I’ve been working at home since the fall of ’99—over 10 years!—so I don’t know if corporate office culture has changed at all since my days as a cubicle-jockey, but back then people swore. I mean like a lot. I spent three years on a General Electric customer service team staffed by an eclectic bunch: old rednecks with no college experience, demure older women, young bucks with MBAs, church ladies, alt-rockers, new mothers and jovial grandfathers. And aside from one of the church ladies—who spent a lot of time heaving heavy sighs at us all—we peppered every sentence with as much profanity as we could muster.
And we did it without any company mandate. In tonight’s first Better Off Ted, the very funny, just-short-of-brilliant “The Impertence Of Communicationizing,” a misprint on a Veridian memo tells the employees that they should “now use offensive or insulting language” (not “not”), and since Veridian hadpreviously sent out a memo saying that employees have to obey all memos, before long co-workers are colorfully insulting each other left and right, whether they’re calling each other “a Tory-loving royalist” or “Pudburger.” (Although that last one is actually the guy’s last name.)
In typical BoT fashion, the memo has a different effect on our principals. In the Phil and Lem camp, the memo reveals one of Phil’s main weaknesses: he doesn’t know how to play the dozens. (His idea of a snappy comeback is “You’re right! I’ll work on that.”) But with Lem’s help—and the aid of mathematics—Phil is able to raise his game, and insult a waifish colleague with put-downs like, “Your breasts belong in the Swiss Museum Of Miniatures!” Meanwhile, the very mention of the word “memo” reminds Veronica of the time she rose up the corporate latter by grabbing a promotion that might’ve been meant for another employee with the last name Palmer (played by Chris “Dr. Spaceman” Parnell). Cursed with a “scratchy feeling” that some of us know as guilt, Veronica agrees to go out with the other Palmer, and when she hears how terrible Palmer’s life has been since he lost the promotion, she lets him take some liberties with her. (“It’s like the most depressing Penthouse letter ever,” Ted says.) After their second date, Veronica runs over Palmer's foot, “which by my relationship math means ‘tonight’s the night.’” Not until Ted proves that the promotion was meant for her all along does Veronica extricate herself from what was on-track to become a pity marriage.
As for Ted, he doesn’t care for the new insult-heavy Veridian (“and not just because my mama is fat, and she does sit around the house”), though Linda suggests that he's just party-pooping because he doesn’t like his subordinates to speak their minds. In order to prove Linda wrong, Ted lets his team make whatever stupid suggestions they like on his military Meals Ready To Eat project, which leads to an MRE that comes in a big cardboard box and contains fresh tomatoes, a bottle of wine and a mirror so that the soldiers won’t feel lonely when they eat.
For the most part I thought “The Impertence Of Communicationizing” was hilarious, but I do have two complaints. One: The “misspelled memo” premise was a bit too much like the Season One episode where Ted was fired due to a computer error. Two: Because Ted is a network show, the episode wasn’t as raunchy as it should’ve been. (For an example of what I mean, scroll down to the bottom of this write-up.)
Interestingly though, “The Impertence Of Communicationizing” had a solid companion piece in tonight’s second episode, “The Long And Winding High Road,” which was also about Ted learning to be more open to other employees’ ideas. Specifically, he decides he needs to end his rivalry with Pete (played by Worst Week’s Kyle Bornheimer), another overachieving Veridian project manager who even comes with his own Veronica.
Both Pete and Ted are working on versions of a magnetic flying device for children—“Now every child can have hours of repulsive fun!”—but their pitch meeting with the boss ends up, as their pitch meetings always do, becoming an opportunity for each of them to mock each other’s products. Pete mocks Ted’s device for looking like a metal boob shield and “sexualizing children;” Ted mocks Pete’s for looking like a diaper. (Veronica, lamely attempting a zing: “With your diaper, kids won’t have to stop playing to go to the bathroom.”) In order to serve as a good example to his underlings—including Phil and Lem, who spend this episode avoiding telling Veridian that they broke their lab’s thermostat—Ted tries to find ways to bond with Pete and help him out, rather than fighting with him. But Linda, who wants to prove to Veronica that she’s not some sweet princess (even though she does have a grumpy dwarf in her apartment building), joins Veronica on a Dirty Tricks campaign that undermines Ted’s efforts.
I may have laughed at “The Long And Winding High Road” even more than its predecessor, but it was a decidedly more shapeless episode, packed with hijinks but low on point. Still, I wonder sometimes if I expect too much of Ted, and underrate episodes that’ll be entertaining me (and others, I hope) for decades to come. I mean, tight storytelling or not, the second BoT was tight comedically, with jokes building off of jokes. Consider the way Linda keeps making inappropriate comments in front of Rose while trying to prove what a bad-ass she is, and then making even more inappropriate comments while trying to backtrack. (“Every time you smoke a cigarette, Santa Claus kills an elf.” And later, to a whole day care class: “You know how it is when you’re ovulating…”) Consider the way Veronica’s tossed-off comment about how the flying vest project could help the U.S. Army best the Chinese is followed a few scenes on by Ted saying that Rose’s day care is learning, “Art, Chinese, the weaknesses of the Chinese….”
See, that’s good comedy-writing: extending the moment. It’s not just that Veronica replies to Linda’s complaint that, “You make no sound when you walk,” by saying, “Then I’m ready to leave the monastery and avenge my parents!” It that she then adds that she makes no sound because “My shoes are made of soft animals.” You know a show is cooking creatively when the writers come up with two quotable punchlines for a single throwaway gag.
-Is Jay Harrington’s hair getting less gray? Network interference?
-Linda assumes that the Veridian insult mandate is purposeful; a way to increase productivity by turning “a lazy sack of crap into a sack of crap.”
-“What are you ciphering there, Jethro?”
-In Lem and Phil’s MRE, the main course is “Beige Block 3,” or what we know as “stroganoff.”
-Linda has to explain to Veronica that “spicy food” is not an emotion.
-Veronica also plans to counteract her guilt over Palmer with other emotions, like “sugar” or “drunk.”
-The other Palmer pronounces his name without the “P,” because he’s Dutch. Veronica hates the Dutch, “with their giant propeller buildings,” but when she wants to make peace with Palmer, she brings him a cake and a jar of pickled herring, and begs him to not to smear one on the other until after she leaves. (Palmer: “The Dutch don’t smear herring on half the things you say they do.”)
-Veronica warns Linda not to get too lippy, no matter what Veridian says to do. (“It’s a memo, not a magic shield.”)
-“I might need new breasts. These are covered in sadness.”
-Veridian Human Resources director Janet S. Crotum is initially happy with the new freedom to speak her mind, until other people begin to make fun of her name. (Ted: “Really? It took the memo to get that train out of the station?”)
-“I don’t always have to be in control. Though that is my exact job description.”
-Look out, or you might get Lem-basted! or Phil-ibustered! Or Ted-ucated!
-Other Veridian memo misprints have instituted “casual Fribsday” (due to take effect in 2024), and rewards for employees who “car poop.”
-The difference between Pete and Ted: Pete steals a clearly labeled hoagie out of the office fridge; Ted gets two protein bars by accident from a vending machine and tries to put one back.
-Linda is tired of Veridian looking for the military application of every project. “Even our fat-free cinnamon roll lead to that brand new Sticky Bomb.”
-This is the second week in a row that Lem and Phil have invented something that emphasizes the chestal area.
-“Has waving your hands ever sold me on anything?”
-Welcome to More Effective Way To Deal With An Adversary… Ville.
-Phil and Lem break the thermostat while playing with a piñata… “stuffed with science.”
-Ted tries to explain to Phil that the company didn’t revoke his gym membership in retaliation for anything, but because “no matter what class you were in, you did Jazzercise.”
-Ted bribes a product testing agent with a rare copy of the book Ethics In Testing.
-I’ve been seeing some “Save Ted” rumblings around the internet. I doubt it’ll make much of a difference, but maybe it’ll at least make some people who aren’t watching the show aware of it.
-Speaking of ABC bailing on BoT, I don’t fully understand why this “double Scrubs/double Ted” plan has the shows alternating on Tuesday nights. Why not an hour of Scrubs and then an hour of Ted? It’s not like either show is lifting its neighbor up.
-On the off-chance you haven’t seen this yet, here are the gleefully profane outtakes from “The Impertence Of Communicationizing.” (Warning: Super-duper NSFW.)