* Minor Spoilers Ahead *
After a slow start to season 3 for everyone’s favorite football manager Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis), episode 3 picks up the slack giving more structure to the lump of clay that each season begins with. For a 12-episode season, starting slow doesn’t necessarily mean a change in management is needed; as the saying goes, it’s not how you start but how you finish the game. In this case, a slow start to a season of a series that continues to inject genuine happiness into a world that is desperate for it isn’t drawing a yellow or red card yet.
Episode 3 titled 4-5-1 introduces AFC Richmond to one of Italy’s most charismatic, self-absorbed and generational superstar Zava (Maximilian Osinski) who becomes their spiritual monk and the team’s best player. Quickly AFC Richmond becomes Zava obsessed (mostly Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernandez)), like the rest of the world is, and as the title suggests, 4-5-1 is the teams strategy for play going forward. And for a bit, this strategy works as Richmond enjoys climbing the standings and proving all the doubters wrong including West Ham owner Rupert (Anthony Head) and the self-titled “wonder kid” Nathan Shelley (Nick Mohammed) who is still battling imposter syndrome and issues with confidence and respect. I would view episode 3 as more of a set-up, a corner kick that will determine the next couple of arcs for the team and coaches included.
While the win streak is the main draw to the episode, who doesn’t like to see AFC Richmond finally winning as a cohesive group, the strength of the episode comes in the latter half when the charming and humble Sam (Toheeb Jimoh) invites the team to his restaurant for a pre-opening meal. It’s here that the individual arcs are set on their eventual paths. Jamie (Phil Dunster) is the only player not on the Zava train and decides to team up with former rival Roy (Brett Goldstein) to once again be the best player on the team.
4 am start times do sound rather horrible, even for training.
And for once, I agree with Jamie. Phil Dunster has done extraordinary work with Jamie as character which in turn allows us to organically take his side and begin to root for him. I go back to the moment Jamie realizes Roy and Keeley (Juno Temple) break up and instead of going after Keeley, Jamie decides to comfort Roy. Jamie has become more than just the narcissistic footballer who cannot live without the spotlight on him. Phil Dunster has gracefully embraced this new role within the ensemble cast, being the voice of reason with something worthy to say. But even with the new presence in the locker room, episode 3 belongs to Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham) who visits a psychic and is told a pile of rubbish before storming out.
Picking up a thread from last season, the direction season 3 seems to be heading in with Rebecca in regard to her personal life is a reunion with Sam and their brief but heartwarming fling. No other pairing made sense out of the ensemble cast. Maybe Roy and Keeley and maybe Ted and Sassy (Ellie Taylor) but the world feels whole with Sam and Rebecca together.
Transitioning into episode 4 titled Big Week, the team finally face Benedict Nate who betrayed Ted and the team for Rupert and glory. All roads in the early episodes have led to this reunion. And for all its build up, all the things left unsaid, the writing team tease us for a bigger confrontation that will hold more narrative heft to it later in the season. For now, episode 4’s catalyst involves a certain video tape being leaked to motivate AFC Richmond and beat West Ham. Unfortunately the opposite effect happens, and the team lose all their composure and the good favor that has been building up. On the opposite end, Ted discovers that his ex-wife Michelle (Andrea Anders) has been dating their marriage counselor triggering Ted’s anxiety and panic attacks. For someone so foolishly optimistic, watching Ted struggle to find words to match his emotions is a hard pill to swallow. The breadcrumbs were laid out in earlier episodes but to see the realization that he is being replaced is likely going to open up new depths for Ted that began with his therapy sessions last season.
Almost at the halfway mark, Ted Lasso has remained consistent with its characters. There are no leaps in development outside of Jamie and Rebecca but somehow with the addition of Zava, the familial sincerity within the teams dynamic has been pushed aside to bring in new faces. What we have come to admire about these endearing characters is paused to give an egotistical part time avocado farmer the spotlight. Episode 5 begins to right the ship regarding the Zava narrative – the less he’s around the more normalcy can begin to take shape. There’s something uncharacteristic about one man walking into the center of a huddle to be touched for good luck before a match starts. AFC Richmond definitely doesn’t need another strong personality added to its roster when there’s a perfect balance already in existence.
Joining Zava as new editions to the ensemble are Shandy (Ambreen Razia) and Jack (Jodi Balfour), the former being a disaster with every bit of screen time Shandy is given and the latter being Keeley’s angel investor. Leave it to the charismatic Jodi Balfour who can also be admired on For All Mankind offering a peaceful presence in the chaotic life of Keeley. After being introduced in last week’s episode, Jack’s true purpose has remained a mystery until episode 5 when the two are alone after a tough outing with a baby goat. Juno and Jodi are just another fascinating addition to the list of increasingly different pairings that are offered in season 3. One minute they’re playfully mocking CFO Barbara (Katy Wix), snow globe enthusiast, and the next moment the two are opening up to one another about their personal lives.
All while Rebecca is attempting to call Keeley while reliving what the psychic said and being ignored. Rebecca just can’t seem to catch a break.
Brendan Hunt as Coach Beard continues to add a steady dose of comedic timing from unpredictable movements, loud sounds and public displays of affection with his significant other. Beard and Ted continue to be a duo you can count on to keep the atmosphere grounded and honest among their silly nature. The two compliment each other nicely, balancing the optimism with skepticism and Roy Kent being the pessimist.
With his significant upgrade this season Nate may not be all that deserving as he thinks. Anthony Head is a fiendish villain as Rupert with more at play behind the scenes than can be seen. Ready to backstab and throw Nate under the bus at a moments notice. Nate without realizing is just a pawn in Rupert’s Sith Lord plan. But at least Nate finds a quiet confidence in himself by the end of Signs. It’s definitely a sign that when Nate can be himself and not the snide football manager, people can be drawn to him. For all the atrocities Nate has committed I still find myself rooting for him under my breath, when Ted and the greyhounds aren’t looking, of course.
But for all it’s moving parts, some having more poignancy than others, Ted Lasso has stayed true to its core foundation – belief in yourself when times are tough and no one else is there to lean on. Signs can get ripped in half by a former Kit man and people can change but having hope that things will get better, that life matters and that you will heal with time after being hurt, the message reverberates throughout the locker room. It’s just a yellow piece of paper with blue lettering on it but still the words are powerless unless you have the faith to trust yourself when facing an uphill climb. Sometimes it bears repeating every now and then when a new obstacle comes around but keeping true to yourself despite the outside noise is worth the belief. During the rare moments that Ted gets serious with himself and his faults and insecurities, it’s time to listen and hear what he has to say because he’s not perfect and he’s healing through those around him.
Created By: Jason Sudeikis, Bill Lawrence, Brendan Hunt & Joe Kelly
Episodes Directed By: Matt Lipsey & Destiny Ekaragha
Music By: Marcus Mumford & Tom Howe
Cinematography: David Rom & Vanessa Whyte
Starring: Jason Sudeikis, Hannah Waddingham, Jeremy Swift, Phil Dunster, Brett Goldstein, Brendan Hunt, Nick Mohammed, Juno Temple
Where to Watch: Apple TV +
Release Date: March 29, 2023 – April 12, 2023
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 93%
Based On: Characters and Format by NBC Sports