Don't cry because Ted Lasso went off the rails; smile because it happened

Warning: This story contains spoilers for the season 3 finale of Ted Lasso, "So Long, Farewell."

Making a great TV show is hard. If it were easy, CBS wouldn't have to rely on the FBI Cinematic Universe and HBO would still have the millions it spent on those failed Game of Thrones spin-offs.

Even harder than making a great TV show is making one that stays great over the entirety of its run. This week, the Emmy-winning Apple TV+ comedy Ted Lasso dropped its season 3 finale — which is almost certainly the series finale, despite the streamer's "la la la la we can't hear you" approach to confirming or denying that news. Much has been written about the quality of this season — or, more accurately, the disheartening decline in quality — and even as a champion of the show from the beginning, I share those complaints.

The third (and final?) season of Jason Sudeikis' hit football series consisted of bloated episodes, disjointed plotting that kept characters siloed in their own little bubbles, and arcs that meandered to nowhere. Nate (Nick Mohammed) was evil — having gone full Black Hat by leaving AFC Richmond and taking a coaching job for West Ham United at the end of season 2 — until he wasn't. The love of a nice woman, a server named Jade (Edyta Budnik), saved him... apparently? Eventually Nate realized that West Ham's oily owner Rupert Mannion (Anthony Stewart Head) was a sexist, manipulative brute, and he came home, (black) hat in hand, to Richmond as we all knew he would.

Keely (Juno Temple) started her own PR firm, dated a woman (Jodi Balfour), lost her PR firm after breaking up with that woman, and then got her own PR firm back courtesy of her former boss-turned-BFF Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham). Former Independent reporter Trent Crimm (James Lance) embedded with the team to write a book and, more specifically, to help Colin (Billy Hughes) come out as gay in episode 6 by revealing that he, too, is gay. Trent then spent the rest of the season offering erudite wisdom from the sidelines while sipping tea out of a rainbow Snoopy mug.

Ted Lasso

Apple TV+ Jason Sudeikis and Hannah Waddingham on 'Ted Lasso'

Sudeikis took over as showrunner from co-creator Bill Lawrence this season, and one can forgive him for wanting to give a spotlight to as many of the stellar actors in Ted Lasso's large ensemble as possible. But good storytelling is only possible with good editing, and there seemed to be precious little of the latter this season. Episode runtimes ballooned into hour-plus territory (average length: 55.9 minutes, vs. 39.2 in season 2), even as rehashed plot devices and callbacks to past punchlines became a kind of crutch. And God help me, the season (series?) finale even recycled a nearly two-decade old joke from The Office when Will (Charlie Hiscock) referred to Nate as the "assistant kit man," only to be corrected: "Assistant to the kit man."

In fairness, Sudeikis was going through a rough time last year — season 3 started filming just a month before the actor's very public break-up from Olivia Wilde began making headlines — and who among us does our best work when we're under extreme stress? Whether fans were delighted or disappointed by season 3 (and I suspect there are millions who loved it), Ted Lasso brought viewers lots of happiness over the last three years, so let's say farewell (for now?) by focusing on the positive, just as Coach Lasso would.

Ted Lasso's first 10 episodes are a nearly perfect season of television. The show introduced American viewers to wonderful actors we may have never gotten the chance to fall in love with: Hannah Waddingham, Brett Goldstein, Jeremy Swift, Juno Temple, Nick Mohammed, Toheeb Jimoh, and Phil Dunster, who will forever hold the "Best Line Reading of 2021" title for this moment in season 2:

Ted Lasso season 2 grab

AppleTV+ Phil Dunster in 'Ted Lasso'

Ted Lasso gave Apple TV+ its first honest-to-goodness hit series (sorry, The Morning Show!), providing the nascent streamer with the momentum it needed to keep cranking out original shows. You'll never be able to convince me that Ted Lasso's success didn't allow weirdo little Apple TV+ gems like Servant and Dickinson to stay on longer than they might have without it. And it certainly gave the streamer leeway to shell out for other expensive-but-worth-it gambles, including Severance and Silo. Oh, and 2023 might be the year that Harrison Ford receives his first-ever Emmy nomination, thanks to Shrinking — a feel-good comedy co-created by none other than Lasso writer/actor/producer Goldstein.

Even at an epic 76 minutes long, the season (series?) finale, "So Long, Farewell," was not without its pleasures. I'll never argue with a group of grown men performing an homage to The Sound of Music, as AFC Richmond did after Coach Lasso's final practice. There was some classic Lasso wordplay ("You stay put, Trenthouse Magazine"), and the adorable image of a nervous greyhound wearing a tiny little helmet to protect against errant penalty kicks. And yes, Colin sharing a celebratory kiss with his boyfriend (Sam Liu) on the field during the post-victory melee hit me right in the tear ducts.

Ted Lasso

Apple TV+ Jason Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt on 'Ted Lasso'

The story itself served as a tidy wrap-up for the series, should Apple TV+ allow its golden goose to fly away. Ted goes back home to America and his son, Henry (Gus Turner). Goldstein's Roy Kent takes over as AFC Richmond's manager, working alongside Nate and Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt), who stayed in London with his true love, Jane (Phoebe Walsh). Waddingham's Rebecca sells 49 percent of the team to Richmond's devoted fans, and presumably lives happily ever after with Matthijs (Matteo van der Grijn), the handsome single father she met in Amsterdam.

There are certainly spin-offs waiting to be spun — like Keeley's plan for an AFC Richmond women's team — but let's not forget that beloved Ted-ism from season 1: "With the exception of the wit and wisdom of Calvin and Hobbes, not much lasts forever." And as Coach Lasso might say, there ain't nothing wrong with that.

Season (series?) finale grade: B-
Series grade: B+

Sign up for Entertainment Weekly's free daily newsletter to get breaking TV news, exclusive first looks, recaps, reviews, interviews with your favorite stars, and more.

Related content: