Better Off Ted – “The Impertence of Communicationizing” and “The Long and Winding High Road”

“The Importance of Communicationizing” and “The Long and Winding High Road”

January 12th, 2010

It might just be that we’re reaching the home stretch of Better Off Ted’s rushed second season, or that news this morning that ABC isn’t officially cancelling the show just yet has provided a false sense of hope, but tonight was the first set of episodes where I rarely felt myself comparing the show to its finest moments, or feeling like the show was missing opportunities. I don’t think it’s because “The Impertence of Communicationizing” and “The Long and Winding High Road” were perfect episodes, but they had a nice rhythm to them that didn’t create dead zones which could make them feel complacent, and they dealt with concepts (word play and one-upmanship) that the show has always gotten some great mileage out of.

In fact, if you were going to levy a single criticism of the double-header, you could perhaps argue that the episodes were almost too similar to one another, placing Ted as the moral centre amidst an environment more willing to engage with the low road. However, the show never places too much of each story on Ted and Ted alone, which allows the comedy around him to remain the star, and on that front the episodes offer enough diversity and hilarity to come out a winning pair.

What makes “The Impertence of Communicationizing” work as an episode is that it is based on a joke about words, and that is a thing which Better Off Ted is good at. Hell, the episode would be worth it alone for the genius of “Lembasted,” “Philibusted,” and “Teducated,” so there’s really no room for complaint. However, the episode did some other things well also, including running a few good ideas from the memo which read that “Employees must NOW use offensive or insulting language in the workplace.” On the one hand, you have Ted’s refusal to endorse the policy raising issues of his control problems, and on the other you have Phil trying to learn how to throw out insults – both stories feel like they fit their respective characters, and the show has Linda to help bolster Ted’s story and Lem to assist with Phil. There’s some fun dynamics there, and as noted above the show keeps Ted from being too much of a spoilsport here. Not only does he get to throw out some insults of his own, but his awkward attempt to appear cooler did actually result in a few laughs. And Phil learning that Math truly is there for him whenever he needs it, but also that people who didn’t get the memo and who are carrying water jugs might not be the best target, was a whole lot of fun.

Plus, as this NOT SAFE FOR WORK YouTube video demonstrates, the episode’s word play managed to be pretty funny even without awesome gratuitous swearing as seen here:

I’m a bit more mixed on the Veronica story, which suffered for two reasons. The first was that it didn’t relate enough with the main storyline, as the “it makes me think of another memo” segue to Veronica confronting Walter Palmer (pronounced All-Mer) just didn’t cut it. The second problem is that while I like Chris Parnell, Walter is no Dr. Leo Spaceman, and he can only be one sitcom character in my mind at any one time. However, the story is a fascinating example of when “tell, don’t show” is actually the proper process. By having the storyline be more about Portia de Rossi telling us about the altercations as opposed to experiencing them, de Rossi got to dominate the story with some great dialogue (including her high standards for the Dutch and their giant propellor buildings). No one’s going to complain about that, especially considering the storylines structural concerns, so it really kept things moving (so that the story never felt repetitive, since we weren’t being pulled away so much as Veronica was changing the subject, which considering how easily Ted bores her isn’t exactly a stretch.

“The Long and Winding High Road” was a less quippy episode, and the storylines were more loosely connected, but the show really delivered on two key elements. First and foremost, I think Kyle Bornheimer is really damn funny, and what I saw of Worst Week demonstrated that he’s made for this kind of sitcom setup (and will get his chance to make it work on Alyssa Milano’s Romantically Challenged sometime this midseason on, likely not coincidentally, ABC), so I quite liked him as Ted’s R&D rival Pete. And, secondly, the episode brought together the unholy trinity of Veronica, Linda and Rose in order to scheme against the gravity diaper, which was just as good as one would imagine it would be. Linda and Veronica as a pair is always quite strong, but the storyline created a scenario where Veronica understands how to be manipulative, Linda desperately wants to prove she can be manipulative, and Rose has no idea what it means to be manipulative beyond guilting her parents into doing what she wants. It leads to a great collective, and it helped that her eventual sabotage of the meeting (“That could kill a Jonas Brother”) absolutely killed.

Ted’s story never quite got off the ground, but I liked his inability to take the high road towards the end of their altercations (as the temptation to respond with “going big” is just too great to control) and resist the path to Pansy Town. The Phil and Lem story was unquestionably weaker, as the thermostat breaking didn’t have the word play to keep it alive, but I will admit that I laughed quite a bit at Phil’s “WHAT DID YOU DO BREAK THE THERMOSTAT YES” and the lie that they were keeping it hot in order to keep out the penguins. And the episode as a whole had enough one-liners (including Veronica’s strained attempts to nail a solid joke about the gravity diaper) and a great Veridian commercial (“Right and Wrong. It means something. We just don’t know what.) to help sustain it, to the point where any plot issues felt entirely secondary. The magic seemed to be back, and “She-Gandhi” felt like a drop in the bucket as opposed to an episode highlight (which, with a show like Ted, is a good thing).

During today’s ABC presentation at TCA in Los Angeles, Steve MacPherson (who I generally like) argued that Better Off Ted isn’t a good fit for Wednesday nights (with The Middle in the now empty comedy spot left by Hank). I understand where he’s coming from (the rest of the Wednesday shows are about dysfunctional families/relationships, as opposed to a world without function as we see most often see on Ted), but I think at the end of the day “Funny” is all that matter. ABC has a hilarious show sitting here getting burned off, and they’ve got a spot where this show could get a new lease on life that, even if not much better than the one it currently has, would at least let a few different people learn the show’s name so they can eventually find it on DVD and kick themselves for not watching in the first place.

Zing Bang, MacPherson.

Cultural Observations

  • In my mind, the idea of Bornheimer presenting a product resembling a diaper was a callback to the garbage bag diaper he wore in the Worst Week pilot. Chances of this being intentional: low. Very low.
  • They say 2012 is the end of the world, but 2024 is just as eventful if only for Casual Frigsday. I can do without Car Poop, however.
  • Waving your hands would totally sell ME on “Corpse-Eating Battlefield Robot,” Lem.
  • I like the visual of Pete having his own Veronica, but the story didn’t go too far with it. Makes me wish they could revisit that rivalry in the future…*sniff*. Can we get a new review? This one is covered with sadness.
  • Sometimes I miss things when taking notes, but I’m glad I caught “Janet S. Crotum.” So crude, so simple, so great.
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