I’ve moaned and whined and complained about ABC’s programming choices this year–DAIIIIIISIEEEEES!–but I have to give credit where credit it due: they brought back low-rated-but-brilliant comedy Better Off Ted. Although Ted’s boss at multinational polyfabricator congolmorate Veridian Dynamics would likely claim that giving credit where credit is due is what got this country into a financial crisis in the first place.
Better Off Ted is like that–a pointed look at corporate politics and life that manages to be both spot on and slightly askew at the same time. We’d like to liberate lab slaves Lem and Phil from a company so horrible it tries to weaponize pumpkins and grow cowless beef, but then who would we have to laugh at? In these troubled financial times, most of us would either walk over our grandmothers to work for a company as soul-free as Veridian Dynamics or are grateful we already do. All the more reason to laugh at our corporate overlords behind their backs, and luckily, Ted has lots of laughs to spare. NEW episodes starting tonight on ABC at 9:30 Eastern and Pacific.
Remember last week when Veridian Dynamics valued individuals? That was before they decided to respond to low employee morale by allowing workers to decorate their cubicles. Actually, that’s too risky–before decorating workers’ cubicles for them, in one of four special themes: cat people, space people, classic car people, and Green Bay Packers people. Enjoy your new individuality!
If, like me, you admire Mad Men‘s craftsmanship but sometimes find it a downer, cue up this episode of Better Off Ted as an antidote. Watching Ted squirm uncomfortably while hanging out with a sexist, swinish older generation he’s courting because they’re the only demographic who doesn’t love him is funny, but it gets even funnier as you remember that Ted’s a pretty big shark. It’s just that corporate malfeasance has changed its face. At least in Ted’s day, it’s become funny.
The last Veridian Dynamics commercial of the season: “Veridian Dynamics. Teamwork. It’s a beautiful thing. In business, it means working together for a common goal. X-rays show that when people work together, they’re happier, and less likely to do something weird. Veridian Dynamics. Teamwork. It keeps our employees gruntled.”
If that’s the last Veridian Dynamics commercial ever, I’ll be quite a lot less than gruntled.
The new Better Off Ted previously scheduled for tonight is being bumped for President Obama’s speech, and Ted’s company has something to say about that. After all, they love their country, but why should they have to do anything to help it?
El Jefe. They’re this funny and moreso each week–won’t you tune in and check them out before it’s too late?
This episode–with an A-plot of Veronica and Ted competing with a dinner with a handsy defense contractor on the line and a B-plot of Lem and Phil accidentally drugging Linda–may have been a slightly lesser outing (a little Linda goes a long way). But a slightly lesser episode of Better Off Ted still has plenty of laughs, particularly in the background details. After Ted tries to buy back all the wrapping paper sold for his daughter’s school fundraiser by warning that the paper causes disease and exposes fairy tale naughty parts, we can see several of his co-workers holding the wrapping paper up to the light. They’re probably not looking for bacteria.
Even better, Ted becomes caught up in the one-upsmanship he’s internalized in the corporate trenches when he bets the aforementioned dinner on his ability to sell more wrapping paper than Veronica. He doesn’t think twice about importing that attitude to daughter Rose (“”Whoever sells the most wins a trip to Disneyland. Second place gets to cry while Rose and I go to Disneyland”) until discovering Rose’s main competition is a girl in a wheelchair. In the midst of all this madness, with Veronica and Ted debating the question of whether not competing equals not treating the disabled the same as everyone else but leaving the audience to question whether their corporate competitiveness is any less crazy, where does Ted send his daughter to school? Eugene Debs Elementary. This show is Ali. And Frazier. And Foreman.
Speaking of the glories of corporate competition, this week’s Veridian Dynamics commercial:
Verdian Dynamics. Competition. Whether it’s animals, or this old woman and baby, fighting to the death, competition makes us stronger. In business, that means better products. Pills that look like candy. Hands that can shoot lightning. And a new generation of hurricane-proof dogs. Veridian Dynamics. Competition. It makes everything better.
Astonishingly, it turns out Better Off Ted is the flip side of an old, successful coin: once upon a time, All in the Family used an all-too-realistic portrayal of the bigot next door to make society laugh at its own unflattering reflection. Better Off Ted is super-stylized–no one on this show lives next door to you–and it’s not going to last as long as All in the Family‘s theme song. But no show today is as adroit at holding a mirror up to society’s foibles.
This week’s entry finds Veridian Dynamics forced to hire white people to follow their black employees around because a newly installed security system simply doesn’t register black people (Legal insists that this is indifference, not racism). While the episode tosses around giggles like Lem’s collective bargaining crew getting stuck on the elevator because the sensor is…indifferent to them and Veronica dismissing Lem’s concerns by trying to make him think he’s won by getting a sensor-free drinking fountain dedicated to black employees, the show doesn’t shy away from the assumptions created by the American Dream. In describing the ludicrous “hand out white guys” solution VD has come up with, Lem bitterly notes that his personal white guy has a new job because he ”was born with the God-given talent to trigger a light sensor.” That’s the kind of human capital that’s gotten the melanin-challenged ahead for decades, and isn’t that the American Dream? If you just work hard enough and better yourself by learning the skills necessary to trigger a light sensor, you deserve all the good things that come to you. Thanks, Veridian Dynamics–I’ve been railing against racism for years, but you’ve made it so clear that I’m wrong! As your commercial points out, just the thought of that makes me smile:
Diversity. Just the thought of it makes these white people smile. We believe everyone works best when they work together. Even if they’re just standing around. Just like we enjoy varieties of foods, we enjoy varieties of people. Even though we can’t eat them. At Veridian Dynamics, we’re committed to a multiethnic workplace. You can shake on it. Veridian Dynamics. Diversity. Good for us!
Bless your little heart, Better Off Ted–you are likely not long for this world. Which is a shame, because we are enjoying your dry wit (and appreciating how you’ve cut back on Ted talking straight to the camera). There’s a good deal of wisdom here, such as translating time into creamer-based units of measurement, or the idea that you should not name the affront-to-God food you’re growing in a lab or you won’t want to eat it later. The greatest wisdom, however, is in valuing the relationships forged in the hell that is the corporate world. The attempt to split up Lenny and Carl…I’m sorry, the research team of Lem and Phil reminds us of why we keep crappy jobs: the paycheck. Oh, and the fact that our co-workers are the people we spend most of our time with, the people we share our secrets with, our postmodern family. And that postmodern family is sitting down to a dinner of cowlessmeatgrowninalabloaf that tastes like despair and cold mac and cheese that makes you blind.
What we might miss most, however, are the opening commercials for Ted’s company, Veridian Dynamics, that open the show. Reminiscent of real plastics and chemical companies trying to convince consumers they’re not destroying the environment and our genetic code, each has been a little gem of passive-aggressive sarcasm.
From the pilot: “Veridian Dynamics: Every day, something we make makes your life better. Power. We make that. Technology. We make that. Cows. Well, no, we don’t make cows. Although we have made a sheep. And medicinces. And airplane engines. And whatever this is. And all sorts of things. Veridian Dynamics. Every day, something we make makes your life better. Usually. Veridian Dynamics. Life. Better.”
From this week’s episode: “Veridian Dynamics. We’re the future of food. Developing the next generation of food and foodlike products. Tomatoes…the size of this baby. Lemon-flavored fish. Chickens that lay 16 eggs a day. Which is a lot for a chicken. Organic vegetables chock-full of antidepressants. At Veridian Dynamics, we can even make radishes so spicy that people can’t eat them. But we’re not. Because people can’t eat them. Veridian Dynamics. Food. Yum.”
Veridian Dynamics commercials. Snark. Yum.
Victor Fresco, creator of ABC’s new corporate sitcom Better Off Ted, was also behind the late, lamented Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and it shows. Both shows feature a tightly-wound ice queen of a boss (Portia de Rossi here), battles against bureaucratic idiocy, witty voiceovers (intoned in the new show by Ted, played by Jay Harrington), and Jonathan Slavin. All of those things are very, very good.
While Ted is less loony than Andy Richter and more stylized and over-the-top than The Office (even Dwight Schrute never decided to freeze a co-worker), it offers a high chuckles-per-minute ratio compared to most network sitcoms these days. Having Ted speak directly to the camera is going to get tiresome, but the show is a nice tonal match to lead-in Scrubs, has an appealing cast, and can mine a deep vein of ludicrous product demands (metal you can eat!). It’s probably going to follow highly verbal siblings like Arrested Development to the scrapyard, but we’ll enjoy watching them weaponize pumpkins until they go.