Better Off Ted: "Mess of a Salesman"
B+

Better Off Ted: "Mess of a Salesman"

B+

Better Off Ted

"Mess of a Salesman"

Season 2, Episode 11

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I've never understood the whole brothers dynamic.  Even though I grew up with two of them, I didn't witness any of the rough-housing and machismo that television is constantly portraying as the normal relationship between brothers.  And we won't even talk about the overcompensating faux-homoerotic homophobia.  Even though that image is a total cliche, I still enjoyed seeing Ted fall into that pattern with ne'er-do-well brother Billy, because it revealed a more primitive side of Ted's character.  The side that dances around in triumph after sending his brother to the floor with a stealth nut-slap.  Not necessarily fun to see just anybody do that, but perfectly-turned-out, uber-confident Ted?  That's a nice image.

This wasn't the best BoT of the season, mostly because the brother business was a little unnecessary.  Couldn't Phil and Lem have been persuaded to go crazy, overspend on useless lab equipment, and yell "Deal with it!" by some salesman who's no relation to our title characters?  And the integration with the B-story -- Veronica "I'm getting an award!" Palmer going overboard while raising money for a girls' mentorship charity -- wasn't as nifty as we've seen this show manage.  In fact, at the first act break, I was a little concerned that "Mess of a Salesman" was too far off model; the dialogue was draggy, and the non-sequiturs seemed forced. I mean, if "Bang zoom! I'm getting a muffin!" is the best we were going to get, that's pretty low-grade for this show.

But in the second act, the Phil/Lem off-the-reservation plotline started to hum. Selling lab equipment the only way he knows how -- by taking clients to airport courtesy clubs ("I thought you had to be an admiral to get in!" Phil exclaims) -- Billy persuades Phil and Lem that they need to break free of their restrictions and take some risks with their lab equipment purchases.  Previously the only lab-equipment-related surprises for the pair had been the time they wanted to buy six four-inch petri dishes, and instead bought four six-inch petri dishes.  ("It was crazy how it was just slightly bigger than what we needed," Lem recalls.)  But once Billy gets them outside of the box ("We can't leave work in the middle of the day; we're not Somali pirates!" Lem protests), they take to their freedom in a big way. They sign up for a corpse delivery service ("Once a month they send us a new cadaver whether we're finished with the old one or not!"), buy a family of robots and a giant wind tunnel ("We want to see how long it takes to drive robots crazy with wind!"), tell anyone who questions them to "deal with it!", and even experiment with leather pants.  "I'm gettin' me a damn cube of cheese!" exults Phil as he realizes there is no one at the Admirals Club to gainsay him.

And the Veronica/Linda storyline finally got cracking, too.  The two perform a good cop/bad cop routine to shake down Veridian executives for contributions to the Veridian Foundation's designated charity, and Veronica gets completely involved in the idea of business mentors for girls even though, as Linda puts it, she has a debilitating disorder which renders her incapable of ever caring about another human being. ("First of all, it's not debilitating, it's liberating," Veronica explains.)  But then they find out that the Veridian Foundation keeps 95% of the money raised by the charity campaign for its important work publicizing how much good Veridian is doing. Their righteous takedown of the smarmy Foundation head was perhaps the highlight of the episode, with Linda hurling epithets and Veronica, in the background, encouraging her to embrace the dark side of the Force. "You, sir, are a bad egg!" Linda sputters, and then headbutts him.  ("His head made a boop sound," Linda reports to Ted. "Boop!" illustrates Veronica.)

What does all this have to do with Ted? Well, he's got to clean up both messes -- the one made by his brother the salesman ("I've got an idiot brother of my own that I'm not giving a job to," sagely observes the lab-equipment guy when Ted first approaches him with the hire-Billy plan) and the one made by crusading Veronica and Linda, who apparently did something illegal by collecting money for the Foundation then giving it directly to the charity instead. Although the denouement, with Billy helping Phil and Lem kill two birds with one stone by stashing their cadaver (named, against Ted's direct orders, Roger) in the Foundation head's trunk then blackmailing him into letting Veronica and Linda off the hook, features a pretty wonderful narrative of the escapade by a tag-teaming Phil and Lem, it's not the cleverest way of getting out in twenty-two minutes. And I really missed Ted in "Mess of a Salesman." He clearly likes having Billy around because Rose likes having him around. But that emotional note doesn't go anywhere, unfortunately, and Ted ends up being a bystander  in the plot.  And that's not where Ted belongs.

Stray observations:

- Noel is finishing up his time at the Sundance Film Festival, hence my fill-in stint this week.

- No, I changed my mind -- best moment of the night was Linda: "Ding!" Veronica: "Wah wah." I want that as my iPhone's a-text-just-came-in notification sound.  Who can fix me up!

- Ted is still harboring resentment over the possum Billy brought home that Ted ended up taking care of. "I was going to train it to drive a golf cart so we could be on That's Incredible!" Billy protests.

 "There's a new rule in the computer room, they just came up with it today?" 

Filed Under: TV, Better Off Ted

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