Better Off Ted is a comedy about the R&D division of a mutinational corporation. The goal is to be very stylized and over-the-top; this is more Working than The Office. But, well, it would be better as a comic book.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the television medium. I’ve watched a few hours of television and enjoyed most of them. But TV shows have too many hands in them, too many people who might not quite be on the same page and might get things wrong. In this case, a good script was damaged badly by bad line readings. You’d hear a line — well, I’d hear a line — and think “that should’ve been delivered like this.” It does play more with some characters than others; the central character Ted (a hyper-competent and likable corporate man who privately fights with his beliefs that the company is doing things wrong) and Linda, the cubicle dweller who has found on odd outlet to deal with her need for rebellion (played by Andrea Anders, who was saddled with the thankless task on Joey of being the unrealized love interest who seemed only to be in there because unrealized love is a generic sitcom building block), mostly come off well. In contrast, the boss, who was clearly supposed to have a corporate officiousness that covers, if only briefly, the oddness of everything she’s ordering done, come off as odd first. Now, I don’t blame that on the actress; Portia DiRossi is talented, if inherently odd. There are too many other little bits that are misdelivered and mistimed that I have to believe there is a failure of direction, that the director didn’t manage to quite wrap himself around a tone that worked and ended up flailing.
Better Off Ted would also improve with the non-linear time sense of comic books. It would be easy in comics to bury a minor back-and-forth gag in a single dialogue-heavy panel, have it be a humorous aside. But run in real time on TV, that little bit of minor characters bickering (say) takes up the time and feels the same importance as central character/concept stuff. There are, of course, ways to very effectively throw in the minor gag where it carries the humor without misplaying its importance (look at David Hyde Pierce’s work on Frasier, he pulled it off constantly), but it is hard to mesh that with the style they’re using here.
The good news is that this is the first episode. These things are fixable. Will they fix them? I hope so.
Edited to add: Looks like the writer was the director on this, Victor Fresco. So did he not know what he had? Just couldn’t recognize a performance when it worked? Had outside interference?