Whether or not America is in the mood right now for a witty satire of a soulless multinational corporation, Better Off Ted is certainly the most original sitcom to come along in a while. With no sarcastic slackers or squabbling spouses in sight, Ted stars Jay Harrington (Desperate Housewives) as the titular single-dad executive with a few millimeters more of a conscience than anyone else around him. For that reason, he stands out among his loony but ferociously cynical co-workers — well, that and the fact that he looks at the camera and narrates his life and thoughts to us.
Created by Victor Fresco, the cracked brainiac behind the short-lived, cult-loved, finally-on-DVD-March 24 Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Ted is the head of research and development for Veridian Dynamics. It’s a huge, diverse enterprise that comes up with new uses for old things, like a weaponized pumpkin — We can do that!” is the standard company response — and old uses for new things. (Handed a bit of fabric, Ted is asked if he can make a breakfast meat out of it.) Ted’s taskmaster is Veronica, played by Arrested Development’s Portia de Rossi as a glossy, ruthless corporate henchperson who’d be scary if she weren’t so absurdly funny. Talking to Ted about one of their co-workers, Veronica says blithely, ”We want to freeze Phil — just to see if it’s possible.”
Better Off Ted proceeds to flash-freeze Phil, one of the company’s scientists, played by the always-rattled-looking Jonathan Slavin, a Richter alumnus. teeming with sight gags — Phil freezes into a silent wail that makes him look like a frostbitten version of Edvard Munch’s The Scream — the show also excels at rapid-fire dialogue, much of it uttered by de Rossi with impeccable assurance.
Her Veronica really comes to the fore in the second episode, when Ted brings his young daughter, Rose (sweet, tart Isabella Acres), to work for the day. Veronica volunteers to take care of Rose while Ted tends to business, and her lack of maternal instincts is bristlingly apparent when Veronica makes cheery small talk with the tyke: ”You have the most beautiful skin. I wish there was a way to peel it off your face and attach it to mine!”
Ted has an office love interest in Linda, a sunny rebel played by Andrea Anders, once held captive in the Matt LeBlanc sitcom Joey. Ted is leery about getting involved, saying he ”used up” his one office affair with Veronica years ago. in the clever, craven business environment of Better Off Ted, what’s one more little sin? B+