by Jonah Krakow
No doubt many of us are patiently waiting to hear about the fate of Chuck over at NBC (Now renewed for 13 episodes), but there's also a few of us who are waiting to hear about ABC's Better Off Ted as well. Quite frankly, Better Off Ted was a surprising highlight of this TV season and hopefully it'll come back next year.
An office-based sitcom that was paired with Scrubs on ABC, Better off Ted is a smart and biting satire about workers at a vaguely scientific mega-company called Viridian Dynamics, (think Fringe's Massive Dynamic or Mr. Show's GloboChem.) Whereas The Office is about a small paper company struggling to stay competitive with the big guys, Better Off Ted's Viridian Dynamics is the big guy whose office workers constantly get lost in the shuffle. The plot of each episode consists of the main characters fighting the baffling corporate policies, inefficient redundancies, bureaucratic red tape and controversial cost-cutting measures that are standard operating procedure in many big businesses - sort of like a live-action version of Dilbert.
The main character is Ted Crisp, (Jay Harrington) the leader of the research and development team and a good guy working in a potentially evil place. Portia de Rossi plays his boss, Veronica, a role that is very similar to the one she played on Arrested Development, only more cold and heartless, if that's possible. Linda (Andrea Anders) is the head of testing at the company and a romantic interest for Ted, although Ted won't commit, having already used up his self-mandated "one inter-office affair" with Veronica years earlier. (More than one affair and he feels people will think he sleeps around.) Finally, there's Lem and Phil, (Malcolm Barrett and Jonathan Slavin) the two lead scientists who work together to create all of the semi-controversial products that Viridian Dynamics demands, like meatless beef or weaponized pumpkins.
In addition to the human characters, Viridian Dynamics the company plays a huge role in the series because the mandates coming from the nameless, faceless, upper-level corporate suits always drive the plot. We get a glimpse of the two-faced nature of the company in the form of fake Viridian Dynamics commercials at the start of each episode. They're subtle digs at corporate America filled with stock photos of happy faces, technological gadgets and nature. One highlight is the ad that ran in the episode, "Racial Sensitivity." As images of smiling white people fill the screen, a voice-over announces Viridian Dynamics' vow to have a racially diverse workforce. And after a close-up shot of two white workers shaking hands, we hear the company tagline: "Viridian Dynamics. Diversity. Good for us."