So I know last time I said I was going to do a post on the 2005 ABC drama Invasion, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Being a Weird Orange Fish Alien, and trust me, it’s coming soon. In the meantime, however, I thought I’d write up another show I recently fell in love with, only to watch it die a largely unmourned death and slide into the annals of canned TV history. I’m referring to ABC’s genius sitcom Better Off Ted, one of the sharpest and most entertaining shows of recent years. My friend and I had an inside joke in which any time he would say the kind of dumb title of the show, I would start a burst of mock uncontrollable laughter. Stupidly for me, I never actually watched the show to find out that there were plenty of genuine laughs to be had. Then I signed up for Netflix, and found myself watching four or five high-quality, gloriously legal episodes through their watch instantly feature. Why do I always get into these things too late?
Ted takes place at Veridian Dynamics, a technology company with no clear focus, that instead just makes all sorts of weird stuff for the government and for consumers. Examples range from a flesh-stripping remote device designed to peel an orange from another room, but is instead used “to peel enemy soldiers from the comfort of the Pentagon,” to lab-grown beef. At the center of all the silliness is Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington), a seemingly perfect executive who is largely the shows mostly sane center. Around him are a lovable bunch of workplace compatriots, from his boss, the intimidating, driven Veronica (Portia de Rossi), to product tester/romantic interest Linda (Andrea Anders), to socially-inept scientists Lem and Phil (Malcolm Barrett and Jonathan Slaivin). While they make up the core group, there are also a bunch of goofy extra characters to fill in the background (one particularly funny example is a very incompetent scientist named Dr. Bhamba, played by Maz Jobrani). It’s these characters, and the performers that play them, that make the show so darn enjoyable. While Ted is a handsome, well-groomed, confident guy who’s good at almost everything (plus he wears impeccably tailored suits), the show does a nice job of exploring some of the neuroses and insecurities behind his veneer. The same goes for the other characters, who are all varying levels of flawed. Flawed as they are, they’re all pretty lovable. My favorite, and probably everyone’s favorite, are Lem and Phil (you really can’t have one without the other), who almost always have some of the funniest lines and moments in a given episode. Plus, their bickering is priceless.
Pretty much every episode yields at least some good laughs, but I’d have to say there are a few that really stand out as being among some of the funniest half hours or television I’ve seen. Season one’s “Racial Sensitivity” is one of these, where Veridian installs new motion-sensors throughout the building that use light reflected off the body to detect people, which, as it happens, don’t detect black people. Lem, of course, suffers from this, and eventually joins forces with some other black employees to go to Veronica and demand a solution. They also use Phil as the requisite door-opener. In typical BoT style, the solutions the company comes up with get more and more ridiculous, including hiring minimum-wage white guys to follow around the black employees turning things on for them. This in turn proves more costly than just putting in the old system, given that in order to avoid discrimination, they need to continue to hire people to follow around those people, and so on and so forth.
Ted doesn’t always attempt corporate satire, but when it does, it’s pretty damn funny. Probably the episode with the sharpest corporate satire is “Jabberwocky,” in which Ted is forced to come up with a fake project called the Jabberwocky project to cover up for some money he took for Linda’s secret rooftop garden. Since none of the execs, including Veronica, want to admit they’ve never heard of that project, it spreads like wildfire throughout the company, and soon Ted and Veronica are presenting a project that doesn’t exist to a room full of excited people, which mostly features empty buzzwords and flash. But don’t take my word for it, watch it!
Plus, most episodes feature a fake Veridian commercial with some theme related to the episode. For example:
Luckily, ABC was gracious enough to put a bunch of clips of the show up on youtube, so many of these funny little nuggets can be viewed over and over.
So what sank Better Off Ted? Well, despite having solid critical reception, the show suffered low ratings during its whole run. So much so that ABC started burning off season 2 episodes pretty quickly, and didn’t even air the final two. Ted went off the air in January, and was officially cancelled in May. Recently, ABC tantalized fans with the possibility that they might air the final two episodes if the NBA playoffs didn’t need to go to a seventh game. Unfortunately for those fans, it did go to a seventh game, and ABC so far has not announced when they’ll air the last two. My guess? They’ll wait for season 2 to come out on DVD, and make a big schpiel about “two never-before-seen episodes!” or something like that. Its cancellation was recent enough that maybe a strong enough fan response could get it back on, but somehow I doubt it. Add it to the list of great shows cancelled too soon.
So, should it be back on the air? duh, generic question I ask at the end of every post. Ted is the kind of fast-moving, heavily quotable and silly sitcom we don’t see very much anymore. Sure, it had shades of The Office and Arrested Development, but it was original enough to stand on its own. While it may not be the most organic type of comedy, it was usually pretty sidesplitting and definitely worth watching on a weekly basis.
To send us out, here’s some more Lem and Phil hilarity for you:
So tune in next time when I promise I’ll be doing Invasion! Thanks for putting up with my tardiness.