By Kaleena Rivera | TV | May 5, 2023 |
By Kaleena Rivera | TV | May 5, 2023 |
(spoilers for episode 8, season 3)
It’s good to try things. We should all take a big swing every once in a while. In both the long- and short-term, art benefits from our failures and missteps (science too, for that matter). This season of Ted Lasso is by no means a failure. What it appears to be is a series of experiments whose outcomes fall within the wide spectrum of success and defeat. Although there are still some laughs mixed with some poignant moments—Phil Dunster carrying the lion’s share, so much so that I fear for his poor back—the consistency that Ted Lasso was once so heavily praised for is now a thing of the past.
It’s past time to admit that the issues with the Keeley Jones public relations firm are insurmountable. Smart money says that this storyline is intended to establish a spin-off series, but with a misfire this immense, that vehicle’s crash-landed before it could even launch. Keeley, previously a whip-smart character whose bubbliness and emotional intelligence were a guidepost for multiple key members of AFC Richmond, is now a shadow of what she once was. If any of this was in service to the story that is actually being told (as opposed to the one we would like to imagine), it would be attributed to character development. But without an actual story in place, her onscreen movements are merely in fulfillment of an agenda with a reveal that seems to be endlessly postponed. Even setting aside my previous complaints about Keeley’s excision from Richmond, the premise of KJPR fails because the entire thing is little more than set dressing with a blinking sign hanging from the rafters that reads, “Please Clap for Keeley’s Professional Ambitions.”
The week sees what is presumably the end of Keeley and Jack’s love affair in the wake of an objectively terrible predicament. I disliked Jack for numerous reasons (the book only had a little to do with it), but the means with which it came about was so inelegantly done, I felt as though I was watching another show entirely. That insulting PR statement—the irony of the head of a PR firm being utterly blindsided by all of this fallout isn’t lost on me—was enough to shine a Maglite on what a subpar girlfriend Jack makes. Going on to then canceling their party invite, downgrading Keeley to a mere friend during one of the most vulnerable periods of her life, and, the coup de grâce, slut-shaming her, is the narrative equivalent of an optometrist shining a lighthouse in our eyes. Their romance unraveling through everyday incompatibility would have treated both the characters and viewers with greater esteem.
Jack’s mishandling goes beyond just being a lousy partner; it’s illogical. There’s a way to write a previously trusted person suddenly making a terrible perspective be known, but it’s hard to buy Jack’s pearl-clutching over Keeley having “porno online” when, as a venture capitalist whose sole interest is to ensure their investment, she would have been perfectly aware of Keeley’s previous nude modeling career. The time spent on this relationship seems to have gone absolutely nowhere unless the aim is to drive Keeley back into Jamie’s arms, which would be a loathsome excuse for rekindling their romance. I’m not sorry to see Jack go, but seeing yet another storyline dedicated to a new character—siphoning time away from the principal cast in the process—only to fizzle out has been tiresome (anyone remember Zava?).
The writing only serves other ensemble members marginally better, a painful thing to witness considering that the previous episode was one of the few high points of the season. I can forgive Roy’s shocking gaffe considering that he is, contrary to popular belief, not the Perfect Man(™), though the thought of it being inserted as a means to oblige yet another love triangle makes me wince. What’s harder to overlook is the ham-fisted locker room scene in which we all receive detailed instructions on how to handle sensitive pictures of intimate partners. One of the greatest strengths of Ted Lasso is its willingness to dive into issues revolving around healthy masculinity, where friendship and emotional honesty are valued just as much as athleticism and leadership. But this endearing philosophy ran a distant second to the distinct sensation that I was seated in front of an after-school special. Much like Keeley coping with the leak itself, immensely valuable topic, terrible execution.
Surprisingly, one of the more functional plots was Nate’s onward march toward becoming his best self. Although it’s in desperate need of a natural transition between the sweet, shy guy and the poisonous villain we met last season, it possessed enough humor and warmth to temporarily sidestep this necessity. Edyta Budnik gets massive kudos for selling us Jade’s affection for Nate. There’s still plenty of that measured dryness from when we first met the disaffected hostess, but it’s used believably within their budding relationship. I’m also morally obligated to say that seeing Nick Mohammed step outside those well-established Nate settings and into a flirty lover strongly suggests some serious romantic leading man potential.
Nate’s plot development will assuredly prove divisive among viewers, especially when it comes to Jade’s involvement. While I agree it’s not cool to have a man’s moral compass rest on the woman he loves, sometimes in life another person really can inspire one to do better. Now if Ted Lasso entirely avoids showing Nate directly address his wrongdoing and make peace with his issues, it will absolutely invalidate the path of redemption that appears to be on the way.
There doesn’t seem to be a single romantic dynamic that isn’t somehow complicated by either circumstance, insufficient writing, or both. I have no idea what to make of Ted and Michelle’s current relationship—I do know that my ire for her springing therapist-boyfriend Dr. Jacob on Ted is quite genuine. You could have left him at the hotel, Michelle. There was no need to bring him to Crown & Anchor—mainly because it’s hard to believe that the minor flirting and Michelle’s restrained description of Paris is hinting at a possible reunion between the two (a risky maneuver that would threaten to undo much of Ted’s personal evolution). But it seems like a possibility that’s being set on the table, though there seems to be a concerted effort to obfuscate Ted’s end game, judging by that green matchbook in his pocket.
Though I try not to speculate too much on the thoughts of the strangers who make the art I consume, I’m willing to wager that Jason Sudeikis and the rest of the individuals left in that writing room (original showrunner Bill Lawrence left prior to this season for other tv pastures) are proud of the work they’ve created. They should be. Expending genuine effort to create something and see it to completion is always an accomplishment, despite how it may be received. But we’ve seen what this show is capable of and this episode, as well as several others over the season, don’t clear the benchmark that’s been previously set. There’s still plenty of charm and niceness galore (Henry doing practically anything this episode; the Diamond Dogs scene), and for some viewers, that’s all that’s required. But for many others, including myself, “nice” isn’t enough, especially when a show has clearly demonstrated the ability to balance comedy and drama with a skill that goes far beyond mere competence. Moving forward, this bumpy road will likely continue as the series attempts to tie the many loose ends still dangling in the breeze. I can only hope that with all the twists and turns Ted Lasso keeps attempting, it can give us the biggest surprise of all: a return to what initially made it work so well in the first place.
Roy: “Is this a game or child labor?”
Trent: “In late-stage capitalism, what’s the difference?”
Leslie: “Did he at least ask your permission?”
Ted: “Well, I’m her ex-husband, not her current father.”
Rebecca: “Oh, please. The Eiffel Tower is just a lamppost with a publicist.”
Keeley: “Don’t tell me your password was ‘password,’ Jamie.”
Jamie: “Yeah. Well, to be fair, I did think I’d fool ‘em ‘cause I spelled it with two S’s.”
Kaleena Rivera is the TV Editor for Pajiba. When she isn’t deeply amused by Trent’s induction into the Diamond Dogs, complete with his proper “woof,” she can be found on Twitter here.