Network Television was Better Off with Better Off Ted

I have to give Netflix credit: Because of its wide selection of television titles, it’s a great resource for me to find high-quality but short-lived series that somehow escaped my attention when they were originally aired. (This is a welcome change from most television syndication arrangements, where only popular shows are aired repeatedly on channels other than the one that originally aired them.) In fact, it was thanks to Netflix that I found Better Off Ted, a wickedly intelligent satire of corporate culture that aired for two 13 episode seasons on ABC from 2009 to 2010.

Better Off Ted is a half-hour sitcom that takes place in the offices of Veridian Dynamics, a monolithic mega-corporation that engages in all sorts of odd and amoral activities to increase worker productivity and maximize profits, often at the expense of everyone and everything else. The characters consist of the titular Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington), a single father who heads Veridian’s research and development department; Ted’s intimidating, hyper-competitive boss Veronica Palmer (Portia de Rossi); and Ted’s underlings, product tester Linda Zwordling (Andrea Anders) and product development scientists Phil Myman (Jonathan Slavin) and Lem Hewitt (Malcolm Barrett).

While the interplay among the characters provide the plots for the episodes, most of the jokes in Better Off Ted are targeted directly at the behavior of modern-day corporations and their approach to people and science--or, as Lem puts it in one episode, “the place science goes to bend over and grab its ankles”. Throughout the series, various Veridian products become the subject of absurd and dark humor, such as its revolutionary cure for baldness (that is also a parasite) and a sound device that can deliver messages straight into a person’s brain (and can also cause uncontrollable, explosive vomiting when set at high frequencies). In a way, Veridian is less openly violent but just as misanthropic as Omni Consumer Products, the devious military-industrial conglomerate in Paul Verhoeven’s RoboCop. Indeed, notorious mad scientists such as Frankenstein, Jekyll and Moreau would feel right at home in the laboratories of Veridian Dynamics.

I love Better Off Ted and if you love comedy that is smart, sinister and strange, then you should check it out too.


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