I wasn't impressed by the two opening episodes of Better Off Ted, compounded by the fact I'd been led to believe this was an unsung comedy masterpiece. Fortunately, the third and fourth episodes managed to get me cautiously optimistic again, although the show doesn't feel very conducive to episodic reviews, so this will likely be my final time covering it.
"Through Rose-coloured HAZMAT Suits" tackled the issue of childcare in the workplace, with Ted (Jay Harrington) forced to take his daughter Rose (Isabella Acres) to Veridian Dynamics, where he was appalled that the company's daycare program utilize kids as slave labour (painting road markings, assisting with experiments, etc.) Ted opts to leave Rose in the care of Linda (Andrea Anders), who made an instant maternal impression on his daughter, before Veronica (Portia de Rossi) took over and discovered the useful influence children have in forcing adults to behave conservatively in their presence. A skill she used to soften a reprimand from her angry boss, then fire some employees without them putting up a fight.
Concurrently, there were issues with someone setting off the building's contagion alarm, which resulted in Ted and Linda becoming stuck in a locked room wearing HAZMAT suits and having to face their feelings for each other. Meanwhile, an argument found Lem (Malcolm Barrett) and Phil (Jonathan Slavin) deciding to alternate responsibility for their lab, with each becoming the other's boss in regular 10-minute shifts.
This was a much better episode than those prior, mainly because it focused on the characters and let the absurdism just seep in around the edges. Clearly there's a clichéd office romance on the cards between Ted and Linda, but this episode did a good job giving us a reason why Ted's reticent about acting on his feelings (he doesn't want to risk upsetting his daughter if another relationship fails), which worked better than the pilot's gag that Ted believes he's used up his one allotted office fling with Veronica.
There was also some genuine laughs in seeing frosty Veronica abuse the calming effect moppet Rose has on adults, before beginning to groom Rose in her own image (combing her curls into a tight bun to mimic her own hairstyle, for example). Veronica's naivety about children (believing they need to be constantly washed, later asking for Rose's business card) were also nice touches in what became the funniest subplot.
I was less impressed with Lem and Phil's power-struggle storyline, which only existed to inspire a sight gag of them sharing their lab's sole remaining HAZMAT suit during another false alarm, but the good just about outweighed the bad.
Things continued to improve with "Racial Sensitivity", which I hope is more indicative of what Better Off Ted aims to do with its concept, because the comic swipes at corporate racism were well-made and amusing. It all began with Lem realizing the company's new automated motion controls (that work by sensing light reflected off human skin) can't detect black people. Thus, the black workforce of Veridian Dynamics had to suffer the ignominy of sitting in pitch-black labs, locked in offices overnight, or trapped inside elevators between floors, unless a white employee is present.
Adding to the surrealism, Veroncia's solution was to give each black employee a Caucasian aide (as part of "Operation White Shadow"), which Lem wasn't happy about because his shadow's a dimwit, although some of the other black workers actually enjoyed having what amounts to a "helper monkey" tailing them. However, once Veridian was accused of racism because it's only hiring white people as shadows (but the hiring of black shadows would require those shadows be given white shadows), Ted was tasked with finding a financially persuasive way to break this infinity loop and make their bosses revert back to the original racially-tolerant motion sensor system.
"Racial Sensitivity" reminded me of something Futurama would come up with, on a good day. It was a bit of silliness that's also making a serious point; something The IT Crowd should be aiming for more often, but rarely pulls off when it tries. A subplot with Linda making a point of dating Don to make Ted jealous, which back-fired because Ted became friends with Don, was also nicely handled. I can't say anything in these two episodes made me bust a gut laughing, but there was a more pleasing balance of surrealism and character-based comedy than before, and it was a much stronger viewing experience.
WRITERS: Justin Adler (1.3) & Michael Glouberman (1.4)
DIRECTORS: Michael Fresco (1.3) & Paul Lazarus (1.4)
TRANSMISSION: 3 August 2010 - FX/HD, 9.15PM