Complete First Season
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Reviewed by Will Harris
s we stand on the cusp of 2010, here’s a question for you to ponder: if someone had come to you at the end of the previous decade and told you that, in ten years time, ABC would be the home of some of the funniest comedies on television, would you have believed them? Probably not – and more importantly, your feelings on the matter probably wouldn’t have wavered much over the next several years. Although the network has certainly been home to some hilarious shows over the years, they haven’t exactly had a reputation for coolness with their comedies. But then, that’s what eight seasons of “Home Improvement” and the “TGIF” line-up will get you. At last, however, ABC has finally reached a point where they’re keeping up comedically with their peers, thanks to “Cougar Town,” “The Middle,” and “Modern Family.”
Oh right, and “Better Off Ted,” too.
When “Better Off Ted” premiered earlier this year, it was paired with “Scrubs,” and as sitcom couplings go, they could’ve done a heck of a lot worse given that both series have lead characters who more or less talk to the audience. Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington) is the head of research and development at Veridian Dynamics, and he addresses the camera directly throughout the show – not in a mockumentary way, but more like “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” without a studio audience. As Ted walks the office halls, he gives us the inside scoop on everything that’s going on at the company and in his personal life. Though when it comes to the latter, there isn’t much to tell: he’s divorced, he’s got a daughter, and that’s about it, really.
Well, actually, that’s not entirely it. Ted has a major thing for Linda (Andrea Anders), a member of the company’s testing department. Not only is she cute as a button, but the aforementioned “thing” is mutual. So what’s keeping these two consenting adults apart? Well, it seems that Ted has a long-standing rule that he’ll only allow himself one office affair, and he already used that on his boss, Veronica (Portia de Rossi).
Bad call, dude.
Although these elements may have you thinking that “Better Off Ted” is a pretty standard sitcom, it’s actually one of the more clever comedies to come down the pike in recent years. In addition to providing the always-enjoyable opportunity to make fun of business goings-on and the workplace in general, the scientific experimentation of Phil (Malcolm Barrett) and Lem (Jonathan Slavin) within the Veridian Dynamic labs lends itself to some seriously strange goings-on. Regular viewers of Fox’s late, great “Andy Richter Controls the Universe” could probably recognize Victor Fresco’s touch on this series a mile away, but while that series featured a great deal of fantasy sequences, “Better Off Ted” ostensibly takes place in the real world. Okay, so maybe it’s not that real, since most businesses probably couldn’t convince one of their scientists to be cryogenically frozen for a year, but they do get a lot of mileage out of the various creations that come out of the lab.
In truth, though, the funniest episodes of “Better Off Ted” are the ones which mock the aspects of the office that are more universal. The best of these is “Goodbye, Mr. Chips,” which finds Ted accidentally deleted from Veridian’s computer system, a cock-up which requires him to have to start from scratch and re-apply for his own job, but there’s also a great mockery of political correctness in “Racial Sensitivity,” in which the company’s new computerized security system doesn’t acknowledge African-Americans. As noted, we don’t get a great deal of acknowledgment of Ted’s outside life, but on the rare occasions that we do, as in “Through Rose Colored HAZMAT Suits" (his daughter Rose comes to the office) and “Win Some, Dose Some” (he tries to help Rose win a school contest), the results are just as funny. In “You Are The Boss Of Me,” we even get a glimpse of what the scientists do for after-work fun, though what we really learn in the end is that bosses and employees shouldn’t mingle outside of the workplace –
or in the basement.
Given its eccentricities, it’s nothing short of a minor miracle that this show managed to find enough of an audience to earn a second season, but looking back at “Better Off Ted: The Complete First Season” and being reminded how hilarious it was, all we can say is, “Bless you, ABC!”
Special Features: None, which may be the most stunning bonus material omission of the year, given that the series received a pick-up for a second season. The only possible explanation for offering a set that’s 100% devoid of special features – aside from cheapness, of course – is that Fox didn’t decide to release it until the very last second and didn’t want to risk taking the time to add anything extra, lest it not hit stores until after the premiere of Season Two. It makes good business sense, but for fans, it blows.