Better Off Ted: "Father Can You Hair Me?" 
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Better Off Ted: "Father Can You Hair Me?" 

“We’re like oil and… what’s that thing that’s always disappointing oil? Oh yeah, it’s me.”

That’s our Ted, describing his relationship with his father, a bald, anti-intellectual plumber who once got kicked out a zoo for giving a monkey a cigarette. When Phl and Lem accidentally come up with a hair-growth formula so successful that it grows hair on potatoes, Ted wants to rush it through testing and into production, so that he can finally do one thing to make his father proud. Only Lem won’t cooperate. He insists that the lab has to go through its usual testing progression: on a bat, a cat, and then for some reason a hat. (“That may be a typo,” Phil mutters.) So Ted steals a sample of the formula while Phil and Lem are running downstairs to the ice cream truck, and tests it on himself. And, because the sample's in a spraying device, Ted ends up testing it on his office furniture too. Soon, he’s shaving his desk. (Because it’s not going to shave itself.)

Meanwhile, Veronica’s having trouble with her dad, the CEO of a rival company, with whom she’s always had an adversarial relationship. She steals his company’s idea for a seven-year battery; he steals Veridian’s formula for a new weight-loss toothpaste. Plus, he “porked his way” through Veronica’s sorority. She’s not a fan of her pop. Still, when she learns that her old man’s about to die (even though dying’s “not in his nature”), Veronica follows Linda’s advice and tries to get to know him better, by doing what dads and daughters do: hugging, flipping the old Frisbee around, burning kites… y’know, family time.

I have to ding tonight’s episode for its terrible title—though with a show called “Better Off Ted,” I should expect no better—and for lining up its theme a little too cleanly... which has been a recurring “problem” with this show. (I put “problem” in quotation marks because it’s only a minor irritation, not a major one.) It’s obvious from the start that Ted’s going to realize the parallels between his need to please his father and his own daughter’s decision to run for Class President to make Ted happy. It’s also obvious that Veronica’s father will eventually try to use his new closeness with his daughter to do some corporate spying—and though having him steal the faulty hair-growth formula is a nice twist, it's pretty much the only twist in “Father Can You Hair Me?”

That said, I’m still keeping this episode in my top tier of Teds because I’ve always enjoyed the scenes between Ted and Rose on this show. I love his eagerness to make her happy—including drafting campaign posters for her that feature unicorns, rainbows, and the copy “Rose! Believe.”—and his attempt to give her sound advice, like urging her to pee before her campaign speech “so you’re not all squirmy.” And I love her pragmatic responses to his helicopter parenting, as when she seeks to escape the stress of running for president by taking a bath and coloring a little. There’s a real sweetness to their relationship—and a sweetness to this show—that puts a necessary check on the absurdity and the satire, keeping everything in a good balance.

I interviewed Jon Hamm today—a really good dude to talk with, by the way—and at times I get a Hamm-y vibe off Jay Harrington, with the way he plays Ted’s quiet competence and strong leadership. (“He’s like the angle opposite the hypotenuse,” Phil raves.) But Ted also wears his neuroses on his sleeve (at least for the home viewers), which gives him and this show a strong human context. As much as I enjoy little throwaway lines like Veronica’s insistence that Veridian can swing the school election Rose’s way, just like “we did for Iceland,” I enjoy them more because they’re embedded in a show that knows when to back off the outrageous, so that all its elements stand in strong relief.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

-It’s a disaster, a debacle… it’s a disastracle.

-Hover Shoes are hard to throw away.

-“You said testees… that’s hilarious.”

-Funniest moment of the episode. Phil walking a hairy potato back into the sample case.

-“Congratulations, cancer-whisperer, you win.”

-Y’know, a hair-restoring formula was the big get in the corporate spy comedy Duplicity too. Coincidence, or a reflection of reality?

-“We’re not mad scientists, no matter what our bowling shirts say.”

-Visit Our Dog Mayor—It’s A Treat!

-“Crap on a cracker!” … “Aaaand she’s back.”

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