Saturday, June 22, 2013

Smart And Worthy Of Attention, Better Off Ted Season One Illustrated Incredible Potential!

The Good: Very funny, Witty and socially clever, Interesting characters, Funny episodes
The Bad: Only 13 episodes, Portia de Rossi is well-cast, but not given the chance to expand her performance range.
The Basics: Better Off Ted in its first season showed that television could still be funny, make biting social commentary and thoroughly entertain.

Given how many television series’ I have begun and not yet managed to review, I think it is important to note when I watch a whole season of a show and feel the desire to review it right away. Such is what happened with Better Off Ted Season One. After a pleasant time discovering the smart Bert And Arnie’s Guide To Friendship (reviewed here!), my faith in television was renewed by watching the thirteen episodes of Better Off Ted Season One. With only two seasons, it is disappointing that Better Off Ted was not simply released as a complete series set, but the first season is a solidly entertaining, well above average smart series of half-hour comedic episodes.

Better Off Ted probably failed because it was too smart for network television (it was a midseason replacement on ABC in 2009) and it liberally attacked corporate greed and lack of corporate responsibility in the United States. Set in the giant office of Veridian Dynamics, a company that makes all sorts of products with its largely unregulated Research And Development Department, Better Off Ted focuses on Ted Crisp as he negotiates life as a single parent with the pressures of working for an unethical company. Actually, the first season makes minimal use of his daughter, Rose, and builds a relationship conflict for Ted between him and his product tester, Linda, and his boss, Veronica.

Semi-serialized, Better Off Ted opens with Veridian Dynamics, under the direction of Veronica Palmer, weaponizing pumpkins. While Linda objects to the lack of any good that could come from making pumpkins into weapons, Ted goes along with it and it is only when Veronica approaches him about cryogenically freezing the research and development scientist, Phil, does he feel like the line has been crossed. When Phil is frozen and thawed after only a few days, he breaks out in random screaming at meetings. Veronica then works to prevent Phil from suing the company, which puts him back in his place.

Meanwhile, Ted finds himself entirely attracted to Linda, but he refused to get into a relationship with her because he used his one office affair a year prior (with Veronica). As Ted negotiates the two relationships and his relationship with his daughter, Phil and Lem develop various project that usually go horribly wrong in one way or another. A motion sensor at the company malfunctions and stops detecting black people (with hilarious results and commentary) and a computer error erases Ted from the company’s database, forcing him to reapply for the crappy job he has. A biocomputer has a toxic leak, which forces people to share office space and while that leads to a near romance for Lem, it leaves Ted in a lurch as he discovers he can’t stand Linda’s work habits. Ted helps Linda rebel against the company’s lack of an actual green program and in the process inadvertently creates the company’s most talked-about assignment that everyone wants to be on. Father issues come to light with a parasitic hair growth formula and in the season finale, Veronica is outed as a weekend magician’s assistant when Phil and Lem’s new facial recognition software finds images of her on the internet. At the same time, Linda and Ted’s relationship comes to a head when Linda sets Ted up with one of her friends.

Better Off Ted cleverly utilizes fake commercials for Veridian Dynamics to make some of its most biting satirical remarks about the lack of humanity in the corporate policies of many multinational companies. But far from preachy, in its first season, Better Off Ted is consistently entertaining. The show paints a world where people’s talents are put to horrible use and good people work for terrible places because of the economic demands placed upon them. While it is never made explicit, Ted works for Veridian because he has a daughter to support and a future to provide for and Phil and Lem operate in a pure science vacuum, never truly realizing (in the first season) what horrible purposes their creations are used for. Only Veronica seems truly comfortable managing as a pseudo dictator over the “drones.” It is only in the season finale that she reveals that, like Linda, the sacrifices she makes for Veridian Dynamics comes at a psychological price.

The show, predictably because of its name, focuses most on Ted and it is Ted alone who speaks directly to camera, pointing out how the company works and what it means to him. Better Off Ted works because Ted is charming and compassionate (especially to Linda, but to the scientists who work under him as well) and his daughter forces him to consider the consequences of some of his actions. Better Off Ted has a tight network of regular characters and in the first season, the principles are:

Ted Crisp – A middle management single parent who has father issues and resents his ex-wife, who abandoned him and his daughter to go out and save the world. He is good looking and a fast-thinker and he quickly comes to regret that he used his one office affair (he doesn’t want to be known as the guy who sleeps around) on Veronica before he found himself ever charmed by Linda. He reluctantly starts bringing his daughter Rose to Veridian Dynamics’ daycare program and is miffed when Linda reunites with her ex-boyfriend, arguably because he won’t make a move on her. He tries his best to keep things professional with Linda and even tries to get along with her boyfriend. To that end, he begins spending more time with Veronica, including selling wrapping paper with her to benefit Rose (who doesn’t want the help as she is trying to avoid the stigma of beating the girl in the wheelchair at school). After a team effort is made to save his job following a computer glitch, Ted discovers that the good old days at the company weren’t when he befriends the over fifty crowd. And after trying to reconcile with his father, he helps Linda create a green rooftop and he has a pretty wonderful date with one of her friends,

Veronica Palmer – The boss of the entire division that Ted runs, she is responsible for marketing the creations Lem and Phil create and that Ted’s team develops. She is initially cold and efficient, acting solely as the mouthpiece for Veridian Dynamics and its ruthless corporate/economic agenda (The Company loves its money!). She manipulates Ted into making uncomfortable, productivity-increasing chairs and Lem into not suing the company after two janitors knock over his cryogenic tube. She reluctantly lets Linda try to be friends with her and returns to her authoritative position during the office-swapping mess. She is shocked when her father, the head of a rival company’s equivalent department, arrives and announces he has only a year to live. After bluffing her way through the Jabberwocky debacle, she is revealed to be a highly sexualized magician’s assistant, which is how she navigates her life at Veridian Dynamics,

Phil - One of the two hard scientists at Veridian Dynamics in Ted’s division who is actually focused on, he works very closely with Lem (who is his best friend when they are not vying for authority over their laboratory). Married, he agrees to be frozen for science, even though it has terrible consequences (for about three episodes). He helps the black employees when they rally against the racist motion detectors and is horrified when the syringe game he and Lem play results in Linda getting drugged (through the adhesive medical strip they use after she is inadvertently injected with a clean syringe). He gets pissed when Ted joins the basement Medieval Fight Club and he and Lem are demoted to jesters there. After it is revealed that he did not graduate from MIT, he works to restore his status at the office and his self-confidence,

Lem – Phil’s partner in the laboratory, he is much more confident than Phil and has had a few disastrous office affairs in the past. Lem’s ethnicity becomes an issue when the office’s motion sensors stop detecting black people, forcing him to be accompanied by a dimwitted white kid. He helps develop the somewhat horrific beef without cows and is isolated for a while when Phil’s celebrity over being frozen goes to his head. He works hard to rectify things with Linda after she is drugged and he rebels against Ted infringing upon the Medieval Fight Club. He is forced to reveal to Phil that he only wears glasses to look smart and he uses the office shuffle to try to get close to a charming scientist, but when he uses a thought-influencing device on her, another person takes advantage of the situation and he remains single,

and Linda Zwordling – The head of product testing in Ted’s division, she resists the company’s authority by stealing coffee creamers. The sole act of defiance brings her to Ted’s attention and they spark with instant chemistry that both resist. She, in fact, reunites with an ex-boyfriend in order to resist Ted and his charms, despite the fact she wants Ted more than she wants to be with the guy she is with. She is drugged and becomes super peppy and rallies to save Ted’s job when the computer boots him from the system. She annoys Ted when they work in the same office and rejects Veronica’s attempts to use her as a scapegoat when a cologne attracts hornets and results in a lawsuit (a problem she e-mailed Ted about, though he claims she did not). Unable to continue stealing creamers, she pushes to be a part of the Veridian Dynamics greening program (which they talk about, but refuse to execute) and Ted gets her a rooftop garden budget. When her friend, Rebecca, seems smitten with Ted, she comes to realize the depths of her own feelings for him.

The characters work as well as they do because of the impressive cast assembled for Better Off Ted. Led by Jay Harrington (Ted), Better Off Ted has a cast that is perfect for the roles they play. Portia de Rossi is, unfortunately, evidence of amazing casting as opposed to great acting as she essentially plays Veronica as her Ally McBeal character with a twist of humorous, but seemingly clueless, deliveries she made famous as Lindsay Bluth on Arrested Development. She is easily working within her established niche, but she does it so well it is hard to complain. Andrea Anders is more than just a pretty face as Linda; she has a great sense of comic timing. Though it is Jonathan Slavin and Malcolm Barrett steal virtually every scene they are in in the first season as Phil and Lem.

Like so many shows cancelled before their time, the first season of Better Off Ted is smart, funny, and well worth the attention of anyone who likes wonderful comedy.

For other works with Portia de Rossi, please visit my reviews of:
Arrested Development - Season 4
Arrested Development
Ally McBeal


For other television and movie reviews, please check out my Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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