The Final Season of ‘Better Off Ted’ Reminds Us That We Were Better Off With It

Better Off Ted was cancelled too early, and this truncated final season doesn't give any real closure. What it does give us, however, is more hi-jinks and zany creativity.

Better Off Ted is a workplace comedy that follows Ted, a senior Vice President of Research and Development at Veridian Dynamics, as he navigates the challenges of balancing home and office life, juggles the constant demands of his employees, and reconciles the moral dilemmas those struggles often create for him.

Granted, the basic premise doesn’t sound all that unusual, especially when the absurdities of cubicle life have been so thoroughly picked apart from Office Space to The Office.

It’s the particulars of what Ted (Jay Harrington) has to deal with that make Better Off Ted a quirky comedy on the level of Pushing Daisies or The Middleman. Better Off Ted, like the two aforementioned programs, enjoyed a short life on ABC, facing cancellation after its second season.

The show’s eccentricities are many. First, there’s Ted’s employer, Veridian Dynamics. As much a character as any of Ted’s coworkers, Veridian Dynamics is a constant presence in the lives of its employees. Here, one can think of Stephen Colbert’s Prescott Pharmaceuticals, or perhaps an imaginary Fortune 500 company owned by Angel‘s Wolfram & Hart. Veridian Dynamics has its hooks in everything, chasing down every new technology that promises a profit, never hesitating to use its own employees as test subjects.

Want to complain? Too bad. As employees of Veridian Dynamics, Ted and his colleagues signed away pretty much any rights to grievances, intellectual property, and even their own DNA. The company’s directives, delivered from on high, are often arbitrary, contradictory, and even downright dangerous.

All of this sounds quite grim. Thankfully, the company’s bottom-line logic is often delivered via Portia de Rossi’s Veronica. Veronica is Ted’s boss, a woman who’s learned how to navigate the corporate ladder with ruthless efficiency. Dressed in sharp business attire, her hair in a tight bun, Veronica possesses a gleam in her eye that could be mistaken for psychosis, but it’s actually the glint of a shark’s mentality. If she has an opinion that differs from the company line, you’ll rarely hear it; if you do, however, you can’t be sure Veronica isn’t using it to maneuver you exactly where she wants you to be.

Veronica’s own ideas are often as shrewd and wrong-headed as those of her superiors, such as when she gets sexual harassment classified as a disease such that none of her employees can be fired for it. The result? Open flirtation, people making out in cubicles, and, horror of horrors, reduced productivity. Likewise, Veronica’s scheme to use Ted’s daughter as a daycare mole to extract workplace intelligence from other employees’ kids also backfires.

It’s probably for the best that Veronica rarely lets her guard down, because she’s basically running a mad house. In addition to Ted complicating her life with moral quandaries, she must also deal with Linda (Andrea Anders), a tester who works for Ted who tries to impose her conscience on things around her. Then there’s Phil (Jonathan Slavin) and Lem (Malcolm Barrett), two scientists down in the laboratories who are the quirkiest pair this side of the Muppets’ Beeker and Dr. Honeydew.

For all of this, Veronica is fiercely protective of her employees and takes her role as a mentor quite seriously. Her advice to Ted and Linda (one of Ted’s testers) might sound insane, but they are often sound guidance for the environment in which they work. In short, Veronica is a singular piece of work, and an achievement on de Rossi’s part. Her performance, along with Better Off Ted‘s many other charms, makes it a shame more people didn’t get to see the program. The show might be named after Ted, but Veronica is the Type-A North Star that guides all of them.

Better Off Ted‘s two seasons consistently come up with absurd premises and follow through with them. The program’s most famous season one episode had Veridian Dynamics implementing motion sensors that ended up not being able to see black people. Rather than fix the sensors, Veridian Dynamics’ logic had them adding separate manual fixtures for their black employees. When that turned out to be a bad idea for obvious reasons, the company ultimately gave every black employee their own “free white guy” to follow them around and trigger the sensors — and, yes, the show still found ways to make the situation snowball from there.

Season two finds a typo in a memo making cursing and swearing mandatory in the office, a company initiative that encourages certain employees to date and breed based on their genetic compatibility, and a productivity experiment involving a single red lab coat that nearly drives the scientists insane. The show is also fond of weird little throwaway details, like Phil’s wife once being a member of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, to pointed winks, like Ted’s daughter going to an elementary school named after prominent early 20th-Century union leader Eugene Debs.

In the end, the show didn’t even get the dignity of finishing out its final season. Reportedly, a provisional plan to show its final two episodes back-to-back was shelved when game seven of the NBA Finals took precedence. Those episodes are included here, and they show that some plot threads will have to go un-knotted: Ted and Andrea are still dancing around the idea of dating each other, Phil and Lem are still working in the lab, and Veronica is still maneuvering the cutthroat office waters. Nevertheless, while these last entries don’t provide any type of closure, they do give us just a little bit more Better Off Ted to enjoy.

RATING 8 / 10