Americans don’t have a great track record of embracing sophisticated deadpan comedies.
But during depressing economic times, there are two things Americans want to do most (besides feed their families and keep their homes): laugh, and confirm their suspicions that large corporations are evil.
ABC’s new satirical workplace comedy Better Off Ted accomplishes both — which is why it might actually survive.
Created by Victor Fresco (Andy Richter Controls the Universe) Better Off Ted stars Jay Harrington (Private Practice) as Ted, a moral man working in the R&D department of an immoral company, Veridian Dynamics. Out actress Portia de Rossi (Arrested Development) is his morality-free boss, Veronica, Andrea Anders (The Class) is his co-worker and love interest, Linda, and and Malcolm Barrett (My Best Friend’s Girl) and out actor Jonathan Slavin (Race to Witch Mountain) round out the cast as Lem and Phil, respectively, two of the lab’s bickering, disgruntled scientists.
Ted draws from the same awkward-humor well that shows like Arrested Development and The Office do, but is more fast-paced, and more over-the-top, which might help it draw a bigger audience.
At Veridian Dynamics — a company that makes everything from food products to bioweapons — employees are used as test subjects, the daycare center is used as a labor pool, and private phone calls are tracked and reported just so employees know the company is watching them.
“Can a company be bitchy?” Linda asks, as millions of Americans who have worked for large corporations shake their head yes. (Linda’s revenge against the company? Stealing creamer.)
Ted asks Linda to create an intentionally uncomfortable chair, cryogenically freezes Phil, and brainstorms ways to weaponize pumpkins. (Why? Because, Veronica informs him, “there’s a country with whom we do business that grows a great deal of pumpkins, who would welcome additional uses for them. As well as cheaper ways to kill their enemies.”)
Ted and Veronica
As always with shows like this, the devil is in the details, the writing, and the timing, and Better Off Ted has all three down almost perfectly — from the fake Veridian Dynamic commercials and Ted’s monologues to the camera, to Veronica dropping in and out to deliver marching orders and Phil and Lem bickering as over minutia like office lunch etiquette and who gets to wear the hazmat suit during a biohazard drill.