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Jason Sudeikis in "Ted Lasso," (Season 3, Episode 1) premiering March 15, 2023 on Apple TV+.

Jason Sudeikis in Ted Lasso.APPLE TV+

Is it better to quit at your peak or wait until you’re fired? That’s the question at the heart of Ted Lasso third season, back on March 15. But while Apple TV+’s answer to Ned Flanders grapples with that thought, it’s also applicable to the show itself heading into what star Jason Sudeikis has confirmed is the planned final season.

Hot off 11 Emmy wins, including back-to-back Outstanding Comedy victories, expectations are high for these final 12 installments. Ted Lasso’s first season was the sunshine pandemic-fatigued viewers needed in 2020. The second season, however, took bigger swings and expanded with new faces and deeper character explorations. Those decisions may have set the groundwork for a more nuanced and long-term show, but they also steered the series into darker territory.

More importantly, those narratives shied away from the underdog sports story people initially fell in love with. Enter Season 3, which may be the redemptive run fans need.

In the first four episodes made available to the press, the story returns to its soccer roots now that AFC Richmond has been promoted back into the Premier League. There they face an uphill battle against 19 more seasoned teams, including West Ham, where new owner Rupert Mannion (Anthony Head) has enlisted Lasso betrayer Nate Shelley (Nick Mohammed) to manage the team to victory.

Right away there are all kinds of new rivalries in place (Rupert versus Hannah Waddingham’s Rebecca, Ted versus Nate), and the show returns Richmond to its underdog status: fictional critics across London agree the team will come in last place. Cue the rally cry from greyhound fans across the city.

That’s plenty to drive the season, but it isn’t enough for Ted. While others urge him to care more, he questions why he’s still in London while his son is back home. The growing discourse on whether Ted is a good coach is valid: He’s a great leader who has pulled Richmond together, but he’s never gotten into the game like fellow Diamond Dog Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) or studied it like Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt). When one of the biggest players in the world announces he’s coming to the Premier League, for example, Ted has no idea who he is.

When the team was still learning to come together, it needed a player’s coach like Lasso. But in the bigger, shinier league, “Wonder Kid” Nate and his tactical methods may prove stronger. This season it’s increasingly obvious the players can still benefit from gentle guidance, but they are also leaning on one another in an emotional way that wasn’t possible back in Season 1. Without any fire from their coach to fuel them (or himself), his club exit feels inevitable. They’ve had the moral victory, but now it’s time to play some soccer.

Which leads back to that initial question: Is it better to quit at your peak or wait until you’re fired? The series has subverted expectations before, so perhaps there’s a different end in store. On a more meta level though, Ted Lasso has already come to its own conclusion in choosing to go out on a high.

Open this photo in gallery:
Cristo Fernández, Kola Bokinni, Toheeb Jimoh and Billy Harris in "Ted Lasso," (Season 3, Episode 1) premiering March 15, 2023 on Apple TV+.

It’s a pun-filled season with fun cringe, big laughs and even bigger stakes.Colin Hutton/APPLE TV+

Perhaps that’s why so much of Season 3 feels like a return to the game-focused glory of Season 1. In the first four episodes, there are more matches than in all of Season 2, with larger crowds, higher stakes and more extras that reflect an Emmy-winning budget. Those who want more of that tense, sports movie vibe will be happy, particularly heading into the anticipated match in Episode 4: AFC Richmond versus West Ham.

Viewers in it for the character camaraderie and workplace comedy will also be pleased. There are fewer internal team conflicts early on this season, as the show hones in on external threats (the press, rival teams). That allows this cast, which has grown comfortable with the show’s upbeat, slightly cartoonish tone, to exude that effortless chemistry so many series strive to achieve.

The female friendship between Keeley (Juno Temple) and Rebecca continues to deepen. The comical, if not co-dependent, relationship between Beard and Lasso thrives. Operations manager Leslie Higgins (Jeremy Swift) is beloved by the club for his weird energy. And even former bad boy Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) has turned a corner, growing into a more mature team player who occasionally gets on with Roy.

That comfort level also allows the season to introduce new, exaggerated characters in a more realistic way, while incorporating fan favourites such as Trent Crimm (James Lance) in new roles.

It’s a pun-filled season with fun cringe, big laughs and even bigger stakes, adding up to the promise of Ted Lasso’s strongest season yet. Now that’s how to quit at your peak.

New episodes of Ted Lasso are available to stream on Apple TV+

Special to The Globe and Mail

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