Sunday, August 22, 2010

Underrated TV on DVD #12: Better Off Ted

Series: Better Off Ted
Years: 2009-2010, 26 half-hour episodes
Creators: Victor Fresco
Stars: Jay Harrington, Portia DiRossi, Andrea Anders, Malcolm Barrett, Jonathan Slavin

The Concept: Relatively nice people work in the research and development department of a soulless biotech corporation, trying to keep themselves from being compromised by the evil of their bosses.
How it Came to be Underrated: After saddling it with a terrible, meaningless name, ABC dumped it in midseason with very little fanfare. If they had run the second season after “Modern Family”, I’m convinced that it would have found its audience, but instead they burned off the entire season in one marathon month and gave that coveted spot to “Cougar Town”. Damn you, “Cougar Town”!

Sample Episode: 1.4 Racial Insensitivity
Writer: Michael Glouberman
The Story: To save money, Veridian Dynamics installs new motion sensors on every lightswitch, door and water fountain, but they work by reflected light and they aren’t sensitive enough to detect black people’s skintone. When the black employees complain, the company tries to make them happy by giving them separate, manual drinking fountains. For some reason, that just causes a bigger mess.

Why It’s Great:
  1. That plot synopsis should indicate that this was the most shocking and sharp satire on TV since “Arrested Development”. That show also struggled with ratings, but at least it became famous for not being famous enough. This show didn’t even get that level of notoriety. It inherited the wonderful Portia DiRossi and it should also inherit that show’s cult status.
  2. We generally want to see TV shows about good people doing good things, and it’s very hard to generate satire every week without curdling into bitterness, but this show’s likable-yet-culpable characters struck just the right balance: we knew they weren’t ever going to do much good, but we trusted them to try. The actors could move nimbly from broadly-sketched extremes to real human beings and back again as the comedy demanded.
  3. The whole cast is great but the real breakthrough talent here for me was the beautiful, funny, and very likable Andrea Anders. I expect her to become a huge star but it hasn’t happened yet. She’s getting a second chance this fall with “Mr. Sunshine”. Unfortunately, it’s a Matthew Perry vehicle. Here’s how much I’ve fallen for her: I’m willing to give it a shot.
  4. Lots of shows are now trying to find ways to trick you into watching the commercials without selling their soul, but this show did it best, each show would have a Veridian commercial in the breaks, wickedly parodying the corporate double-speak that surrounded it.
How Available Is It?: I’m anxiously awaiting the second season on DVDs, especially since it will debut the final two never-aired episodes, but that set hasn’t even been announced yet! In the meantime the first season is available to watch instantly on Netflix
But Don’t Take My Word For It: Unfortunately, unembeddable Netflix is the only way you can watch this episode online. It’s one of the few episodes ABC.com no longer has posted. Maybe it was a bit too edgy.


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Tom Farley said...

Matt --

Your sister-in-law recommended your blog to me. I couldn't agree more about Better Off Ted; I think it's destined for an Arrested Development-like delayed appreciation, in a couple years or so, once word spreads of how brilliantly funny this show was/is.

I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a Season 2 DVD release.

lthadeo said...

I'm not sure "Ted" would have ever inspired an audience. Its a tremendous show, but its failure is one more example of smart and intentionally odd comedy only having a modest audience. (See Arrested Development, The Unusuals, Pushing Daisies).

Monica Edinger said...

I adored Better Off Ted. I was surprised it made it to a second season only because it was so subversive. It deserves cult status at the least.