Rediscovering Better Off Ted

Sadly, many brilliant TV shows are cancelled too soon for any number of reasons, including bad ratings, mismanagement by their network, or the fact that they were simply too smart and too good to survive on network television. In some rare cases, cancelled TV shows can be brought back (Family Guy), rescued by cable (Southland), or resurrected as feature films (Firefly), but more often than not, they go to the great TV cloud in the sky long before their creative reserves can be fully tapped. Shows such as Freaks and Geeks, Carnivale, and the granddaddy of them all, Arrested Development, have all suffered this fate. These shows live on in pop culture as much because of their enduring quality as the anger and indignition their fans still feel at the cancellations. One show that does not received its fair share of indigition is Better Off Ted, a short lived comedy that aired on ABC from 2009 to 2010. Debuting to critical acclaim, but low ratings, Better Off Ted lasted only 26 episodes, but it is a treasure trove of laughter waiting to be discovered by anyone who is a fan of the Arrested Development brand of smart, sophisticated humour.

Better Off Ted follows the life of Ted Crisp, who works as the head of Research and Development for a massive corporation called Veridian Dynamics. He is a single father trying to set a good example for his daughter in spite of the ever increasing immoral practices of his company. The very first episode has his boss, Veronica, demanding that he cryogenically freeze one of his research and development scientists, just to see if it’s possible, and the antics only get more absurd from there. A personal favourite episode has the company installing cheaper movement sensors in the office building, only to discover that these new sensors do not register the skin tones of their African American employees. Instead of going back to the original sensors, because this course of action would be too expensive, Veridian attempts to solve the problem in a cost effective manner, while at the same time obeying all employment legal standards. Needless to say, the outcome is as absurd as it is hilarious, and it is the perfect showcase for what this show does best: exposing the ridiculousness of corporate culture that occurs when chasing profits is brought to absurd levels. It would seem that Better Off Ted suffered from poor timing as much as poor ratings, because given the current level of society’s frustration with corporations and the ongoing Occupy Wall Street movement, were this show to be on the air today, my guess would be that a far greater number of people would be willing to tune in.

Which is a shame, because Better Off Ted deserved a lot more than the 26 episodes that were ultimately produced. The comic possibilities in corporate culture are endless, and the cast was uniformly brilliant. In particular, the show was anchored by Portia de Rossi’s pitch perfect performance as Veronica, the determined and emotionally detached corporate executive who will do whatever it takes to advance her company, yet somehow has the heart to do what’s right in the end.

With the recent announcement that Arrest Development will be the latest show to be brought back from the dead with a new season of television episodes and a feature film in the works, it has given hope to the fans of other cancelled TV shows that their favourite characters could return as well. However, given the lack of outrage over Better Off Ted‘s cancellation, Ted will most likely remain dead. Thankfully, due to such outlets as Netflix, iTunes, and Amazon, this show is still available and ready to be discovered by anyone looking for a smart, and now timely comedy.

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