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Better Off Ted: The Complete First Season (2009)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 12/1/2009

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2
Extras: No Extras

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 12/13/2009

For years, sitcoms were thought of as being dumb. The phoney sounding laugh tracks, pratfalls, and repetitive storylines did nothing to make anyone think of these shows as being smart. (To this day, anytime a show introduces a misundestanding/crossed-paths plot, I always say that it's a Three's Company moment.) This reputation wasn't helped by the fact that actual smart characters were often ridiculed on these shows. That trend has changed over the last decade. Shows such as 30 Rock, Arrested Development, and The Big Bang Theory have attempted to focus more on clever jokes and these shows reward astute viewers who are paying attention to every facet of the show. Better off Ted is a show which wants to fall somewhere between The Office and The Big Bang Theory. Does it succeed?

Jay Harrington stars in Better off Ted as the titular character Ted Crisp, a middle manager for a multi-national corporation called Veridian Dynamics, a company which makes all kinds of products, from household goods to weapons. Ted works for Veronica Palmer (Portia de Rossi), an intense, emotionless woman who only cares about the bottom line. Ted oversees development of new products and oversees Phil (Jonathan Slavin) and Lem (Malcolm Barrett), two scientists who vacillate between brilliant and dangerous. Linda (Andrea Anders) is a product-tester who works with Ted, although she doesn't like the company's politics and tries to assert herself when she can. Ted is attracted to Linda, but as he's a single-father to his 8-year old daughter, Rose (Isabella Acres), he's hesitant to enter into a relationship. Thus, Ted must juggle the women in his world -- uptight Veronica, fun Linda, and Rose -- while keeping Phil and Lem in line.

The first thing which struck me about Better off Ted was that I had been misled by the title. Knowing little about the show, I assumed that Ted would be a loser for lack of a better word. The title, obviously a play on "better off dead", led me to believe that Ted would be constantly struggling to win and assert himself. However, that assumption was off (not way off, but off). Ted is a good-looking go-getter (Harrington bears an uncanny resemblance to George Clooney) who is successful at his job and is seen as an asset to the company. In fact, despite the craziness which typically surrounds him, Ted is calm, cool, and collected. He always comes out on top without a hair out of place. This goes against the grain of the stereotypical harried male lead in a sitcom who doesn't know what he's doing. And while that's admirable, it also robs the show of any tension or aggressiveness.

There are also some errors in how the show looks at its female characters. Linda is the object of Ted's affection. Andrea Anders played a similar role on Joey and she's proven adept at playing the slightly spunky woman who can often be besieged by self-doubt. The problem is, that's her only dimension. While we sort of want to see Ted end up with her, we'll probably be OK if he doesn't. In contrast, Veronica is a much more interesting character. Despite the fact that she drops the "g" off of words like "anything" or "everything", Portia de Rossi chews the scenery when she's on-screen. Her misunderstanding of social conventions is much like Sheldon's on The Big Bang Theory and she's the character that we love to hate. For the show to improve, it needs to find a love interest for Ted who can bring as much to the show as Veronica.

Many movies have quirky side characters, who are often said to "steal the show", when, in actuality, they only contribute a different vibe to the film. However, in the case of Better Off Ted, Lem and Phil truly do steal the show. The bulk of the show's comedy comes from these two and when the episode is over and you're reflecting on a funny line, it will have most likely come from one of them. They play the nerd role to the hilt and their interactions with one another, as well as with their co-workers are often very funny.

Better Off Ted finds itself in sort of a comedy no-man's land. With it's lack of laugh-track and it's clever skewing of the corporate world, it's certainly smarter than the average sitcom. However, it doesn't have the chops to compete with 30 Rock or Arrested Development. Still, if you're looking for a show to pass the time while heading into the holiday re-run season, you could do worse than Better Off Ted.

Better Off Ted: The Complete First Season steals creamer on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. This two-disc set contains all 13 episodes from the show's fist season. The shows have been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. There is some mild artifacting at times, but otherwise the image rivals digital broadcast quality. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provide clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, and at times do a fine job of illustrating off-screen noises. The surround sound effects aren't as frequent, but work nicely in key scenes. I didn't detect much in the way of bass effects.

There are no extras on this DVD.

Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long