Change is afoot in “Ted Lasso” Season 3, but one plot point in the early episodes is enough to shock the characters into silent horror: Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Keeley (Juno Temple) have broken up.
The opposites-attract couple got together in Season 1, after Keeley broke up with AFC Richmond’s resident cocky pretty boy Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) and found herself both attracted to and appreciated by the older team captain Roy. It’s a romance that viewers at the time didn’t necessarily see coming, but rooted for passionately once it became a possibility. Roy and Keeley dealt in honesty, maturity, and support. Roy was the antithesis of Jamie’s early-20s bravado, and with him Keeley relied on the keen emotional intelligence and bright ideas that Jamie overlooked in her. The couple didn’t let a few road bumps stop them from pursuing something special, because they recognized that a working relationship is not necessarily a circumstance, but a choice.
In Season 3, they choose wrong.
After an awkward and open Season 2 ending, the couple confirms in Episode 301 that they are in fact broken up, by way of breaking the news to Roy’s niece Phoebe (Elodie Blomfield), who asks the million-pound question: “Why?”
The explanation is thin at best, and you can see that on Roy and Keeley’s faces. Admittedly, the nuance of adult relationships may not translate to a 10-year-old, but that nuance isn’t laid out for viewers either. Roy and Keeley aren’t together because of reasons that even a child can poke holes in, and after fumbling through the scene they continue on having parted ways. The best plot twists in TV sometimes feel inevitable, but this one feels manufactured just to raise the stakes in Season 3.
Performing double duty as actor and writer, Goldstein told IndieWire that showrunner Jason Sudeikis comes into each season with a clear vision for story beats and arcs. Goldstein found Roy and Keeley’s breakup “very, very, very difficult” as part of the cast and the fan of the show — but as a writer, he knew his job was to get to the road markers laid out by the executive team, and earn them.
The will-they/won’t-they is a hallowed TV tradition, and “Ted Lasso” could be paying tribute or joining the ranks in its own way, subtly pushing Roy and Keeley into the company of Sam (Ted Danson) and Diane (Shelley Long) or Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel (Jennifer Aniston). But that tradition and the TV comedy style that inspired it are all but archaic now. More recent comedies like “Parks and Recreation,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” and “Superstore” had characters in a central romance get together and stay together. Temporary breakups — even in the “Friends” and “Cheers” era — happened for a reason, which Roy and Keeley literally do not have.
It’s an oddly novice move for an otherwise refined and decorated series. Historically, the weekly sitcom had minimal plot continuity, and a romantic angle helped hold audience interest or place the show timeline. The form has evolved to give far more credit to viewers and multiple interwoven storylines across episodes and seasons, including romance. “Ted Lasso” has enough going on with a new player (Maximilian Osinski) and old enemies (Nick Mohammed and Anthony Head) that there’s no need to break Roy and Keeley up arbitrarily, just to create tension. A small salve is that Jamie hasn’t immediately swooped in to create a love triangle — his abrupt declaration of feelings for Keeley was a Season 2 low point — but expressed concern and support for Roy during these trying times.
“Roy’s sort of tragic,” Goldstein told IndieWire. “He had all these feelings that he’s never fuckin’ accessed. He spent his whole life suppressing every feeling he ever had other than rage — that’s the only one that got out. And then he falls in love. He’s cracked open by Keeley and Ted, and all these fucking feelings are pouring out of him, and he can’t cope. He doesn’t have any skills to manage these things. I think, sadly, he feels he’s not worthy of love or happiness. So he’s a bit self destructive and shuts down things that would make him happy, That’s relatable and difficult and heartbreaking.”
Goldstein certainly knows more about Roy and the rest of the season than the rest of us at this point, and using the breakup to examine his character’s penchant for self sabotage could be promising. But until that’s acknowledged, “Ted Lasso” fans will continue to stew in Phoebe’s haunting, unanswered question: “Why?”
New episodes of “Ted Lasso” premiere Wednesdays on Apple TV+.