Season 3 of "Ted Lasso" has seriously fumbled the ball.
I'm one of the early converts who raved about the Apple TV's sunny, hilarious mixture of the dark and profane with the light and spirited, several times, in print.
Co-creator/star Jason Sudeikis and Apple might want to reconsider ending the show — which as much as can be in the streaming world, has become a pop-culture phenomenon — on such a flat note of a season, one which has coasted rather than soared, floated rather than kicked, existed rather than thrived.
Why has so much of the drama happened off-screen?
Spoilers below, if you're not caught up.
Nate … what, quit, or was fired? What spurred that, sudden remorse? It can't be he just suddenly realized siding with Rupert was a horrific choice. As Glenn House would say: "You knew it was a snake when you picked it up."
Seriously, I froze that bit, and flipped back to the home screen, sure I'd missed an entire show. Nope. Poor, lazy writing.
It's supposed to be show; don't tell. This season has flipped, literally, the script.
Speaking of redemption: The team decides unilaterally they want Nate back, even though the last time he was mentioned, they turned so furiously angry it probably cost them a win?
Where was that switcheroo-debate? It wasn't shown. Friction's the backbone of fiction. The muscle and bone. The blood, the skin, the coif .... Briefly: Without conflict, you don't have story.
The players spent what seemed like an hour, in an earlier jaunt, deciding whether or not to go to a sex show in Amsterdam — and that tedious, tawdry running gag just kept staying painfully unfunny, like the worst of a later-in-the-night "SNL" skit — but zero time discussing welcoming Darth Nick back into the fold?
Again, spoilers: Richmond is enjoying an unprecedented win streak, on top of the world, seemingly unbeatable. Why would they want to invite a traitor in the mix? They don't need the help, and boy, chunking a bad apple into a healthy barrel seems like a prime mover for bad mojo.
Give that paradisiacal garden a snake! That plot never goes wrong.
A worldwide soccer superstar — Who had never been mentioned before season three, episode two — surprisingly joins Richmond, then vanishes two shows later — off-screen — without valid reason. This flat-dumb intrusive subplot meant less than zero. Why was it even pondered, much less added, wasting remaining show time?
Keely's company funding, and love interest, vanish … off-screen. Roy and Keely hook up again, but are … just friends? When did that happen? Oh yeah. Off-screen.
This may resolve in Wednesday's final episode, but that whole subplot was clumsily handled. They what now? Because she didn't have time to go on vacation? Roy somehow feels he's left her a mess, when Keely's shown (on-screen, for a change) THRIVING more often than not, without him?
A potential new romance, between Roy and Phoebe's teacher, gets teed up, then hung out to shiver in the wind, for … why? 'Cause soul revelations?
Ted's virtually vanished, and the Doc, a stellar and surprising addition to season 2, a real tonic, disappeared entirely. Nick's new girlfriend is a charisma vacuum. A charisman't. Dry humor works in the actor's favor once or twice, but overall, it's a bad draft pick, a nonsensical side trip.
Beard's confrontation scene in the penultimate episode felt powerful, due to Brendan Hunt's intensity. But it could have been far richer had we seen Nick fighting his way back into favor, instead of just crumpling into a mumbling, gellatinous, waiting to be lifted up by his victims.
And truly: MHMP.
Must. Have. More. Phoebe.
Why did "Lasso"'s writer-creators choose this season to start phoning it in? To make separation easier?
It still earns moments ― Roy and Jamie's bro-thing; Rebecca's dressing-down of the Good Ol' Rich Boys (and thank Elvis she didn't succumb to Rupert's serpentine charm, in a moment of weakness; at least they didn't blow that) ― and of course the affection hangover from earlier seasons still abides, but wow, is this season sloppy.
The music continues to be spectacular, including one closer, Brandi Carlile's cover of "Home" from "The Wiz." Please, though, this isn't "Diana Ross's song." It's a song she made famous, but credit writer Charlie Smalls, as Broadway World, seemingly alone among media writing about Brandi's golden cover, has done.
Nothing in this season approaches the earlier melancholic beauty. At the start of season two, viewers virtually bated breath, thinking the surprises of season one couldn't possibly be recreated. Then joy-balloon Danny Rojas (Cristo Fernández) delivers a powerhouse free-kick that bizarrely slams the team's mascot Earl — a greyhound, snapping its leash to chase a bird — and yow. Futbol is death.
At that point, the show turned a Mary Tyler Moore-esque miracle, in the vein of "Chuckles the Clown is dead!" Ted brings it around in a press conference, talking about a dog that attacked him when he was 3, giving him crying fits about canines. But when the wife of the dog's owner passes away, in overweening grief, the old man forgets to take care of Hank. Ted takes it on himself to look after the mutt, take Hank on walks and such, and eventually adopts him when the old man moves into a nursing home. About a year after, Ted ended up grieving his old assailant, when they have to put him to sleep. The dog, not the old man.
At this point, most of us stopped wondering if the show still held sentimental magic. Ted says:
"It's funny to think about the things in your life that can make you cry, just knowing that they existed ... can then become the same thing that make you cry knowing that they're now gone.
"I think those things come into our lives to help us get from one place to a better one."
Season two introduced more of Ted's woes, hidden artfully beneath golden crust, from unresolved issues with his father's death, and the dissolution of his marriage.. His immediate distrust of Dr. Sharon (Sarah Niles) and psychiatry in general is a tad obvious, but the payoff, again, worked. At least, it did in season two.
The arc set then will wind up Wednesday, no doubt, with Ted quitting the team — probably after they win it all, because the sunny side's still up — and moving back home to spend more time with his son. Grief isn't over, but he may be able to leave some over there.
But season two did all the heavy lifting.
In a hard moment, Ted gave those bereft the advice he needs to heed himself: "… there is something worse out there than being sad, and that is being alone and being sad. Ain't nobody in this room alone."
Roy, reluctantly dragged into a double-date by Keeley, who became odd-couple pals with Rebecca, turned truth cannons on as his former employer's date says goodnight: "He's fine. That's it. Nothing wrong with that; most people are fine. But it's not about him. It's about why the (expletive) you think he deserves you.
"You deserve someone who makes you feel like you've been struck by (expletive) lightning! Don't you dare settle for 'fine.' "
His nemesis Jamie began to open up about the badgering dad, for whom nothing was ever enough. When the kid finally decked the belligerent dad, one of the show's rare "Rocky" moments, we expected Ted to step up and serve as sub-pop. Beard gave the bum the, uh, bum's rush, but it's Roy who strode across the room, as always looking as if he's ticked off at the atmosphere he must shove through, and wrapped Jamie in a hug.
Where's that show, this season?
I'm not betting against this last episode being a banger, based on the "Lasso" momentum.
And parts of season three — Roy and Jamie, moments with Rebecca — have been fine.
But they said it themselves: Don't you dare settle for fine.
We deserve an ending that makes us feel like we've been struck by lightning.
Reach Tusk Editor Mark Hughes Cobb at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on The Tuscaloosa News: Ted Lasso, season finale Apple TV, third season | MARK HUGHES COBB