Better Off Ted: "Battle of the Bulbs"
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Better Off Ted: "Battle of the Bulbs"

Greetings Veridians! Noel is on holiday leave for the next two weeks, developing a candy cane that doubles as a peppermint hook (here at the AV Club, we set sights low), and I'll be your Better Off Ted re-capper until he returns. I've been a huge fan of this show since the summer, and spent the week or so leading up to the second season premiere re-watching the original run of 13 episodes; it's the kind of whiz-bang, live-action-cartoon style comedy that's very difficult to do well, and what's impressed me most so far is that, even in its weaker moments, BoT has such a distinctive, recognizable tone. Which also confuses me out, because that tone is so incredibly watchable, and I don't really understand why the series isn't doing significantly better in the ratings. I'd put BoT up there with 30 Rock as one of the most purely entertaining sitcoms now airing, the sort of show that it's sometimes difficult to adequately critique because each episode goes down so easily. This isn't the sort of squirm inducing farce you see on The Office or, to a lesser extent, Modern Family. It's just pure sweet spot, with the most quotable dialog of any show currently airing.

If I had to come up with a reason why this will almost certainly be the last season for BoT, I'd blame ABC's woeful marketing, plus the time-slot--this is light, family-friendly fare that belongs at eight o'clock. The series does have a dark side, with no laugh track, and the constant bounciness hides an often biting satirical edge, so maybe that's putting people off. But these people are idiots, and they should all be ashamed of themselves. Once again, we're forced to watch something with tremendous potential get shuffled into the couldabeens, while Cougar Town and Scrubs continue their onslaught on perpetuity. (Nothing against Scrubs. Just, maybe eight was enough?)

I'm sure Ted would tell us to savor the moment and not dread the future (Veronica would hopefully work some kind of baroque wild-kingdom based metaphor into the advice), so let's enjoy what we have left. "Battle of the Bulbs" is, for my money, the best episode of the new season so far, and given that we are three episodes in, that is a bold statement that should be rewarded with lots of confident "uh-huh"ing. Maybe even a nod, but let's not go crazy. While neither of the two main plot-lines were initially promising, they both paid off well enough, and the jokes were stronger than last week. It's not the heights we all know the series is capable of, but it is pleasing, and will almost certainly not smell like rotting meat unless we leave it on for a couple days.

The "never met relative" guest slot is essentially an excuse to slot in a ringer, someone familiar enough that the audience will have an immediate emotional connection (since we relate to the main characters, it helps to relate to their feelings), and striking enough to make a lasting impression with limited screen time. Khandi Alexander, as Lem's mom, is a good choice. While the match-up between the two isn't one-to-one, I've always thought that News Radio, with its office environment and rapid pacing, BoT's closest comedy antecedent; News Radio had more physical comedy, but both shows maintain the friendly chaos approach to comedy, so its nice to have an NR alum show up here. Alexander basically does the "imposing sexy" routine that lets the writers work out their oedipal issues and gives Lem a stronger personality to bounce off, and I thought the reconciliation scene between the two at the end was, if cliched, sweet enough to seem sincere.

I preferred Ted and Linda's bitter bulb battle, mainly because it gave Linda a chance to be mean, and it's always fun to watch a nice person start with the (verbal) slapping. The Chet executive character is a little too broad; the corporate satire works when it's situational, not when it's focused on an on-the-nose stereotype. But his paranoia about Linda's "I hope" worked, as did this reaction to her going full Vader at the scented bulb presentation. Ted's insecurity about being replaced as favorite employee is a smart idea, although it played flatter than I would've expected. One of the stronger aspects of  BoT is that it's hero is, generally speaking, perfect; you usually don't see Type A personalities that are as confident as they are competent on comedy shows, and having Ted be as good-looking and self-assured as he is means the writers have to find different ways of making him funny. So he's self-aware enough to quip, but also, like Linda, has occasional cracks in the armor. (Ted's excellence is another reason the show is so delightfully agreeable, but given that According To Jim ran eight years, maybe not everyone agrees with me.) In "Bulbs," his jealousy and need to be first was never as strong as they could have been, which meant that the Ted/Linda plot-line never came completely into focus. Was it about Ted's competitive streak? Linda's desire to create, or her having to compromise her integrity to succeed? The last yielded the ep's strongest jokes, at least.

Like I said, I thought "Bulbs" was the strongest of season 2. Not great, but good. BoT has always balanced a mixture of conventional sitcom story-lines with more challenging fare, and here's hoping we see more of the latter in the episodes left. Still, I'll be happy even if it's just Veronica talking about sharks.

Stray Observations:

  • Things Veronica Has Done To Her Sister: 1. Fed her in her sleep. 2. Dosed her with testosterone.
  • "In a recent study, people's desire to see things ranked third, right after hitting things, and trying to have sex with things."
  • "Gentlemen, when you fight like that, manhood weeps."
  • "Remember Bob Hitler?"
  • "I should die like a light-bulb fly."
  • "It takes a village to kill a village!"
  • "Those are just facts, and facts are just opinions, and opinions can be wrong."
  • "Now get in there and run that meeting like a shark driving an assault vehicle through a herd of seals wearing chum pants."
Filed Under: TV, Better Off Ted

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