Veronica: We want to weaponize a pumpkin.
Ted: Then so do I. (pause) Because?
The short version: Do you miss Arrested Development? Watch Better Off Ted.
The long version:
NBC Thursdays have a creeping nice-ification happening. In it’s first and second seasons, Parks & Rec used to have it’s character meet actual challenges of small town politics, now it’s twee. The Office, fresh from the BBC’s Xerox machine, was much rougher and ruder but has mellowed out over the years, into an equally feel good comedy. And Community and 30 Rock have always centered around the oddball but happy relationships of friends-of-circumstance becoming close.
So in Better Off Ted, it’s nice to see a sitcom with a bit of bite to it. Reminiscent of how Arrested Development made fun of the rich and backbiting families, Better Off Ted makes fun of evil corporations and the different ways its employees have to kowtow to its desires.
In the first 7 minutes of the pilot, each of the 5 main characters gets a solid introduction and a minor plot is developed and completed: the invention of an office chair so uncomfortable it prevents daydreaming or boredom (until the user snaps and does who knows what). The other 16 minutes of the episode deal with the personal choices each character must made when the company, Veridian Dynamics, asks of it’s employees ‘to cryogenically freeze or not to cryogenically freeze?’ The pilot is well plotted and enjoyable on both fronts.
And now for the critiques:
The pilot pushes the Linda/Veronica love triangle pretty hard for the outset. This could have bubbled up showly over the course of a few episodes, but instead Ted basically beats them both back with a stick. It’s just laid it on a bit thick for a pilot.
Also, for me the character of Ted, played by Jay Harrington, is too much of an unfunny straight guy. But I have the same gripe about Josh Radnor who plays the “I” in How I Met Your Mother. Is it a rule that the titular character has to be boring? Or just characters named Ted? Michael Bluth/Jason Bateman handles the straight man role well while still being a funny & an interesting character.
One glaring and, at times, annoying crutch is the show’s reliance on letting Ted talk straight to the camera as a way to push through exposition. It’s telling, not showing, which makes me feel like I’m being shortchanged by the series. It’s forgivable for the pilot but overuse later on will earn tsks. (Though AD & HIMYM have similar crutches so its not that unusual.)
But, bottom line, the series is incisively funny either standing on it’s own, or while watching it through the lens of someone fed up with greedy corporations.
(The full series of Better Off Ted is now streaming on Netflix.)