movie in existence, and it's not going to work on somebody who doesn't like slasher movies. But it can also apply to storytelling choices that make a show less compelling. Same talent, same hard work by people who clearly didn't abruptly become bad at their jobs. They're just not making the version of the show you are — or, in this case, I am — most interested in watching.

This, regrettably, brings me to the third season of Ted Lasso, which I haven't found nearly as rich as the first two seasons. I have been an upside person when it comes to Ted — I didn't dislike the second season when a lot of people did, didn't dislike the Beard episode or the Christmas episode when a lot of people did, and haven't found the big-hearted tone of the show cloying, as some people did. It's been one of my favorite shows — just not right now.

It's worth stressing, obviously, that we're five episodes in. There will be 12 in what is understood to be the final season (although formal announcements have not been forthcoming). There's a lot of game left to play, as Ted might put it, so a midseason check-in is only good for what it's good for, which is a halftime taking-stock moment.

Maximilian Osinski as Zava
/ Apple TV+
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Apple TV+
Maximilian Osinski as Zava

And so, a summary: Richmond started off shaky, but then they brought in Zava, a comically egotistical superstar who got them on a roll. Then, they fell on hard times after a loss to Nate and Rupert's West Ham. When the going got tough, Zava retired, so now they're not sure what to do next. Rebecca and Leslie have even discussed firing Ted.

Meanwhile, Ted learned that his ex-wife, Michelle, has started dating their former marriage counselor. (As was the case when Rebecca dated Sam, I feel like the ethics of this are flying a little too much under the radar.) Rebecca's preoccupation with Rupert has returned as their teams clash. And after a psychic told her she would become a mother, she started revisiting that idea as well. Keeley, no longer with Roy (but still eyeing both him and Jamie when she sees them), has her own PR firm. She hired and fired her messy friend Shandy, and she's now hooked up with Jack, the very beautiful VC who controls her funding. Nate has been seduced by Rupert into doubling down on evil, but he's also had creeping second thoughts about the way he has treated, and continues to treat, Ted.

I think my problem is right in that paragraph: Most of the stories now involve one, and only one, of our main characters. It's very noticeable, and it's probably part of the reason episodes have ballooned from 30 or so minutes in the first season to 45-plus ever since the second part of last season. Everybody is doing their own thing.

Keeley has her own PR firm, where she seems far less capable than she did before. She didn't know what a CFO was (really?), she didn't know who her primary funder was (... really?), and she hired her obviously unqualified and disastrous friend to work on one of her most important accounts. Juno Temple is great, as always, but this story hasn't had much emotional weight, and more to the point, it's taken Keeley away from most of her interactions with the rest of the cast.

Rebecca's storyline is more complicated. It has plenty of emotional weight, and Hannah Waddingham is, as always, acting the heck out of it as Rebecca tentatively explores having a baby. But Rebecca started her story as a woman who was driven by her feelings about Rupert and the ways in which that marriage wasn't what she wanted it to be. Over the last two seasons, she's come to be more and more driven by her feelings about her accomplishments and her chosen family. Now she's in a story away from those relationships, a fact that was driven home when she tried to call Keeley about her test results from the doctor and Keeley didn't answer, because she was making out with Jack. Plausible stories for both women! But they're operating in isolation, which can hurt an ensemble show.

Hannah Waddingham as Rebecca Welton
/ Apple TV+
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Apple TV+
Hannah Waddingham as Rebecca Welton

I freely admit, too, that a pursuit of motherhood that Rebecca undertakes on her own is not the story about this particular character that I most want to watch. That's largely because needing motherhood to feel complete, as real as certainly it is for plenty of people, is probably the most familiar story for TV and film to tell about a woman over 40 who's had professional success. (See: Olivia Benson on Law & Order: SVU, Murphy Brown, Rebecca Howe from Cheers, even Liz Lemon from 30 Rock.) And if they were going to pursue the baby story, I wish something other than a psychic had brought it to the forefront. Precisely because this nagging regret was part of Rebecca's character early on, there were perhaps more organic ways to add it to her arc this season. I suspect it would be working better without the psychic and without the separation of everybody into solo worlds.

Ted is also largely off on his own, dealing with Michelle and Dr. Jacob. The breakup of Ted's marriage and his sadness about it have been present in the DNA of the show from the beginning, but I'm not sure these episodes are doing much with that story quite yet. And an episode in which Ted's son, Henry, bullied a classmate resolved itself with ease. It pulled most of its narrative tension from trying for a reveal that Henry was the bully and not the bullied, which was pretty obvious from the outset.

Smaller stories are also largely keeping the cast separate: Sam's restaurant and Colin's potential outing, to name two.

It's maybe not surprising that my favorite little story nub thus far, while it's not getting much time, is the cooperation between Roy and Jamie, which developed when the two were among the only guys in the locker room able to summon any skepticism about Zava. That is the show at its best: characters who are still themselves, but who reflect the deepening of the bonds between them that the story has been about.

Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso (left) and Nick Mohammed as Nathan Shelley
/ Apple TV+
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Apple TV+
Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso (left) and Nick Mohammed as Nathan Shelley

The show raised a question early in the season that does go to the heart of the story's key relationships. Specifically, Ted told Beard that he was no longer sure why they were in London. He knew why they came, but he wasn't sure why they stayed. (It sure wasn't to learn about football, since Ted still seems to know nothing about the sport, between having no idea who Zava was, still needing Beard and Roy to do most of the coaching, and crediting games of FIFA for what he does know.) There's a solid argument that Ted does not belong in this job even more than he didn't belong in it before. Nate was right all along that he has a better claim to it, and I have begun to wonder if that's the endgame. After all, this season featured a mention early on of Mary Poppins, whose whole thing was that she showed up, she inspired and taught, and then she left.

If that's the case, then those relationships will come back to the forefront, especially Ted's relationships with the guys on the team, which have largely been dormant for the last several episodes, and his relationships with Rebecca and Beard and Roy and Nate. The Keeley and Rebecca stories seem destined to get them more fully back into one another's lives eventually. They're both going to need somebody to talk to. (Keeley currently has no fewer than three romantic entanglements that the show has suggested are live issues. It's no baby, but it's plenty complicated.)

It's those relationships that I watch the show for; it's those relationships I'm missing. I've seen these writers bring a bunch of threads together, as they did in the marvelous second-season episode "Man City." I don't doubt they can do it. But with only half a season left ... let's go, team.

This piece first appeared in NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour newsletter. Sign up for the newsletter so you don't miss the next one, plus get weekly recommendations about what's making us happy.

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Linda Holmes is a pop culture correspondent for NPR and the host of Pop Culture Happy Hour. She began her professional life as an attorney. In time, however, her affection for writing, popular culture, and the online universe eclipsed her legal ambitions. She shoved her law degree in the back of the closet, gave its living room space to DVD sets of The Wire, and never looked back.