During my brief hiatus from Ted-blogging, I kept up with all the episodes—largely via Hulu, since my local ABC affiliate didn’t air two of the Teds—and I even re-watched the first few minutes of “Love Blurts.” Removed from the job of recapping and analyzing, I made an important discovery about Better Off Ted: I kind of love this show. I know that’s no earth-shaking revelation, but still, I’d be willing to stack BoT against 30 Rock or any other current sitcom in terms of the quotable-jokes-per-episode quotient (or QJPEQ). I mean, I hope I’m not the only one who spent the first few days of the new year talking about how hard it is to make a cheese that doesn’t spoil without ending up with “more of a cheddar-colored fabric that does spoil.”
What will I walk away quoting from this week’s two-fer? So, so many choices. From “Beating A Dead Workforce,” I’d lean towards Veronica’s lament, “Just once I wish you would greet me with sparklers and cotton candy and tell me I have the number one album in America.” (Or maybe Lem eulogizing a man he once accidentally threw coffee at by remembering, “He was like many of us: sensitive to heat.”) From “Change You Can’t Believe In,” I have to call on Veronica again, and her expressing her exasperation with Phil and Lem by grumbling, “I want to unsubscribe to whatever it is you’re doing.” (Or maybe Linda recalling her Mom’s prosaic advice: “You eat what you eat.”)
As for which of these episodes I prefer, frankly I’m torn. “Beating A Dead Workforce” was a sharper piece of satire, revolving around Veridian’s attempt to make 14-hour workdays the norm by rallying the staff around the death of overtaxed employee Gordon Jenkins. Everyone puts in extra effort in preparing a new sleep-inducing product for the upcoming Relaxxicon (“the extra ‘X’ is for more Zs”), even though Ted insists that it’d be no big deal if they waited to roll it out at Snooze-a-palooza, or The Texas Pillow & Gun Show. Meanwhile, Lem exploits his tenuous connection to the dead man—that guy he splashed with coffee, because he was so tired that he thought Jenkins was a sink—in order to become friendly with Veridian’s “cool accountants.” (“They let me go to the store and buy them cigarettes,” Lem coos to a jealous Phil.) And Ted’s fellow employees are scandalized by his attempts to lead them in a revolt against the extended work hours, especially since he was one of the people who found the sainted Jenkins body.
“Beating A Dead Workforce” was pointedly absurd, yet only fitfully funny. (The part that most had me in hysterics was Ted trying to correct Veronica at the memorial service, leading to Veronica referring to the deceased as “Carl Gordon Jenkins Gordon Jenkins.” That’s old-school farce; and performed with crack timing. It’s the kind of thing I appreciate maybe more than I should.) I also found that the episode suffered some from the kind of plot-convenient character shifts that have been a persistent flaw with Better Off Ted. Specifically, Phil and Lem often crossed the line from naive and insecure to outright stupid—shades of last week’s robot vacuum storyline—while Ted inexplicably downshifted from super-competent to painfully timid, and the rest of the Veridian staff changed from lightly eccentric to broadly silly.
I don’t want to be too down on “Beating A Dead Workforce,” though. This show has always had a tricky tone to finesse, and sometimes the balance is bound to be a little off. Plus, I may be diminishing the episode some in my memory in comparison to “Change You Can’t Believe In,” which didn’t have the same satirical bite, but did feature the kind of rapid-fire jokes and escalating exchanges that leave me blissed-out. Of the episode’s dual A-stories, I was more partial to the one that had Phil and Lem freaking over having to work alongside Veronica—sans Ted—on developing a new, functional PA system for Veridian. Everything about that storyline sparked, from the way the incomprehensible old system made the employees panic and flee every time it was used (even when it was only announcing Fajita Day) to the way Phil and Lem’s solution involved a wireless system controlled by two knobs attached to the users’ chests, like nipples.
I didn’t care as much about the thin connective tissue between that story and its mate—which was all about Ted’s attempts to duck and/or change Ryan The Chatty Security Guard—because I feel like BoT has played the “our unnatural relationships with our co-workers” angle better before. Plus the episode ends without really resolving its own central question: How do you deal with co-workers who waste your time? As it happens, Ted tries to make his case to Ryan, Ryan gets offended and quits, and then they bury the hatchet and Ted drives Ryan’s wife when she goes into labor. (“Now my car looks like someone made wine in the backseat.”) And Veronica’s efforts to change Phil and Lem into stronger, less bothersome people kind of peters out too. Even though this show is more about restoring the status quo than real change, the plotting is usually a little tighter.
Plotting aside though, “Change You Can’t Believe In” was tight as a drum, both from a performance standpoint and in terms of the dialogue. Again, I know it’s corny, but I cackled most at the flustered Phil telling Veronica that they’d improved their PA design by reducing the controls to “One convenient nipple. I’m sorry. Nipple. I’m sorry. Nipple.” The can’t-stop-saying-the-wrong-word bit as is pure baggy-pants stuff, and the Better Off Ted writing staff came up with dozens of cleverer and funnier lines in these two episodes. But what can I say? I have a weakness for the classics.
-I liked how Veridian’s elevation of Jenkins involved posting large, dumpy-looking pictures of him all around the building, complete with slogans like, “Taking Breaks Makes Me Sad.”
-The campaign also included motivational videos screened in the elevator, scored to Veronica scatting her version of “Never Gonna Give You Up.” (“Shabba-dabba-dee-doo-da…”)
-The Veridian PA sounds like that janitor who once got trapped in the walls of the office. (“Let me out! I’m not a ghost!”)
-Hats, in order of fun: Sombrero, Fez, Ten-gallon.
-There are two possible meanings of “douchemobile.”
-Lem doesn’t know very many more cowboy things. “Wait!… Beans. … Pegleg! No, that’s not one.”
-Phil and Lem have bio-engineered a very small squirrel, but you have to wear a mask around him because “he’s crazy-easy to inhale.”
And still more quotable lines:
“This needs to be less Stephen King, more Stephen… The Clown.”
“The future is a cake that may never come.”
“The company loves money. If they could they’d go to strip clubs and throw naked women at money.”
“Now I know what a beard of fingers feels like.”
“The version of Linda you heard in your head is right.”
“Talking about drawer-elves won’t make this any less scary.”
“Maybe my kindergarten teacher was right. Maybe I am too controlling.”