Based on the promos I wanted to like “Better Off Ted” significantly more than I did. The premise takes a page from Monty Python’s Very Big Corporation of America, set inside a faceless conglomerate (think Halliburton, only with less heart) that thinks nothing of experimenting on its own employees. But the show’s nutty core comes with an incompatibly gooey center — and a leading man who persists in talking directly to the camera like he’s doing an infomercial, even when at home with his kid. “Ted” has its moments but, overall, looks like a tough sell.
Each of the two episodes screened begins with a clever video for Veridian Dynamics, a sprawling enterprise that markets all kinds of useful things, from household gadgets to military technology. The lens then zooms in on Ted (Jay Harrington), Veridian’s head of R&D, who cheerfully fields requests from his automaton of a boss, Veronica (Portia de Rossi). Speaking in clipped sentences, Veronica insists she has a sense of humor and doesn’t blink when asking Ted if it’s possible to “weaponize a pumpkin.”
Ted’s direct reports, meanwhile, include bickering lab nerds (Jonathan Slavin and Malcolm Barrett), whose relationship becomes more complicated when the company decides to freeze one of them to test its new cryogenic process. (Given that the show airs on ABC, one wonders if there was a Walt Disney joke that got axed somewhere along the way.)
So far, so potentially good. But beyond its wacky streak, “Ted” (both the series and character) also possesses a semi-sappy touch of heart, from the aforementioned moppet he’s raising alone to the perky co-worker, Linda (Andrea Anders, completing an NBC-CBS-ABC sitcom trifecta after “Joey” and “The Class”), with whom he begins an awkward flirtation.
OK, so the timing seems right to spoof an unfeeling, callous corporation — one that in the second episode transforms daycare into a child-labor exercise. Because there’s such an effort to humanize Ted, the show has an uneven tone, and beyond those corporate videos, the satire lacks genuine bite.
Series creator Victor Fresco actually explored similar company dynamics in a funnier way in “Andy Richter Controls the Universe.” Here, de Rossi’s heartless boss proves a pretty one-note gag, which Ted and Linda’s intermittent courtship as a central plot thread, only as embodied by Harrington, Ted seems less stammering and lovelorn than the sort who picks ’em up at a bar and doesn’t call again.
So thus far, anyway, it’s a promising concept inconsistently executed, and perhaps a trifle miscast. That isn’t to say the very big corporation behind it with the mouse ears has a complete lemon on its gloved mitts, but “Ted” would have been better off being sent back to the lab for a little extra R&D.