Better Off Ted: “Jabberwocky” and “Secrets and Lives”
Posted by therebelprince on August 13, 2009
“So, it’s a lie?”
“We prefer to think of it as a dream.”
– Ted and Veronica
Thus endeth the first season of Better Off Ted, a show which has remarkably obtained a second season in the face of overwhelming odds – and I couldn’t be happier for it.
This week not very much actually happens: both episodes are quite singularly focussed, so we get some solid performances but the time seems to pass very quickly. In the first, “Jabberwocky“, Ted’s desperate attempts to please Linda see him fake a project, which then gets extended around the office in an “Emperor’s New Clothes” scenario. Soon, every middleman in the company is fascinated by the project they weren’t included on. Ted and Veronica’s eventual presentation, attempting to ambiguously market the non-existent “Jabberwocky” is very funny. 30 Rock would probably have given us a bit more humour from the faceless corporate masses themselves, but without that it’s still pretty funny. We get to see Veronica and Ted playing around with all the meaningless bureaucratic words and then – awesomely – doing a choreographed dance number. It’s the highlight of the two episodes, undoubtedly.
This episode was produced early on in the season and held back. I’m not sure if they weren’t happy with it, but I think perhaps the show’s re-emphasis on the Ted/Linda relationship was needed going into the second half of this finale. The relationship is certainly centre stage in “Secrets and Lives” (or at least, slightly offstage cheering on Veronica). While Linda plans to move in with her boyfriend, Ted has just got a girlfriend in Linda’s friend Rebecca (Rachelle Lefevre). It’s a tale as old as time: the minute Linda has made Ted happy, she realises that it hasn’t made her happy. It takes us into the second season with the tables turned a little, but in truth both Linda and Ted know they want the other. How do you keep this going without destroying the whole format to start a relationship? Well, I suspect that the answer is simple: as no one is watching season 1, season 2 will have to essentially start from scratch. Not retracting the characters and situations, but certainly taking things back to a simpler, more formulaic level at least until the audiences catch on.
Lem and Phil don’t get a lot to do this week, but there’s a few standout moments. The first is when we learn that Lem’s mother hates when he disappoints Ted! And the second is Phil discovering that an identical man, Byron McNertnee, is living a life filled with parties and women. It turns everything Phil knows on its head: his looks haven’t held him back, his lack of confidence has! (Of course, I’m sure if he ever meets McNertnee, he’ll learn that money has something to do with it.) I can’t believe that Jonathan Slavin has stayed off my radar so long, but he’s certainly my favourite thing about this show. (Not that there’s a weak link in the cast).
And Veronica devotes herself to the life of a magician’s assistant, when she sneaks away each weekend to perform with Mordor (Mark Deklin). Both episodes this week have seen Portia de Rossi dancing on stage: I wonder if this is some secret fetish she’s been indulging? I love, incidentally, that everyone in the front row of the show is wearing ponchos. Again, I’m not sure if this development will contribute to Veronica’s character next season, but it was nice to see a non-corporate side of her, even if it makes me wonder a little bit how she’s remained so cold and sterile even in a performer’s lifestyle.
Anyway, in the end I think these episodes were solid if not overwhelmingly funny. The show is going to have a tough climb next season to somehow win the audience, but it’s so rare nowadays for a network to actually devote time and money to a first-season flop, that I hope it gets the praise it deserves. The temptation will exist to add more office characters, but I think they need to stay in a recurring capacity like Dr. Bhamba (Maz Jobrani). We’ve already got 5 standout actors, each of whom has been given great material some of the time. As long as the show avoids overly using the Ted/Linda relationship, I can’t offer much other constructive criticism. The show has been solid throughout its entire season, but they should definitely look to the strongest episodes, like “Racial Sensitivity”, for an idea of the kind of comedy that will get them noticed.
I’ve really enjoyed the debut season of Better Off Ted. It’s a great cast, capably led by de Rossi and Jay Harrington, but also admirably backed up by Slavin, Malcolm Barrett, Isabella Acres and Andrea Anders. I’ll be back for the show’s second season, and hopefully a few others will be too. May Veridian Dynamics grow and prosper, and its staff along with it.
* Did Portia de Rossi really do that James Earl Jones impression?
* It’s nice to see Rose used appropriately in “Secrets and Lives”. She gets a couple of nice scenes and some good lines, without being overpromoted.