The premiere, of the four available episodes, is the weakest (while being reasonably okay), also in part because of how the opening stretch especially borders on caricaturish in re-introducing us to Ted, his boss Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham), her close confidant Keeley (Juno Temple), and others. Arguably, the writing staff knows some of the stereotypes are easy to spot, as when Ted enters Rebecca’s office for the first time in the season and she notes that he failed to provide “a rhyming salutation.” (In a critical scene late in the premiere, too, Ted refers to himself as “Ned Flanders doing cosplay as Ned Flanders.”) As is the case with another Bill Lawrence-produced dramedy on Apple TV+, the new series “Shrinking,” “Ted Lasso” is often at its strongest when it becomes a hangout show. There are a number of plot throughlines introduced in the opening episodes (including the presence of a mega-superstar who’s going to upend the Premier League no matter which team he signs with), but it’s best to let the burgeoning ensemble bounce off each other.
While Sudeikis, Hunt, Lawrence, and the rest of the writers clearly adore so many of their characters, they aren’t willing to keep things short. Of the first four episodes, the premiere is the shortest and clocks in at 42 minutes, while the fourth is 50 minutes long. (At one point, Lasso says that clarity, more than brevity, may be the soul of wit. Brevity is valuable too.) Of the many subplots, the least fully formed features Keeley and her fledgling PR firm; though its presence may become more important throughout the season, dedicating this much time upfront just stretches episode lengths out too much. Keeley seems intrigued by the possibility of re-kindling a friendship, if nothing else, with her ex Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), but Jamie’s growth (hinted at as he tries to retrain himself with Roy Kent’s assistance) is more compelling if only because it feels more directly related to the matters at hand.
The over-length of the new “Ted Lasso” episodes is hinted at, somewhat, in the opening credits. The actual footage in the opening credits remains the same, as we see Ted in a football stadium, with the seats around him changing color to form his name/the show’s title. But the sheer amount of performers listed among the regular cast is particularly massive. It’s not that there are too many new characters, but the writing staff is trying to expand beyond the core of Ted, Rebecca, Roy, Jamie, Nate, and Keeley, to other members of the AFC Richmond squad, such as Colin (Billy Harris) and Isaac (Kola Bokinni), as well as the ever-dogged journalist Trent Crimm (James Lance), who manages to get involved in the team’s season despite having been fired from his former publication.
Bubbling under the surface remains the emotional flaws behind characters like Ted and Nate. And Ted, whose personal issues were mined more heavily in the past season thanks to a sports psychiatrist (Sarah Niles), now has to grapple with more changes back home with his ex-wife and son. (Niles makes a couple of brief appearances, but is no longer among the regular cast.) There is still plenty happening in “Ted Lasso,” with the third season largely focused around whether or not Richmond can finally, as Ted once told Rebecca, “win the whole f**ing thing.” With the aforementioned “Shrinking,” it’s at least logical to understand why a show may have a problem identifying its strengths and weaknesses right out of the gate. “Ted Lasso” still has the ability to be extremely funny, and to hit some surprisingly effective emotional highs. But a chunk of the new season feels like the show is figuring itself out, which is a somewhat baffling feeling for viewers of a show that’s been so unassailably strong in previous years.
“Ted Lasso” season 3 premieres March 15, 2023 on Apple TV+.