Tussling with a sensitive racial issue on the comedy "Better Off Ted" are, from left, Malcolm Barrett, Portia de Rossi and Jay Harrington.
By Rob Owen Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
In these days of overpaid, unethical business executives and economic meltdown, there's something cathartic about ABC's "Better Off Ted," a comedy with a jaundiced view of the American workplace and the very notion of "corporate responsibility."
Set in the offices of Veridian Dynamics, a behemoth conglomerate, this single-camera, laugh-track-free comedy is the funniest show ABC has birthed in quite some time. The promos might remind fans of the late, great "Andy Richter Controls the Universe" and with good reason. Not only do the shows share a sense of humor and a supporting cast member, but also they were both created by writer Victor Fresco.
On "Universe," the unfeeling corporate employer was a presence. In "Ted," the cold, heartless realities of office-cube culture is the focus.
Good guy Ted (Jay Harrington) runs research and development for Veridian, assenting to the demands of tightly wound boss Veronica (Portia de Rossi) when she orders him to "weaponize a pumpkin" or cryogenically freeze a research scientist (Jonathan Slavin, who also appeared in "Andy Richter Controls the Universe").
'Better Off Ted'
Starring: Jay Harrington, Portia de Rossi
When: 8:30 tonight, ABC
If Veronica pushes Ted toward the dark side, co-worker Linda (Andrea Anders, "The Class") pulls him back. She rebels against Veridian by stealing coffee creamer from the break room in retaliation for the company's insistence on tracking the amount of time employees spend on personal phone calls. (Fresco appears to have a keen interest in creamer in the workplace -- it also played a role in an "Andy Richter" episode.)
Ted's team invents a desk chair that's so uncomfortable, anyone who sits in it is less likely to daydream and be more productive, Veronica says, admiring the new product. Linda notes it may also make occupants "more filled with hate."
Satirical, absurd and subversive, "Ted" is a show viewers should be able to relate to if they've ever toiled in an office beneath fluorescent lights and for an uncaring boss.
It's de Rossi's chilly routine that often generates the funniest situations on "Ted." Granted, she's played similar characters throughout her American TV career, beginning with "Ally McBeal," but there's almost a robotic innocence to Veronica that sets her apart. She's sort of the female counterpart to Sheldon (Jim Parsons) on "The Big Bang Theory."
When Ted brings his young daughter to work one day, Veronica is shocked at the value of having a child in the room to quiet a screaming boss or a tearful, just-fired employee.
"You are very effective at getting people to control their emotions. That is a huge asset," Veronica tells the girl after she holds her, like a shield, between herself and an angry superior.
ABC has a years-long losing streak when it comes to ratings for comedies, and "Ted" may not necessarily change that -- especially airing behind low-rated "Scrubs" -- but at least the network is better off creatively than it has been.