Thursday, 29 July 2010

Better Off Ted 1.1 / 1.2 - 'Pilot' / 'Heroes'

Better Off Ted debuted in the UK Tuesday night on FX, and although I’m somewhat late with a review, my thoughts on the opening double bill are coming up, just as soon as I figure out how to weaponize a Pumpkin…

I’d heard good things about Better Off Ted and while I wasn’t exactly blown away by the show it had enough laughs to ensure I’ll be back for a second visit to Veridian Dynamics next week.

It’s an odd feeling when a show has already been cancelled in the US but a UK channel picks it up anyway and gives it quite heavy promotion, because you have that trepidation that if you do fall in love with the show and the characters that you’ll only have a very small window of time in which to enjoy them.

Nevertheless, Better Off Ted is a satirical and very silly look at how working for a stereotypically evil giant corporation affects the daily lives of its employees.

The show reminds me very much of Andy Richter Controls the Universe which is not much of a surprise as it was created by the same man: Victor Fresco (the shows also share a cast member). Much like Richter; Ted’s ‘out-there’ humour is obviously something you either get or you just don’t; ultimately it would seem that much of America did not get Ted, or Richter for that matter. You have to feel for Fresco a little.

Ted Crisp our leading man, played by Jay Harrington, is our guide through the shady world of Veridian. Ted is head of the company’s research and development department and is boss to scientists Lem and Phil (Richter’s Jonathan Slavin & Malcolm Barrett) and head of testing Linda (Andrea Anders of Joey ‘fame’). Ted’s boss is Veronica Palmer, a no-nonsense ball-buster played brilliantly by Portia de Rossi.

There is also Ted’s young daughter Rose, who effectively acts as his moral compass, when he tells her about his day at work Rose always manages to help Ted see what the right thing to do is.

The first episode ‘Pilot’ dealt with the company trying to weaponize a Pumpkin, which gave us a great insight into some of the ridiculous experiments Veridian are in to. The Pumpkin project was soon put on hold though as it was decided instead that they would test out their new cryogenic freezing system on poor old Phil.

Phil reluctantly agreed to be the human lab rat and the freezing appeared successful until he was accidentally thawed a couple of days later. This left Phil with the rather irritating side effect of intermittently making a loud noise like some sort of crazed Manatee.

1.2 ‘Heroes’ dealt with the after effects of ‘Pilot’, which was nice and somewhat unexpected as I expected the episodes to be more stand alone, as Veronica tried to butter up Phil to prevent him from suing the company over the botched freezing. Ted’s department also had the project of creating “Cow-less” beef, which posed a number of problems including the original creation tasting like “despair”.

Better Off Ted was never going to win any awards, even before it got cancelled, but it is a smart, satirical swipe at big corporations and the way they treat their employees and it has enough laughs and one stand-out performance worth watching to keep your interest for 22 minutes.

De Rossi is unquestionably the star here and every time she is on screen you can almost guarantee the biggest laughs of each episode. This is somewhat of a breakout for Ellen’s other half because although she was good on Arrested Development that was a show filled with some of the best TV characters of all time and she rarely got chance to shine.

Here though it is all de Rossi and she definitely makes the most of her chance; it is also refreshing to see the oft portrayed ‘jerk boss’ character played by a woman, which brings another dimension to the dynamic.

As Ted, Harrington is somewhat disappointing, the role could probably have used someone a little more ‘losery’ (like Andy Richter in Andy Richter Controls the Universe) rather than the chiselled Harrington, but that said Ted is the straight man here so the laughs are obviously going to come more from other sources.

The two scientists are as geeky as you would expect and bring nothing new to this type of role we’ve all seen hundreds of times before.

Andrea Anders is the wild card here and I’m interested to see where they go with her character. I’ve always liked Anders, she was probably about the only good thing on Joey, and as Linda she offers an almost shared perspective with Ted whilst still having her own eccentricities.

As with most shows of this nature, the short running time breezes by, punctuated by ‘fake’ adverts for Veridian that appear to usually have a correlation with the upcoming/previous episode.

Better Off Ted isn’t in the same league as some of TV’s current crop of great comedies (30 Rock, Curb, Modern Family) but it is by no means the worst comedy out there (The IT Crowd), not by a long stretch. I saw enough in these two opening episodes to keep me coming back and if you’re a fan of surreal humour then I suggest you do too.

And even if you have no interest in the show whatsoever, I’d recommend watching at least one episode just to see how great Portia de Rossi is.

Better Off Ted airs Tuesdays @ 9pm on FX


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