“Mess of a Salesman”
January 26th, 2010
Normally, we tend to view Better Off Ted as a sanctum of comedy genius, a show we measure in terms of how often we laugh more than anything else. Yes, the show has enjoyable characters, but it isn’t a show that we often consider at that level, at least not in terms of the lead in a review of this kind.
And yet “Mess of a Salesman” first brings to mind the word “sweet,” and not in terms of the use of the word as a synonym for “awesome” or “rad.” No, I thought that this episode was perhaps most defined by its sweetness, a winning quality that made what was potentially one enormous sitcom cliché (the no-good brother showing up and making the protagonist’s life hell) into something that never headed down that melodramatic path. While it meant that the episode was less ridiculous than usual, and perhaps less funny than the recent stretch of episodes, it was grounded in a way that shows the versatility to be found in this show’s universe.
By combining its usual corporate satire with some rather positive depictions of humanity and mentorship, the show may have stayed on the rails more than one might like, but I thought it was an enjoyable turn (if not quite the note the show should go out on, should this truly end up its final airing on ABC as is currently scheduled).
“Our True Lies”
“Lust in Translation”
January 19th, 2010
There really isn’t a whole lot substantial to say about Scrubs and Better Off Ted right now. The two shows are effectively dead in the water, and while this is an unfortunate circumstance it isn’t going to change any time soon. However, the best possible compliment I can pay the shows right now is that when I watch them, I’m not sitting there stewing with rage over their impending doom, and instead I just sit back and enjoy shows that make me laugh.
And so, after the break, don’t expect much in terms of critical commentary: it may not quite be a list of lines I found funny, but that probably wouldn’t be a terrible way to approach the shows (especially Better Off Ted) at this point.
“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.
“Beating a Dead Workforce” & “Change We Can’t Believe In”
January 5th, 2010
To define a show based on a single episode is unfair, especially when that episode is as great as Better Off Ted’s “Racial Sensitivity.” And yet, when the show came out of the gates feeling somewhat “off” this year, our collective go-to in terms of expressing our disappointment was lamenting that the show wasn’t reaching the heights of that episode. And while it’s understandable that we would want the show to live up to its best episode, and it’s true that part of the early season struggles (relative to the show’s standards, not comedy in general) have been the result of moving too far away from corporate satire the show does best, I think we need to stop judging Betted Off Ted based on that standard.
Except that we can’t. Watching an episode like “Beating a Dead Workforce,” you can’t help but feel that is an attempt at capturing the same greatness of “Racial Sensitivity,” trying to create another out of control corporate reaction to a particular problem. And while the episode has some great lines, and some enjoyable sequences, it just isn’t going to live up to that episode, so a potentially great episode feels just…solid. And when we get an episode like “Change We Can’t Believe In” that skews too close to basic “A/B/C Plot” Thematic sitcom structure, it’s just a reminder that the show now has two primary modes: a comedy which aims for something novel but feels (perhaps unfairly) just off the mark, and a comedy which delivers a funny take on largely pedestrian stories.
Neither show is bad – in fact, they’re both actually quite good – but neither show is “Racial Sensitivity,” and while I want to be able to get past that and enjoy the last few weeks we’ll ever have with the show for what they are, I just don’t know if it’s going to happen.
“Battle of the Bulbs”
December 22nd, 2009
How far can a show get on wordplay alone?
It’s a question that Better Off Ted seems to really want to answer, because there have been points early in the second season where there hasn’t been any glue to hold the one-liners together. Even the show’s corporate satire has been weaker than usual, as the Veridian Dynamics commercials have entirely disappeared and left behind a solid show with funny character and witty writing but not, unfortunately, the same comic sensation we fell in love with earlier this year.
And “Battle of the Bulbs” doesn’t fundamentally change this trajectory, although it works harder than past episodes at tapping into the show’s strong points while also managing to feel more cohesive. However, there is still something missing here, something that shows that Victor Fresco’s attempts to push the show outward from its first season bubble has largely proved an inconsistent experiment that relies heavily on the characters involved.
December 8th, 2009
Better Off Ted came out of nowhere. It was a mid-season comedy on a network that didn’t do comedy, from the creator of a previous comedy that everyone liked but very few people watched. There was nothing inherent in its premise that really drew me in, and while its cast wasn’t bad on paper it didn’t seem like something that I would actively tune in to see on a regular basis.
And then I watched it, and it was one of my favourite new shows of the year.
The show was never even close to a hit, pairing with Scrubs and drawing decent but uneventful ratings. And then, after a surprising renewal, the show’s remaining first season episodes were burned off in the dead of summer to even worse ratings. It was a strange journey through the show, but through it all my love for the show carried me through.
And yet, Better Off Ted returns out of somewhere. It returns with expectations from viewers and critics alike who fell in love with the show, and it also emerges on a network that does do comedy and actually draws quite spectacular ratings for said comedy. As such, the stakes are now significantly higher, and debuting against the Biggest Loser’s finale and airing out of a deflated Scrubs is not going to help matters.
“Love Blurts” is a solid episode of the show that suffers based on these expectations, as I spent much of the episode imagining how the situation the show was presenting would have been better if they had done this, or implemented that, or gone back to past episodes and did what they did there. The show has become its own curse, and it leads to a premiere that kept me at a distance while doing more than enough to remind me why I missed this show and why I will continue to suggest it to anyone and everyone.
“Jabberwocky” and “Secrets and Lives”
August 11th, 2009
In its first season, Better Off Ted was not so much a revelation as it was a pleasant surprise. Kept for midseason with nary a bit of hype, the show caught on with critics, and despite never connecting with mass viewers developed a cult following that earned it an against the odds second season. Of course, ABC then chose to air the remaining episodes from its first season as part of its summer lineup, a lineup which was dreadfully received and has seen numerous cancellations. In short, Better Off Ted might as well have been better off dead as opposed to airing during the summer, raising some questions about how the show could perform when it returns in November.
But what really captures me when watching Better Off Ted is that I don’t really care about all of these behind the scenes shenanigans – at the end of the day, this a very sharp comedy series with a host of likeable characters and clever storylines, and at no point did I find myself lamenting its strange route to this place when enjoying the two episodes that conclude the show’s first season order. I don’t think either episode was perfect, each having a few issues here or there, but the show is just so much fun that I don’t really think about all of the reasons not to get too attached, or to raise concerns about the show’s trajectory.
Instead, it’s six episodes of comedy I thought I wouldn’t see until DVD, conveniently placed in the summer months when nothing else is on.
“Trust and Consequence”
July 13th, 2009
The truth of the matter is that Better Off Ted’s summer ratings have been less than impressive, and that the consequence is that the show likely isn’t making much of an impression heading into its second season in the fall. However, right now, I don’t care. The real truth of the matter is that the show remains absolutely fantastic, with a laugh ratio that most comedies can only dream of.
“Trust and Consequence” was another example of the show’s ability to take one idea and run with it. This wasn’t an episode that was about a particular series of plotlines, but rather one event that creates logical consequences that are all quite humorous, with jokes piling onto jokes in a way that makes the conclusion where everything comes to a speedy end feel both clever and like leaving a great story while its quality is still high.
I don’t have too much to say, but some thoughts after the jump.
“You Are the Boss of Me”
June 23rd, 2009
I realized when preparing for this post that I have never written about Better Off Ted before here at Cultural Learnings, which means that I am officially “part of the problem.” Suffering from fatigued ratings, but bolstered by critical raves and strong network support, Better Off Ted left the airwaves having aired about half of its 13-episode order to an uncertain fate that thankfully (and surprisingly) ended in a second season renewal with a return at midseason paired with returning Scrubs. Then, bizarrely, ABC decided to burn off the remaining episodes of that order in the summer instead of holding them over to air at midseason.
Dan Fienberg has a big discussion of all of that logic (short form: it helps the show fit into the window being provided at midseason, plus ABC isn’t the brightest network around), but right now I just want to rectify what has been a poor oversight on this part. I’m sure I’ve told anyone who asked that Better Off Ted was the sharpest new comedy of last season, arriving without much fanfare with a top notch cast, a humorous setup, and one particular hilarious episode (“Racial Sensitivity”) with which non-fans can easily be turned into converts (which ABC has smartly made available for FREE on iTunes, in both Canada AND the U.S. even), but unfortunately I’ve never taken the time to really sit down and write about the show.
So, a few months too late, let’s take a look at why Better Off Ted, and “You Are the Boss of Me” by extension, presents a case for the show’s high quality.