[09/15/08 - 12:04 AM]
The Futon's First Look: "Better Off Ted" (ABC)
By Brian Ford Sullivan (TFC)

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(written by Victor Fresco; directed by Mike Fresco; TRT: 19:55)

The network's description: "(from ABC's press release, August 2008) For the team at Veridian Technologies, no achievement is too far-fetched. Need a suicidal turkey? Done. Need a metal that's as hard as steel, but bounces � and is edible? Done and done. The head of the research and development department, Ted Crisp loves his job. He loves everything about it. He loves his super human boss, Veronica. He loves his colleagues, Lem, Phil and Linda. Especially Linda. But most of all, he loves what they do. Straddling the threshold between science and imagination, the R & D crew consistently turn the ridiculously impossible into the hilariously plausible. The only problem with Ted's job is that ethics are not a part of company policy. As Ted says, "Work's not a question of right or wrong. It's only about success or failure." Luckily Ted has his precocious daughter, Rose to set him straight. But what happens when you start to take a closer look at your seemingly perfect job? Why is the company trying to cryogenically freeze one of Ted's scientists? What's with the new itchy chairs? Who's been stealing all of the creamer? The new comedy from Emmy-Award nominated writer/producer, Victor Fresco (Mad About You, My Name is Earl) proves that it's not easy being a single father and a middle manager, but somebody's got to do it. After all, what would the world be without exploding pumpkins?"

What did they leave out? "Ted" was actually shot as a presentation using select scenes that run about 15 minutes, followed by additional sequences that serve as examples for future installments.

The plot in a nutshell: At Veridian Technologies, "everything we do makes your life better... usually." Or at least so says the commercial. In any case, meet Ted (Jay Harrington) the head of Veridian's research and development team, whose built a reputation out of spinning proverbial straw into gold. You need to make a weaponized gas from a pumpkin, Ted's your guy. You have a new type of fabric you're not sure what to do with, Ted will give you the option of turning it into "The Focus Master," the world's most productive office chair. It's a facet that impresses Ted's amusingly humorless boss Veronica (a never better Portia de Rossi) enough to trust him with the company's latest project - they want to freeze Phil (Jonathan Slavin), one of Ted's sad sack researchers for a year to, well, see if they can. ("Your guys will do anything for you Ted," Veronica remarks. "They've got, what's that thing again... underlings have it... loyalty.") Initially on board, Ted gets - for lack of a better word - cold feet after discussing it with his wise-beyond-her-years daughter Rose (Isabella Acres), not to mention his QA chief Linda (Andrea Anders, also never better), who's always wary of the company line ("Do you know they send us the phone bills for our non-work related calls? They don't charge us for them - they just want us to know they know we're making them. Can a company be bitchy?"). Phil nevertheless agrees to the procedure in the name of company pride, much to the horror of his fellow researcher Lem (Malcolm Barrett) whose righteous indignation doesn't seem to get much louder than a few grumbles. All that's left to wonder then is whether or not Phil's eyeballs will explode once the chamber drops below -20 degrees. Upcoming episodes then would revolve around everything from the side effects to Phil's botched freezing (he randomly screams mid-conversation) to Ted and Linda's burgeoning romance.

What works: A charming mix of the whimsicalness of "Pushing Daisies," the absurdity of "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and the tomfoolery of "The Office," "Ted" might have the most distinctive voice of any comedy pilot in recent memory. I mean to combine talking to the camera (Ted narrates via the fourth wall), people being frozen, heartfelt crushes and introducing two of the main characters while they are sitting on the toilet? The end result proves to be a unique experience that's funny, silly and - dare I say it - sweet. Whether it be Lem detailing his fear of his mother ("She once killed a bat with a People magazine."); Linda stealing coffee creamers as part of her quiet rebellion; or Ted bashfully confessing he can't have another office affair since "you only get one" - it all feels uniquely, well... "Ted." And to be funny too? The stars have aligned for this one.

What doesn't: On the flip side, there's an undoubtedly polarizing aspect to the show's voice and tone. I have a feeling people will either "get it" or wonder what the hell this show is supposed to be - much like HBO's "Flight of the Conchords."

The bottom line: I'll be looking forward to this for sure. Other people however may feel decidedly differently.

  [september 2008]  


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