Tuesday, April 21, 2009

"Better Off Ted," and "Dollhouse": Don't Let them Die, Please!

I haven't done a TV post in a while. This is not because of the lack of new Grey's Anatomy episodes but, rather, because life sometimes gets in the way of TV.

However, it hasn't been getting in the way of my watching two of this season's new shows, ones that I have recently learned are 'on the bubble'.

For those of you not as obsessed with TV as I am, an 'on the bubble' show means it's in danger. It means that the Networks aren't enamoured with its success and are contemplating getting rid of it. This means...no more show.

Firstly, I have to tell you, my first favourite new show is Better Off Ted. If you're an American Idol watcher, chances are you may not even have heard of this show. It's on at 8:30 p.m. on Wednesdays, in the slot right before Lost. Let me tell you, if you haven't been watching, you have missed out.

Better off Ted is hilarious. It's clever. It's slightly sarcastic and has that very "now" sense of humour that anyone who lives in today's world should get. The setting of a show is an office but not just any office, it's Veridian Dynamics, a company which invents things and isn't afraid to try anything. For example, just a few of their products over the past episodes have been "cowless beef," "hurricane-proof dogs" and "weaponized pumpkins", just to name a few. The company is headed Veronica, played by Portia de Rossi. Veronica is fascinating because she tries to have morals but she doesn't quite get them. The show's main character, Ted, played by Jay Harrington is her Head of Product Development. Ted does have morals though, often, he has to be reminded by his smart five-year-old daughter to employ them. Other notable characters are Lem and Phil, the brilliant scientists responsible for inventing the products. In the first episode, Veronica decided to freeze Phil for a cryogenic experiment. Phil, a loyal employee, decided he was game. As he froze, he was told he would experience extreme pain and the biggest worry was that his eyeballs would burst out of his head. The employees of Veridian watched, anxiously. Fortunately, Phil's eyeballs did not explode though his face was captured in a good imitation of Edvard Muench's "Scream" painting. Unfortunately, Phil was accidentally unfrozen a couple of days later and, in following episodes, occasionally, in the middle of conversation suddenly screams for no reason. Irritated by the interruption in meetings, Veronica now sprays Phil with a squirt bottle to get him to stop screaming.

This is only one of the funny moments of the show. In an effort to save energy, Veridian employed a motion sensor of virtually everything in the company including the elevators, doors, water fountains and lights. Unfortunately, because the technology works by reflecting off the skin, none of the black employees are able to activate the sensors. Because the expense of replacing all of the equipment is too vast, Veridian's solution is to employee white people to follow all the black employees around, thus activating the sensors. Lem, Phil's scientist ally, becomes a hero, a former passive-agressive voice in the company taking a stand and ultimately solving the problem. It sounds vaguely racist but that's the beauty of Better Off Ted, it takes shots at everything, mocks everything and doesn't come out looking like a Public Service Announcement about diversity in the workplace. It ridicules the fact that diversity in the workplace has to be a considered factor in the workplace rather than just hiring a person.

I'm gushing. The show makes me laugh, what can I say? The final icing on the cake is the fake TV ads for Veridian, usually spoofing whatever topic is the theme of the show. Veridian, as a company, has no morals. They will do and make whatever they have to in order to succeed. If you haven't watched it and you need a laugh, go to ABC.com and watch their free episodes online. I recommend "Racial Sensitivity" but any of them are worth a watch. I'm not a huge fan of sitcoms because they're not very funny. I still enjoy The Office but have given upon on 30 Rock mostly because, like so many good shows, it began to believe its own critical acclaim and became too self-congratulatory for my tastes.

My fear is that not enough people discover Better Off Ted before ABC decides to give it up and cancel it, instead choosing to make more Dancing with the Stars type shows. I'm hoping that they listen to the critics on this one and keep it around, giving it a chance to build up an audience as it so deserves.

The other show that is in danger is Dollhouse. I've mentioned that Joss Whedon is my hero. I will watch anything he writes. Case in point: Dollhouse. Like so many others, I was a little worried during the first couple of episodes; the trademark Whedon humour was missing, the show seemed so serious and made little sense. Yet, I stuck with it because I trust Joss completely. I was rewarded. By episode five, the show found its groove. Now, even though it's on Friday nights, I find myself anticipating the next episode. If I can't watch it, I watch on Hulu.com the minute I get a free chance. The show has so many layers, centering on a mysterious 'dollhouse' in Los Angeles in which the dolls are young, attractive humans who have 'chosen' to have their minds erased and allow themselves to be formed into whatever personality is requested of them.

It sounds ludicrous yet Joss makes it work. We don't really know if the dolls really chose to become dolls. It seems that way but we don't really know. We get to watch Eliza Dushku (Echo), Dichen Lachman (Sierra) and Enver Gjokaj (Victor) change their roles every week, defaulting to a childlike state when their 'imprints' have been removed and they are just 'dolls'. The head of the company is Adelle, played with a British crispness by Olivia Williams. Her technological genius is Topher, played by Fran Kranz. Topher is a geek. He's also brilliant, responsible for designing the imprints for the dolls and installing them with all the complexity of building a chemistry experiment.

Each week, we see Paul Ballard, a former FBI agent, played by Tahmoh Penikett, try to uncover information about the Dollhouse, a place he knows exists but cannot prove. One 'doll', Alpha, escaped and is wreaking havoc from behind the scenes. We haven't even met Alpha yet but his presence is so strong that he's in the shadows of every episode, even though his role exists through discussion only.

Even though the actor's names sound like they come from a fantasy novel, the show is held together by the strong cast. It's compelling, clever and always leaves you wanting more. The show is on Fox who have a history of failing Joss. They seem to place his shows in the worst possible slot in the viewing schedule, just to watch them die. The joke is on them though, with the help of Hulu.com and Joss's strong internet followers, Dollhouse, unlike Better Off Ted, will not die easily. This is the type of show that will inspire save-the-show campaigns. I'd love that to be the case for Better Off Ted too but that's a new show, without a cult following.

I'm only one tiny voice in the blogosphere; my internet presence is merely a whisper. However, if I can do anything to encourage people to watch these two shows, to help keep them on the air, I will. Yet the one thing I can do is have an opinion...and if ABC and Fox decide to cancel these shows, I will not be happy. Take a chance, networks. Stop assuming that everyone likes American Idol and Dancing with the Stars and let those of us that still love scripted television to have something good to watch. Please.

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