"Better Off Ted" is the latest effort from Victor Fresco (who has previously worked on "My Name Is Earl" and "Andy Richter Controls the Universe".) The ABC series, which was recently renewed for a second season, stars Jay Harrington ("Desperate Housewives") as Ted, a research and development officer at Veridan Dynamics, a conglomerate, much like United Technologies or GE, where there's nothing that is essentially off limits from creating - even if completely misguided or insane - if it means a potential profit. "Turn Pumpkins into weapons? We can do that." Meat grown in a test tube may not be responsive to pain, but it does respond to music.
He's guided from the top by Veronica (Portia De Rossi), an ice queen whose pursuit of profit means that, somewhere along the way, all manner of morality was thrown out the window. In the first episode, she decides to deep freeze an employee to see if a new product works on him. When asked why he's being punished, he's told that it's not a punishment, but an honor.
Ted's also joined by Phil (Jonathan Slavin, who was on "Andy Richter Controls the Universe"), and Lem (Malcolm Barrett), two scientists whose intelligence is matched by their ability to be awkward and bumbling. Finally, Linda (Andrea Anders, "Joey") acts as the romantic interest for Ted and the voice of reason in a world where the idea of profit has replaced reason entirely.
The series sort of takes the GE-related humor of "30 Rock" and adds a few big scoops of "Dilbert". The result is a series that has really terrific moments, but takes a little time to get going. Harrington's straightforward manner isn't entirely suited for comedy, but he works well enough with the material. The series is not rapid-fire humor (although there are some terrific one-liners - when a test subject is asked about what a new mystery meat tastes like, he responds, "despair"), but is more an example of building up larger gags. For example, a series of alarms in the research labs are revealed to be an employee who just wanted more break time. The show's best gags are really funny, but the show does feel as if it's pulling back a little at times - hopefully the second season can go a little darker (cutting back on the often chipper score would benefit) and be a little punchier (as one could go a bit further with the material.)
The series could also tighten up some of the gags a bit, but there are some that connect in splendid fashion, such as one episode where Ted has to take his daughter to daycare. The Veridian daycare worker tells his daughter that painting today will involve painting the lines in the parking lot. Horrible? No, no - she informs Ted that this is instead innovative (later in the episode, one of the little children is working as the office janitor.) The entire episode shows the different ways having Ted's daughter around effects the office - Veronica, for example, finds that having the kid around is a great shield from potential arguments.
While "Better off Ted" isn't without a few minor problems, I actually appreciated the series a little more on DVD. I do hope the series takes its jokes a few steps further in the second season, but otherwise this is a show with definite potential.
• Season 1
1 1-01 18/Mar/09 Pilot
2 1-02 25/Mar/09 Heroes
3 1-03 01/Apr/09 Through Rose Colored HAZMAT Suits
4 1-04 08/Apr/09 Racial Sensitivity
5 1-05 15/Apr/09 Win Some, Dose Some
6 1-06 22/Apr/09 Goodbye Mr. Chips
7 1-07 05/May/09 Get Happy
8 1-08 23/Jun/09 You Are the Boss of Me
9 1-09 30/Jun/09 Bioshuffle
10 1-10 14/Jul/09 Trust and Consequences
11 1-11 21/Jul/09 Father, Can You Hair Me?
1-12 11/Aug/09 Jabberwocky
13 1-13 11/Aug/09 Secrets and Lives
VIDEO: "Better Off Ted" is presented by 20th Century Fox in the show's original 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. Image quality is slightly improved over broadcast quality, as the image seemed a touch sharper and smoother. No edge enhancement, pixelation or other concerns were spotted with the presentation, and colors looked pure and natural. Overall, a fine transfer of TV material.
SOUND: "Better of Ted" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. As one might expect from sitcom material, the surrounds aren't put to much use, nor do they need to be. The majority of the audio is spread across the front speakers, and sounds just fine: dialogue remains clear and clean, and music sounds full and well-recorded.
EXTRAS: Nothing, which is too bad, as a commentary or two from cast and crew would have been fun - hopefully for the season 2 set?
Final Thoughts: While "Better off Ted" isn't without a few minor problems, the series certainly has potential and I'm glad it was renewed for a second season. The DVD set provides fine audio/video quality, but lacks any extras. Still, recommended.