Ted, Beard and Roy attempt Total Football. Sam is hounded by the political climate. Keeley needs to learn when to say when, and Jamie has a breakthrough. An otherwise very strong episode of the biggest hit on Apple TV+ is undercut by the series’ usual foibles in the episode, entitled “The Strings That Bind Us.”
Ted Lasso recap: ‘The Strings That Bind Us’
Season 3, episode 7: AFC Richmond’s PR head Keeley Jones (played by Juno Temple) and her new boss/girlfriend Jack (Jodi Balfour) are getting along splendidly and buying each other fancy gifts. (Writers: Please stop making first editions of classic novels a plot point. Nobody buys this.)
Keeley’s excited about this until her CFO Barbara (Katy Wix) hints that it might be a tad unethical for her “boss” to buy her expensive things. Keeley confronts Jack about this the next time she sees her, so Jack does her a solid and announces in front of the whole office that they’re dating. This alleviates some of Keeley’s self-consciousness.
Of course, then Keeley explains all this to AFC Richmond owner Rebecca (Hannah Waddingham). She seems gungho on the idea of Keeley being cared for by a millionaire, but then Jack calls the restaurant they’re meeting at and pays for their bill, and Keeley gets nervous. Maybe she’s feeling a little “kept,” and a little less loved.
Order up! More of Sam’s restaurant, please.
In a subplot this show can absolutely afford to waste time on, Richmond player Sam Obisanya (Toheeb Jimoh) has opened an extremely popular restaurant in London with the help of his head chef (Precious Mustapha). Sam’s nervous because his dad, Ola (Nonso Anozie), is coming to town and he wants to make room for him. (Hey, why not? It’s likely Ted Lasso’s last season. Let’s do this instead of the other plot points this show doesn’t know what to do with.)
The more important thing, the one that actually resonates, is that Sam learns of the latest tirade from an anti-immigrant politician (Lucy Bayler) and tweets about it, igniting a little firestorm of controversy. People start throwing rocks through the window of his restaurant.
Ted’s trippy idea: Total Football
Anyway, Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) hits upon an idea, thanks to a drug trip (or was it?) last week in Amsterdam, that might get Richmond out of the doldrums. The trouble, such as it is, is that the idea already exists. It’s called “Total Football,” and it was invented in the 1970s.
The strategy involves letting go of your emotional baggage and being loose and improvisatory. Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt) gives the team the hard sell on the idea. And even though the players, and usually tough-as-nails assistant coach Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein), think the plan’s nuts, Ted wants them to implement it for this Saturday’s game.
The team is, to put it mildly, not prepared for what Ted, Beard and Roy have in mind. Only Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster), who’s been training hardcore with Roy for the last few weeks (part of his strategy to prove he was every bit the footballer as legendary ex-Richmond player Zava), seems even remotely ready.
Nate wrestles with fame … and it’s not so great
Meanwhile, Nate (Nick Mohammed) is trying to enjoy his life in the spotlight as the new head coach of Rupert Mannion’s (Anthony Head) football club, but he’s finding that a little difficult. He doesn’t want riches and models and fame. He wants to take his favorite waitress, Jade (Edyta Budnik), from his favorite restaurant on a date.
Nate’s still in his beta mindset, so he doesn’t think it’s a good idea. He feels a little confidence thanks to his family’s support, but he can’t just go in empty-handed. So he makes Jade an elaborate gift box. Unfortunately, on the day he means to give it to her, he drops it in traffic and a car crushes it. So he just outright asks her and she says yes.
‘Don’t fight back, fight forward’
The Richmond boys, and visiting journalist Trent Crimm (James Lance), don’t know what to make of the new methods Ted, Beard and Roy are trying out. But they do recognize Sam’s pain when he breaks down crying in the locker room after his restaurant is vandalized. Sam’s dad happens to be visiting that day, and he gives his son some valuable advice: “Don’t fight back, fight forward.”
Sam goes out and plays the game, even though he’s feeling bad, because a word of advice from someone you trust and love can make all the difference.
The team makes a poor showing in the first half, trying and failing to incorporate the new training methods into their game and only succeeding in getting too much into their own heads. That’s when Jamie has an epiphany. Instead of playing as a forward striker, he needs to hang back and support the rest of the team, so they know they can rely on him and each other as well.
This new strategy nets Richmond a point. It’s not enough to win the game, but it gets them responding to each other. So much so that they seize the moment and get together to fix Sam’s restaurant that night.
Some jokes are better than others
Ted makes a reference to the Blue Collar Comedy Tour this week and somehow finds a way to make it not funny, so the writers and Jason Sudeikis deserve some credit for that, I guess. Blue Collar Comedy Tour jokes are like fish in a barrel from the vantage point of 2023. And yet the Ted Lasso writers’ timidity in the face of actual ridicule, and their overwhelming commitment to positivity in all things, makes this an excusable whiff.
Would you listen to someone who earnestly told you they were modeling themselves after Jeff Foxworthy? Be honest.
There is, however, a device at work here that I don’t hate. We see the morning routine of the characters — and some people who aren’t characters, just local color — as a way of showing how much things can change even as everything appears to stay the same. It allows the show’s looseness to become a virtue instead of a weakness.
Some hits and some misses
I think that ultimately the show hit the Sam arc too hard. It’s nice everyone comes together for him, but it’s entirely too on the nose. Still, any excuse for a charming Nonso Anozie supporting turn is OK by me.
I like seeing Nate finally doing something right in his personal life, but I wasn’t particularly wowed by the Keeley stuff. In general, the show’s creative team has done a poor job writing the character. You don’t ever feel like she’s in danger of anything. Like Ted, everything just rolls off her back. How can I be nervous that things won’t work out for her? Also, her problem — her rich girlfriend is too nice — isn’t a problem at all.
Rebecca may as well not have been in this week’s episode, and Roy became a punchline he wasn’t suited to handle. So despite all this episode’s strengths, Ted Lasso still found a way to handicap itself.
Watch Ted Lasso on Apple TV+
New episodes of Ted Lasso season three arrive every Friday on Apple TV+.
Watch on: Apple TV+
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.