To wildly paraphrase Big Bill Shakespeare: I come to praise “Better Off Ted,” not to bury it. For those of us that loved this all-too-prematurely cancelled show, we got to see the final two episodes thanks to its release on various platforms today, such as iTunes and Netflix’s Streaming Service. It was both fantastic and depressing to see the final two episodes of this fantastic show beam across my TV. It’s all the more depressing now, since as I write this, “Minute to Win It” is currently on the screen that just recently housed the antics at Veridian Dynamics one last time.
Excuse me while I dip my privates in bird seed and go streaking at the local hawk compound.
There have been plenty of shows in my television-watching days that were cancelled far before I was ready to let them go. But few baffle me as much as the demise of “Better Off Ted.” The first show that I really loved to be cut off ridiculously early in its run was “Twin Peaks”: I didn’t know anything about ratings, and certainly didn’t have the critical faculties to understand how much the show went off the rails after Laura Palmer’s murder was solved, but I do distinctly remember wanting much, much more of that show after its twist ending. Later, shows like “Drive” and “John from Cincinnati” came and went from my life with predictable yet depressing speed. The former barely left the driveway before being axed, and the latter made it one full season, by the end of which I think only my wife and I were still watching.
But these were shows that were acquired tastes. I’m used to genre shows not finding a wide audience and thus dying on the vine while anxious fans look at ratings in helpless horror. (The “New England Journal of Medicine” has officially called this state “Whedonitis.”) I understood why people wouldn’t necessarily gravitate towards a show about a secret society that conducted nefarious cross-country car races, or a show that may or may not have been about God sending a savant down to save humanity through the power of surfing. I LOVED both of those concepts, but I got why it wasn’t everyone’s bread and butter. But I can’t believe people didn’t like “Ted”’s butter.
“Better Off Ted” featured relatable characters in a relatable setting and unleashed some of the wittiest, freshest, and unique half-hours of humor in the past few years. And absolutely no one seemed to care. At all. Guy Fieri is conducting 60-second races to stupidity week after week, but figuring out when to watch “Better Off Ted” took more brain power than existed in the basement lab of Veridian Dynamics. It was almost like a game ABC was playing on its small yet devoted fanbase, the results of our efforts being as undervalued as the tickets handed out to employees in one of the show’s unaired final episodes.
It would be easy to just assign all blame to ABC, who scheduled the show in such a bizarre fashion that even DVRs seem to give up any semblance of hope in locating it. But it’s not as if the show ever really had a large audience to begin with, even after the network’s initial onslaught of advertising before its Season 1 debut. The same network that a year later launched the critical and ratings-based hit “Modern Family” couldn’t do the same for “Ted” just one year earlier. Does this say more about ABC, the viewing public, or “Ted” itself?
I don’t pretend to have the answer. I’m pretty biased when it comes to the show itself, which made me laugh off loud more per minute than any comedy in recent memory. (I’ve been giggling to myself again and again while writing this recap after repeating the words “strangely circular meat.” Watch the unaired eps. You’ll know why.) Not only was it funny, but its office setting was unique in this time of economic crisis. A show that took pot shots at major corporations in an age in which mega-financial firms make General Zod look like Rainbow Brite? Seemed like a homerun to me. But that’s probably why I never even made JV baseball in high school.
Maybe “Ted” could have used a little less zaniness and a bit more populist anger in order to connect with people. I’m not suggesting that the show should have been a Michael Moore-esque rampage, but both “Ted” and even “The Office” flirted with touching upon real-life economic worries without actually going all in in terms of dealing with them. Back when Michael Scott temporarily split off from Dunder-Mifflin, the show hit a vein of realism that it could not possibly have predicted when the show first started out. “Ted” obviously exists in a separate reality from “The Office,” but could have potentially exploited that difference and use it to its advantage. Just as science fiction perpetually uses fantastical settings, races, and creatures as allegory, so too could “Ted” have used some of its unique qualities to make sage statements about our current day and age.
But all that aside, I’ll miss the insanely talented casts, most of whom have already pulled a Lebron James and taking said talents to other projects already. I’ll miss Phil/Lem, the best bromance not on “Community.” I’ll miss Veronica’s side gig as a magician’s assistant. I’ll miss Ted and Linda’s struggles to stay sane in a completely insane company (and, by extension, society). And I’ll miss the weekly “Veridian Dynamic” faux commercials, so damn funny because they were so damn close to what we see anyways in everyday life. (Cough BP Cough. Sorry. Something stuck in my keyboard there.)
So goodbye for now, “Better Off Ted.” I’ll be sure to stream you down the line, since Netflix Streaming is probably something that Veridian built. It’s too damn addictive and evil NOT to have come from that fictional company that closed up shop long before it should have.
Any of you watch “Better Off Ted” while it aired? Will you watch it all now that its available for rental? And if not, what’s so very wrong with you?
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