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Better Off With Ted Than Without Him

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Last week I argued that Scrubs had not so much hit a speed bump as gone completely off the rails. Not only is that wholly unfortunate for Scrubs and our memories of that great series, it is also hurting the show that comes after it, Better Off Ted. Most people don't watch Better Off Ted, but more people should, and with Scrubs as a lead-in they probably won't.

I'm not going to go and call Better Off Ted pure genius, but I will make some sort of overly cute statement about us all being better off for it — it's funny, and funny is good. It's not your sort of typical 'Mike messes up and Jason and Maggie create a punishment that Mike creatively gets around' funny, it's more funny in fits and spurts and much of the funny comes from the dialogue. Consequently, it's not really one of those shows you can watch while doing 12 or 13 other things (but then, if you watch, you probably already know you don't want to watch while doing 12 or 13 other things).

Shall I provide a couple of examples? Excellent.

How about Veronica (Portia de Rossi) to Ted (Jay Harrington) last night: "You should jump on that Ted, before the crazy outweighs the hot." Veronica was, in her no-nonsense and utterly weird fashion discussing Linda (Andrea Anders), who is, in fact, a crazy but attractive underling of Ted's. A lot of the reason the line works (or worked last night) is not just the truth in the statement, but the fact that Portia de Rossi is able to say such things in an incredibly deadpan, totally serious fashion. Plus, the statement is the exact sort of thing you're not supposed to say – at least in that way – even if it is true.

Veronica would actually go on last night to tell a story to Linda about how, as a child, Veronica was worried that her younger sister would overtake her so she gave her sister some injections which not only caused the poor girl to get awfully hairy but also get kicked off the gymnastics team for doping. Where Scrubs would have given us a look at hairy sister getting booted from the gymnastics team for doping (and Scrubs could have absolutely made that work), Better Off Ted just had the story recited and then moved on. The show doesn't highlight or draw attention to such things, they just deliver the joke and keep going.

The show doesn't only work verbally either, they do actually work in sight gags as well. Last night one of the scientists, Lem (Malcolm Barrrett), was showing his mother about a new tPhoto Credit: ABC/Karen Nealype of popcorn he was developing – one which pops due to the heat from your mouth. Lem tossed a bunch of kernels in his mouth and then (in another shot) began to spew a whole lot of popped popcorn out of his mouth. It kept going longer than one would have thought possible, and they somehow made it almost believable that the kernels he had eaten did in fact pop.

Every week that I sit and watch Better Off Ted, I do so knowing full well that when I see the ratings the next day I'm going to be depressed. And yes, it does appear as though the comedy is soon to see its last days, but I watch and laugh anyway. Why? Because it's funny, and that's really enough.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.