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October 6, 2015

Better Watch Those Last Two 'Better Off Ted' Episodes

by Maureen Ryan, posted Sep 2nd 2010 2:00PM
Oh, 'Better Off Ted' and 'Party Down,' why did you have to be so good? You made most other comedies seem leaden and false by comparison.

Fans of 'Better Off Ted' had to put up with a lot during its two-season run, which ended in cancellation. The critically acclaimed show was mostly ignored by ABC, despite the fact that it developed into an increasingly hilarious workplace comedy.

You'd have thought the biggest indignity faced by Ted and the crew at Veridian Dynamics was ABC's cracked-out scheduling of the show (season 2 premiered in December, one of television's most fatal dead zones, and one episode aired on New Year's Day, which is almost the same as not airing at all).

But no, there were more indignities to come. ABC held on to the final two episodes of the show like a corporate executive clutching a bonus check. The network even teased us earlier in the summer by scheduling a tentative airdate for the episodes, which was of course rescinded.

Finally, on Wednesday, ABC put the last two episodes of the show on iTunes and Netflix. No freebies for you, 'Better Off Ted' fans! That's right, there was no Hulu streaming -- fans had to pay to see the last two outing of 'Ted.' I suppose that's only appropriate for a comedy that acerbically and astutely commented on the nature and reach of corporate greed.

Fortunately, those last two episodes were well worth paying for. Midway through the show's first season, it developed into a finely calibrated comedy machine, with a daffy, deft rhythm all its own. What struck me about those last two episodes, which I watched last night, is that they, like the series as a whole, were not just funny, they were centered on a serious, relevant and timely ideas: That corporate entities will take everything they can from people and that keeping friendship and compassion alive is the only way to stay sane.

It sounds as though I'm discussing 'The Wire' here, but be assured, if you've never seen 'Better Off Ted,' that it's consistently hilarious and well worth paying for. But I loved that 'Ted' took these ideas about the temptations and dangers of white-collar life seriously. That kind of implicit commentary grounded the show's sillier antics in reality and gave bite to its satire.

Sure, 'The Office' depicts cubicle life as well, but the big bosses there aren't necessarily the bad guys and that show uses corporate shenanigans as a vehicle for small, interpersonal stories. 'The Office' isn't founded on the premise that the nature of Dunder Mifflin's business is probably damaging and possibly illegal.

And maybe that's why 'Ted' never took off; it was surreal, subversive and willing to be goofily broad and slyly smart, sometimes within the same scene. Still, I remain convinced that if it had had at least one or two tryouts behind 'Modern Family,' the public would have at least been aware that 'Ted' existed, which might have helped. And the pairing would have made sense: Like 'Modern Family,' 'Better Off Ted' was grounded in real-life situations and featured endearingly clueless or well-intentioned characters.

Except for Veronica, the she-wolf of an executive brought to life by Portia de Rossi. She wasn't exactly well-intentioned but she approached the peons at Veridian with a skewed innocence reminiscent of Phil Dunphy's naivete -- Veronica simply didn't understand what made humans tick.

Though 'Ted' veered toward the delightfully surreal on occasion, its cast was every bit as skilled and subtle as that of 'Party Down,' a much more realistic but similarly sharply observed comedy. It's good to know that the creators of 'Party Down' are working on a pilot that sounds a lot like their previous show.

A new version of 'Ted' -- perhaps in a more congenial cable home -- may be too much to hope for, but like Ted himself, I'll hang on to my goofier aspirations.

If you want a sense of what the last two 'Ted' episodes were like, I'll talk about them in a bit more depth below. Jump out now to avoid mild spoilers.

'Swag the Dog':
Veridian staffers go nuts for a new incentive scheme, in which they receive tickets for job performance; the tickets can be redeemed at a useless-crap kiosk that Veridian sets up in the office (Phil and Lem, the lab drones, really want the belt buckles with the company's initials -- VD). Having spent a ton of time at arcades with my son, watching him obsess over what useless objects to get with his paper tickets, this idea was inherently funny to me, and having witnessed my share of swag grabs in the line of duty, I'm familiar with how much more attractive junk is when it's free junk. All of those ideas were well executed, and the episode also set up a Ted-Linda conflict that Andrea Anders and Jay Harrington played with typical deftness (the phrase "Pull a full-on Spooner" will linger in my brain for some time).

'It's My Party and I'll Lie If I Want To':
Once again Ted falls prey to ambition and isn't above using his daughter's friendship with the daughter of a powerful executive to get ahead. Even more effective is the story about the lie detector that Phil and Lem invent -- you'll just have to see how that device works when Veronica is in the room. It's hilarious. Phil and Lem's exploration of the limits of their new friendship with Linda is typically funny (Malcolm Barrett and Jonathan Flavin were one of the best comedy duos of the last decade). There are some great Ted-Veronica moments too.

[Follow @moryan on Twitter]

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bob ostrosky

It's a shame that people can't understand humor that they have to think about. Better off Ted was a thinking persons show. I'm sure a lot of the humor just wasn't understood.That's why shows like 30 Rock don't have a big following.Too smart for the average person.

November 05 2010 at 10:42 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Apropos of nothing, did you know that Malcolm Barrett (Lem) is in "The Hurt Locker"?

September 03 2010 at 10:45 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There were about a million time slots over the summer where ABC could have run the last two episodes in the place of either reruns or crappy shows that nobody watched anyway. Would it have killed them?

September 02 2010 at 6:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

LOVED "Ted". Criminal that this was canceled.

September 02 2010 at 6:07 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mo Ryan

Hi all! Thanks for your comments. It's good to be back!

Antoinette, I was having that same issue yesterday with my RSS feed. But it appears to have cleared up today -- give it another try and please let me know if you continue to have issues. Email me at maureen.ryan (at) teamaol.com. Thanks!

September 02 2010 at 5:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I didn't warm to "Party Down" at all, but I really loved "Better Off Ted." Except the name - that's just a terrible, terrible name for this show.

Mo, I'd love to follow your RSS feed here, but when I subscribe to it, I get all TV Squad posts, not just yours. Are you aware of this? Any plans to narrow it down to just your by-line?

September 02 2010 at 4:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I watched Swag the Dog yesterday. Am holding out watching the last episode because I so don't want it to be over. How ABC treated this show really was a crime, it was one of the best comedies of the decade. Right up there with Arrested Development, 30 Rock, and Party Down, IMO. I think I shall add the dvds to my Christmas list, I don't want to say goodbye to these characters anytime soon.

Also, so happy to be reading your articles again, Mo! Congrats on the move!

September 02 2010 at 3:04 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I'm torn.
I want to see these episodes, but I don't want to support these type of tactics.

I guess it's time for illegal downloads...

September 02 2010 at 2:23 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Frank's comment

Got Netflix? The second season's popped up on Netflix Instant streaming. No illegal methods needed. Yet.

September 02 2010 at 3:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Oh. I looked, but didn't see it mentioned.

Ignore that, I guess.

September 02 2010 at 3:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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