So far, this second season of Better Off Ted hasn't been quite up to par, but tonight's episode, "It's Nothing Business, It's Just Personal" was the first one that really seemed like a dud to me. Generally even the show's worst episodes have enough funny lines and solid performances to make it easy to overlook the flaws, but this time around, the jokes just weren't there; I've got three, maybe four quips written down, and I was actually reaching fairly hard by the end. The actors did their best (Jonathan Slavin and Malcolm Barrett, as Phil and Lem respectively, can usually make a line land just by intonation alone), but the main relationship plot was an overly-complicated dud, and the sub-plot, which had potential, failed to ever take off.
Which is a shame, because "Business" marks the return (and, potentially final) appearance of Mordor, Veronica's magician wild-man boyfriend. "Secrets and Lies," the first season finale, wasn't a show highlight, but the juxtaposition of seeing normally buttoned up, tightly wound Veronica unwinding in glittery spandex with a well-placed dove made for some great sequences. Here, the relationship is just a perfunctory excuse. The two of them are having way too much sex, and Veronica is exhausted that she's losing focus at work, and even falling asleep with her eyes open in her office. Despite the admittedly creepy-hilarious sight gag of Portia de Rossi staring straight ahead and purring, this is an odd development, considering that the whole point of "Secrets and Lies" was that Veronica needed an outlet to relieve her stress. Apparently, doing magic with Mordor was fine, but the next step in their relationship is too much for her?
This is where Ted gets involved, at Linda's insistence, and despite his better judgment. If Veronica seemed to be behaving uncharacteristically this episode, Linda was just bizarre, accusing Ted repeatedly of believing that men get to dictate the nature of relationships, despite that not having anything to do with what anyone was saying. Linda's friendliness and decency can sometimes manifest itself in strange ways, but while the joke here seemed to be her complete disconnect from the situation, there wasn't enough available in Ted's comments to make her riffing reach the bare minimum of justification to make that joke pay off. While Linda can be wacky or silly, she's most assuredly not crazy, and her complete obliviousness wasn't so much funny as baffling. And poor Mordor! One of the things that made "Secrets" work is that, while Mordor was ridiculous, he seemed, at heart, like a decent, lovable guy. This subverted our expectations and made him distinct. Here, he's just another good looking moron who cheats on Veronica because, well, the story sort of demands it.
The subplot, thankfully, had a little more juice. Lem gets a red lab-coat, and everybody in the lab freaks out. It's all part of an initiative by the company based on the assumption that any sort of change increases productivity, even if that change is completely random. Phil and Lem are convinced the coat is a sign of favor, and then, when Ted tries to tell them the truth without coming out and saying it, they decide the coat is a bad sign. In an ending that seemed to have come from a much better episode, Ted removes the red coat and leaves a flower in a vase instead, a very Ted-like gesture that's still completely misinterpreted.
This is the kind of corporate humor that the show really could use more of, as the Veridian-setting still seems fresh and complex; the cheerful tyranny of the corporate executives is a good dynamic, and not one we've seen done to death. But "Business" really lacked the punchy scripting the series trades in, and the red-coat scenes suffered just as much as the rest. Numerous dialog exchanges would leave you waiting for a gag, only to disappoint with a weak follow through, and a few times, no punch-line at all. Check out that last conversation between Veronica and Linda--it ends with a flatly sentimental line about how Ted would make a swell boyfriend. I appreciate sincerity and heart in the shows I watch, but even I know you don't end a scene without some kind of stinger or goofy reference to undercut the emotion, not unless it's a hugely important moment, and frankly, this was not a hugely important moment. We've known Ted and Linda would be great together since the pilot, why should we care that Linda's getting another reminder?
All in all, a disappointing way to end my brief run covering the show. The lab-coat plot was enough to rescue it from complete failure, but I laughed out loud maybe three times the whole ep, and that's just not good business.
- Much as I like recurring humor, it might've been too much to bring back the ridiculously tiny office in the same episode as Mordor. Too much familiar--although the office, at least, gave us some great physical comedy.
- I like the idea of slap-fighting, but the execution didn't work; Mordor's gesturing was fine, but the silhouetted conclusion went on too long.
- "It's different-ness makes me say things."
- "Although he was cheating on me and my subconscious is very protective. And sometimes kind of a douche."
- "I don't want the coat to see me like this."
- "I was worried about your luster!"
- Sorry this is so late--got stuck doing things with people. You know how it is.