I worry sometimes that I over-praise the TV shows I love, creating a false impression that they’re somehow flawless and exalted, and that anyone who doesn’t “get” them is a dolt. (And then I worry that I worry too much… but that’s a subject for another time.) I have to say though: Tonight’s Better Off Ted was about as good as a sitcom gets. Granted, it lacked the satirical edge that has given other BOTs a welcome sting; but at their core, good sitcoms are about characters we come to know and like so well that even their simplest line or gesture carries more weight than it otherwise would—because we know exactly where it all comes from.
The beauty of “Bioshuffle” is how it slyly and subtly engages an aspect of Better Off Ted that's needed to be better-explored: Ted himself. After last week’s experiences in Medieval Fight Club—and the revelation in “Get Happy” that Ted seeks the approval of father figures—it’s becoming more and more obvious week-to-week that Ted’s more than just a handsome guy and an inspiring leader who’s good at nearly everything. Ted talks directly to us every week as though he’s the sane center of Veridian’s madness. A guy who knows all the ins and outs. A guy who can grab a muffin and toss a tip into a jar in one seamless motion. A manager who’s more machine than man.
But just like Veridian’s actual bio-computer (“humorously named ‘Johnny’” by his designer), Ted’s got problems. For one thing, he can’t fold a fitted sheet. For another, he can’t handle dramatic changes to his routine. When Johnny begins leaking an acid-like goo (“or ‘ass-goo’”), a whole floor’s worth of Veridian cubicles has to be decontaminated, which means that the company's workers have to share office space. Ted tries to ignore Linda’s subtle hints that she move into his office by muttering, “I don’t have a lot of space in here,” but Linda mocks him with a fake echo (“in here… in here”) and Ted relents. Soon he’s being distracted from his own work by Linda’s sloppy habits and sexy butt. (Though when Linda catches him staring, he claims that the butt’s just in his line of vision and is in fact staring at him. Linda responds that her butt’s “from a small-town… it’s never seen a big businessman like you before”)
So, so many good lines and interactions in the scenes between Ted and Linda, from her warning, “Your pen-holder’s going to be perfect for my tampons,” to him trying to motivate her to work by singing along with her version of Barbara Mason’s R&B classic “Yes, I’m Ready.” Since most of the jokes were made funnier by the facial expressions, framing, editing and line-readings, I won’t even try to do justice to moments like Linda talking to (and on behalf of) her fish, MacGyver. (For jokes that do translate better to print, see the stray observations.)
I also don’t have much to say about the resolution of the Ted/Linda dilemma, which involved Phil coming up with a sort of acid-interface, or “ass-face.” (“I’m not sure the abbreviations are really helping us much,” Lem says.) Though I’ll allow that the direct comparison between Ted’s neuroses and the malfunctioning Johnny was perhaps a bit over-stressed, and I’ll note in passing that Better Off Ted has shown a mildly worrying tendency of late to try to pack in a life-lesson in the closing minutes.
But I’m not overly concerned, so long as the show keeps firing more jokes per minute than just about any contemporary sitcom that’s not named 30 Rock (and, arguably, having more of them hit the target). And while I said that “Bioshuffle” wasn’t especially satirical, that may be under-praising. There is something going on in the show’s portrayal of the ultimate company man, gradually being driven off his nut by the inefficiencies and illogic of his own company. “Machines... When you were little, you wanted to be one,” the Viridian commercial insists. I think that actually may be true for Ted. Which makes me worry a little about the end of that commercial, which talks about combining the best of humans and machines into “something strong and—we hope—loving.”
-In the episode’s equally funny subplot, Lem is forced to share lab space with a scientist he has a crush on, and he frets over how he can let her know he cares. When Phil suggests he just talk to her, Lem says, “Would you talk to a rainbow? Or a sunset?” (Phil: “If I wanted to get it on with refracted light I would.”) Finally, he approaches her and says, “If you like lame, you should come have a drink with me after I have dinner with my Mom.” She agrees, and they have a lovely time… until Lem’s allergic reaction to her perfume causes him to sneeze and conk against her head.
-Phil, relishing his correct assessment of Ted’s infatuation with Linda. “So I do know something about women. I’m going to call my wife and tell her how hot Linda is.”
-Phil and Lem are also working on a mind-control ray in this episode. (“We call it The Voice Of God,” Phil says. “No we don’t,” Ted corrects.) The problem is that the subject (or “victim,” as Linda would have it) tends to vomit. Ted suggests that the ray could have all kinds of applications for the military—or modeling—but Lem chooses instead to use it to help his cause with his dream girl, despite Phil’s reminder that, “You’re using science for no good… we took an oath we would do that less.” Unfortunately, the effort goes haywire and he ends up causing her to puke all over a handsome co-worker, who takes such good care of her that she falls for him.
-MacGyver and The Diver... they’re gay-married.
-Not much Veronica action this week, aside from her shooting her office chairs to let off steam, and her saying that she feels about Linda’s crush on Ted the way she feels about someone borrowing her stapler. “Even if I’m not using it, I hate seeing somebody else pounding away at it.”
-You blame the bird that dropped the turd, not the hat that got the splat.
-Bad news: Next week’s a repeat. Good news: I didn’t write it up the first time around, so I’m going to write it up this time. See you next week.