Review: ‘Ted Lasso’ ends in heartwarming fashion with ‘pitch’ perfect finale

WTOP's Jason Fraley reviews the 'Ted Lasso' finale

After saying goodbye to “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” last Friday and “Succession” and “Barry” on Sunday night, it’s time to bid farewell to “Ted Lasso” on Wednesday — or should we say, “So Long, Farewell.”

That’s the title of the series finale, which dropped at midnight on Apple TV+, meaning some folks stayed up late to watch it and are dragging tail at work right now, while other fans are savoring it to watch when they get home.

I was among the former crowd, so let’s just say that I have more coffee in my veins right now than popcorn butter. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil anything for you fine folks, except to say that, for me, it was a “pitch” perfect finale.

I was admittedly worried during the opening scene, fearing that the writers had lazily taken the low-hanging fruit of a subplot that they had smartly avoided all along (it would have ruined the entire series). Thankfully, the writing team was one step ahead of viewers, laughing all the way with us.

The rest was everything you could want from a sitcom finale with character arcs wrapped up in satisfying but unexpected ways. The Nate redemption arc. The Jamie Tartt and Roy Kent bromance. The Rebecca and Keeley friendship. The Rebecca and Ted employer-employee respect. Ted’s fatherly resolution.

The on-field action of the big game between AFC Richmond and West Ham was the exciting culmination of years of soccer sequences. It’s hard to write an underdog sports finish that’s triumphant (“Major League” winning on a bunt) but realistic (“Rocky” going the distance in defeat), yet “Ted Lasso” threads the needle for the best of both worlds. There’s even an American football fan mocking European football, only to feel left out.

It had all of the accoutrements. Just as “Mary Tyler Moore” ended with “It’s A Long Way To Tipperary” and “Seinfeld” gave us Green Day’s “Good Riddance,” “Ted Lasso” delivers Cat Stevens’ “Father and Son,” which is pretty perfect when you think about it. Most importantly, the finale drops several laugh-out-loud lines (I snorted at certain Broadway musical banter). Heck, there’s even a hint of a potential spinoff that I would 100% watch.

Surely, your reaction to the finale will depend on your overall take on the third season. I clearly disagree with critics who have (unfairly) savaged this season. Somehow it became cool for contrarians to hate on Ted on his way out the door, revealing a cynical groupthink that is perhaps a function of binge-watching advanced screeners of the episodes months ago, rather than experiencing it week-to-week like normal humans relishing the escape from life’s problems.

It’s blasphemous that Season 2 has the highest Rotten Tomatoes critics score (98%) compared to Season 1 (92%) and Season 3 (80%). To my eyes, Season 1 was clearly the best of the bunch, boasting a refreshing optimism and a cohesive closure that could have ended right there as a self-contained entity and I would have been fine with it.

While I appreciated the darkly introspective nature of Season 2 with Ted’s panic attacks and therapy sessions — let’s call it the “Empire Strikes Back” of this sitcom saga — it unfortunately got too edgy for its own good with an awkward romantic subplot that fancied itself as progressive when really it was regressive (and a fireable offense), not to mention several standalone tangent episodes that wowed cinephiles but probably alienated audiences.

Many of these same critics who loved the first two seasons destroyed the third season right out of the gate, almost out of spite. I agree that Season 3 spun its wheels for the first five episodes with the contrived arrival of the divine “Soccer God” Zava, who proved to be a distraction to both the team on screen and the writers off screen. However, after the team took a much-needed trip to Amsterdam, I found the final seven episodes to be wonderful.

Episode 6 (“Sunflowers”) gave us Ted’s “Total Football” epiphany and Rebecca’s houseboat meet-cute; Episode 7 (“The Strings That Bind Us”) saw Keeley push back against Jack’s love bombing; Episode 8 (“We’ll Never Have Paris”) proved Keeley’s feminism by not apologizing for a leaked video; and Episode 9 (“La Locker Room Aux Folles”) saw Colin come out of the closet, revealing Isaac wasn’t mad that he was gay, but that he didn’t tell him.

Such social progress is easy for coastal critics to take for granted. If you’re trapped in an insular Twitter bubble writing for prestigious publications in New York or Los Angeles, these social themes don’t seem as progressive because you live with this evolved mindset every day. Good for you, but this show made huge strides for the masses at home who have never seen a show with macho athletes sharing their feelings like Diamond Dogs.

It’s important for average folks to see Rebecca call out Rupert’s “Super League” boys club of old white male money in Episode 10 (“International Break”), stiffing her ex-husband’s advances after a boardroom food fight. Likewise, it’s good for all of us to see Beard offer Nate a second chance in Episode 11 (“Mom City”), revealing that Ted showed him similar grace after stealing his car years ago. Forgiveness isn’t just divine; it’s the Ted Lasso way.

And so, let’s forgive the critics who knock Season 3 and its pitch-perfect conclusion. It’s the closest thing we’ll get to a heartwarming sitcom finale in today’s cynical world. There are plenty of shows with brains (“Succession”) but not enough with heart (“Ted Lasso”), so the courage comes in honoring them equally (yes, that’s a shameless “Wizard of Oz” reference, but Coach Ted loved such homages during his own “no place like home” discovery).

Thank you, “Ted Lasso,” for comforting us during a depressing pandemic. Thank you, “Ted Lasso,” for being the antidote to our jaded society. And thank you “Ted Lasso,” for teaching us all an important lesson: “It’s not about me. It never was.”

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Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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