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2014/05/25

Better Off Ted

by Jav Rivera

What makes us fall in love with a television series? Is it how quickly we relate to the content? Is it the quirkiness of the characters? Is it the all around production value? Sometimes these questions don't matter when you first start watching a series. You're just hooked, and if you're lucky enough to have the entire series on hand (borrowed DVDs, Netflix, etc.), then you have the power to mass consume during a weekend marathon. But when you tell a friend why they might like it, those questions come to the forefront. And you have to ask yourself, "Why was I so hooked?"


"Better Off Ted" was an ABC television series created by Victor Fresco, who also created the under-appreciated series "Andy Richter Controls the Universe." Though "Better Off Ted" only lasted two seasons, these days two seasons is a huge accomplishment. Even series with famous actors get cut within half a season nowadays. It's all about numbers. Ironically, the company within "Better Off Ted," Veridian Dynamics, deals with numbers as well. Veridian Dynamics is a science-based company that offers solutions based on their clients' needs: things you probably never thought you needed, such as lightbulbs that burn incense.

The main protagonist of the show is Ted, played by Jay Harrington. He's the senior vice-president of the research and development department. His supervisor, Veronica, played by Portia de Rossi, is less ethical, which often puts Ted in tight corners. But his guiding light is his daughter Rose, played by Isabella Acres. She's often the voice of reason to an already good guy. She's there in case Ted ever slips into the shady territory that Veronica thrives on. Rose basically takes the place of a good wife, since her mommy (Ted's ex-wife) "left for Africa to save the world" as Ted tells people.


Like Veronica, the show also thrives on shades of gray. Ted's science team includes Phil and Lem, played by Jonathan Slavin and Malcolm Barrett, respectively. Many times these two geniuses are so focused on what they're developing that they forget to think about whether or not their creations should even exist. And that's where Linda comes in. Linda, played by the lovely and hilarious Andrea Anders, is technically a product tester, but more often than not is also an overly-opinionated employee. She questions everything Veridian Dynamics does and, like Rose, helps Ted keep the company's bad decisions from hurting others. She doesn't always succeed, but often helps our hero find a healthy compromise.

L-R: Andrea Anders, Jay Harrington, Portia de Rossi, Malcolm Barrett, Isabella Acres, and Jonathan Slavin
But that's what the show's about. My initial question still remains: what makes us fall in love with a television series? For me "Better Off Ted" hits everything I like about TV: quirky characters, unusual story lines, great actors, relatable situations, and excellent production.

There's quite a mixture of characters sharing the same space within the show. It helps to maintain a variety of personalities. These aren't all the similar versions of one flat character, which many shows get away with. "Better Off Ted" houses characters that shouldn't blend, and yet the writers make it work.

Throwing the seemingly straight man Ted into "curvy" situations isn't a new idea. But having the straight man be the head of an eclectic team that must pave their way is. And the writers make the process fun enough to feel fresh, no matter the situation.

And fortunately for the writers, "Better Off Ted" was cast perfectly. I can't imagine replacing any one of those actors. Portia de Rossi is best known for her incredible work on "Arrested Development", but here she gets to play with a very different type of personality. The rest of the cast are pretty much unknowns, though many will seem familiar. But no matter - when you have a great group of actors, who cares if they're famous? The main cast play their parts believably and with just the right amount of charm and comedic timing. The first episode, in particular, did a great job of showing off Jonathan Slavin's facial expressions. How exactly do you direct an actor to show your fear, pain, and excitement while being cryogenically frozen? I'm pretty sure Slavin had to figure that out on his own.

His partner and friend Lem (Malcolm Barrett) is a perfect counterpart. Though Slavin's character, Phil, and Lem are similar lab rats, they both have very different backgrounds. Phil's frightening marriage versus Lem's nonexistant sex life makes for great contrast. Barrett gives Lem the hubris of a genius with the insecurity of a nerd, the confidence of a good friend, but the spinelessness of an employee.

Lem with a curious "red lab coat".
Andrea Anders isn't just a pretty face. She's not afraid to give her character Linda all the necessary ticks, insecurities, strengths, and weaknesses that is needed to make her interesting. Anders takes advantage of even the tiniest of moments to give life to Linda. Sure, she's a pleasure to look at, but it's the way Anders plays her that makes you not want to turn away.

Linda questions Veridian Dynamics...again.
The quality of the cast, characters, and even the production remind me a bit of "Pushing Daisies." And similar to both series, there seemed to be an endless well of ideas. Both, unfortunately, were cut too soon. These shows took odd characters, placed them in normal settings, and threw weird situations their way. It made for great entertainment. Sadly, audiences were slow to respond. Both shows share something even more similar and complimentary: when you find someone who likes one of these shows, they don't just like it - they adore it.

Currently, "Better Off Ted" is available on Netflix. Check it out, and I'd be surprised if you aren't hooked by the end of the first episode. Personally, I watched both seasons, a total of 26 episodes, in less than two weeks. And if I didn't have to go to work, it probably would have been two days.

For more information, visit the show's IMDb page: www.imdb.com/title/tt1235547


TRIVIA: Malcolm Barrett, who plays Lem, is also a rap artist who goes under the stage name Verbal. In his video for "Revenge of the Nerds," the main cast of "Better Off Ted" make appearances.

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