Just finished watching the entire run of canceled TV sitcom Better Off Ted on Netflix, and I have to say it was a pretty funny show. The plot centers around Ted, single dad and middle manager at the evil and manipulative Veridian Dynamics corporation where bumbling scientists in the Research and Development department make merry through their ludicrous antics. There’s also a flaccid love triangle and a father-daughter relationship that never quite took off for me, but mainly it’s all about wacky hijinks that result from applying untested technology to everyday situations, with hilarious results. This show features Portia de Rossi, who I knew from Arrested Development, and her role as Ted’s boss (and sometimes lover) is one of the best on the show. Really, everyone seems to play their respective roles reasonably well, and while I can’t imagine a massive groundswell of cultish support demanding this program back on the air, it is certainly an enjoyable two seasons and probably should have run longer given atrocities like Two and a Half Men and King of Queens that run for two presidential terms or longer. But that’s really just splitting hairs. Shit like King of Queens should never have made it to air in the first place.
A lot of the show’s humor generates around the fictional Veridian Corporation’s evil business and employment practices, and in fact most of the show’s conflict is created as characters wrestle with their consciences in deciding to implement some cruel Veridian policy that will cause everyone to lose their hair or something. It’s a pretty funny premise, put to good effect when the show runs phony public relations commercials during the program that highlight Veridian Dynamic’s brazen callousness. It was interesting to me that unchecked corporate greed and disregard for human life was being poked fun at in this way: on the personal level, a kind of shrug and a What are ya gonna do about Coca-Cola grinding the bones of corpses to be used in making their new biodegradable bottles? is accepted, even expected when you consider how powerless one person is against a multi-national corporation. But to make light of employees shirking work and committing minor acts of industrial sabotage because their employer is heartless and evil as a given, well it comes across as a little too self-satisfied for its own good.
It’s not like people have always accepted the corporate structure. There’s loads of essays from the turn of the last century decrying one business trust or another, or trying to hold accountable the faceless members of a board who claim they are inculpable for some resultant tragedy. In fact, workers’ unions were essentially fomented to stand up against these burgeoning companies, so that the individual would have some representation when speaking to a monolith. Today, many unions have corrupted themselves into powerlessness, and the benefits of belonging don’t seem as apparent. But the need to demand community from global corporations is bigger than ever. To accept that these businesses will do whatever they can get away with for their bottom line is dangerous. Many of these companies are bigger than a lot of countries, so what they consider an acceptable loss really freaks me out.
Better Off Ted didn’t tackle this issue, and it didn’t pretend to. It was just a sitcom, but I believe it did reflect some current attitudes about the state of the world. It’s tough to see what’s wrong with Wal-Mart, where we get our deep discounts, or Viacom, which is merely a company which owns a lot of media. But by amortizing our needs with the needs of everybody else, these behemoths fail to recognize the individual. That scares me, because I have some pretty special needs. I pray some corporation will start catering to those of us who write ALF fanfiction in our underwear while sipping Hi-C Ecto Coolers. Until then, these massive companies have failed to meet their customers halfway.