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STUDIO: 20th Century Fox
MSRP: $23.49

RATED: TV-MA
RUNNING TIME: 299 min
SPECIAL FEATURES:

  • Nothing
  • Zip
  • Zilch

THE HUMANS

Jay (Desperate Housewives, Summerland) Harrington, Portia (Arrested Development, Ally McBeal) De Rossi, Andrea (The Class, Joey) Anders, Jonathan (Andy Richter Controls The Universe, My Name Is Earl) Slavin, Malcom (Luis) Barrett


It always came back to this.  Despite over $2 billion in grosses worldwide, it was obvious that the Academy and studios would never take him seriously until he “proved” himself as filmmaker.  That meant one thing. It meant tackling the most complex and delicate of genres.  It meant Japanese tentacle porn. 

THE PITCH

You know what would’ve made Andy Richter Controls The Universe Even better?  100% less Andy Richter!


THE NUTSHELL

Casually evil megacorp Veridian Dynamics infringes on the morals and dignity of its employees for our amusement.


At his first screening of  白人の侍少女と千男根の獣,  Randall learned that hentai was something of an acquired taste.  It helped nothing that he had already pledged his remake would be live action and done solely with practical effects.


THE LOWDOWN

No matter what you think of the last decade (personally, I think it could lose a few pounds and tends to get shouty when it drinks), it’s hard to deny it was good time for sitcoms.  Sure, several great ones got axed too early (Undeclared, Arrested Development, Andy Richter…), but we also got a few that turned out better than they had any right to (How I Met Your Mother, NBC’s The Office, The Big Bang Theory), and a few that tried genuinely new things with the format and pushed the laughs-per-minute ratio to unprecedented levels (30 Rock, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, and I don’t care if it’s young, Community).  Better Off Ted has to a large extent been lost in this shuffle, possibly because it either owed so much to or was overshadowed by all those shows.  It’s creator Victor Fresco’s second run at the basic concept of Richter, and some people seem to think De Rossi is recycling elements of her Lindsey Bluth role here, although I see it more as a female riff on Alec Baldwin’s uber-company man, Jack Donaghy, than anything else. You also have prominently featured science nerds, narration that never becomes as integral or distinctive as HIMYM or Arrested‘s, and corporate satire that eschews the universal tedium of The Office for an absurdism that 30 Rock had recently staked a big, splashy claim to.


Casting a female lead proved more difficult than with previous projects…


It’s a shame that Ted didn’t find an area where it could stand out, because it’s a very funny and remarkably consistent show. Ted (Harrington) is suave, good-looking, funny, and hyper-competent at his job as middle manager in the R&D department of the casually evil technology company Veridian Dynamics.  On any given day, Veronica, his icy shark of a boss (De Rossi) might task him with weaponizing a pumpkin, cryonically freezing an employee, or preventing an employee from suing the company after being cryonically thawed.  He does this mostly by babysitting super-scientists Phil (Slavin) and Lem (Barrett), who function as both old married couple and surrogate children for the other characters to herd and reassure.  Doing the company’s bidding sometimes leads to the disapproval of love interest Linda (Anders), and his young daughter Rose (Isabella Acres), whom Ted raises alone.  This never lasts long, however, as he is a fundamentally decent guy.


…but there’s an answer for every problem.  Rehearsals started nearly on schedule.


Maybe even a little too decent.
Ted is an odd choice to carry such a kooky sitcom. He’s smart and thin
and handsome and not married to a disproportionately attractive and
understanding lady, for starters.  His employees revere him as both a
cool boss and father figure (Phil: “He’s like a god, except it hurts
more when he judges us”), and he’s a great dad to his actual daughter. 
He’s also the only worker who Veronica, who holds the rest of the office
in a state of perpetually terrified awe, grants a level of respect. 
He’s like the anti-Michael Scott, or Don Draper without all the vaguely sociopathic shadings. The Linda
character has similar issues, albeit to a lesser degree.  She’s so cute
and smart and decent that what quirks they work into her character come
off as a sane person’s reaction to an insane environment rather than actual flaws. 



The investors were vocal about concerns with the budget and creative direction in the early going.  But upon examining the first production stills, they reached a consensus of “cautiously aroused”.

The show initially seems to set up the premise that Ted’s conscience would come in conflict with Veridian’s “Money Before People” motto (“It’s engraved right there on the lobby floor,” Veronica muses, “it just looks more heroic in Latin”), but he’s so good at his job he invariably whips up a win-win solution that doesn’t compromise him ethically or professionally. The leads are so perfect from the jump, they limit the potential for traditional stories.  There just isn’t much room for them to grow, and any conflict that pops up feels light and toothless even by sitcom standards.


Me, I’m not so cautious.  


What saves the show is a combination of strong performances and very sharp comedy writing.  This means even without the heart that marks, say, NBC’s entire Thursday night line-up, it always works as a consistent and efficient gag delivery system.  And when it’s firing on all cylinders, such as the season highlight, “Racial Sensitivity”,  it’s absolutely killer.  That episode starts with the company remodeling the office with motion sensors that don’t register black people, then gets really offensive (and funny) when they attempt to smooth things over.  I don’t know when the show got picked up for a second season, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was immediately after this episode first screened. 



Ballooning production costs threatened to shut down the picture before it even got started.  Luckily, James Cameron had just finished his own interspecies erotica/big-eyed cartoon lady epic, and was generous enough to donate his leftover sets.


The MVP is undoubtedly De Rossi, who in a just world would have a breakout character and Emmy nomination on her hands. She carries the show briskly over any dull patches the too-good-to-be-true-ness of the leads threatens to create, and somehow lands her character (just shy of an actual supervillain on paper) in an oddly likable place.  Harrington acquits himself nicely as the straight man while still earning his share of laughs.  A lot that credit has to go to the deft writing, but there’s plenty to go around. The rest of the cast all put in good work even when their material veers toward the stock, which isn’t all that often.

Better Off Ted is a sitcom that passed me by during a time when I found myself following a surprising number of them.  But now I’m off to Hulu to catch up on Season 2 episodes*, and while I’m knocking off a point for the lack of features, I’m also scoring the set out of a number Veridian’s accountants created for tax purposes.  So I guess I’m now a fan.


After months of hard work and sleepless nights, being snubbed by the Oscars, the Globes, and SAG Awards stung.  But it also made the coveted Bronze Bong from the 12th Annual Douglas County Film Fest and Fajita Round-Up all the sweeter.


THE PACKAGE

Nothing to speak of.  I mean, literally nothing.  It’s a snap case with no special features whatsoever, unless you count optional subtitles.

THE SCORE

8.0 OUT OF ZERPLEX

*Some quick internet recon reveals 1) the handful of S2
episodes I saw are at least as strong as the ones I just finished
praising, and 2) the following very funny, very NSFW outtakes from
what’s probably the best of them.  Somehow, this episode made it to air
completely clean: