Acting like a gift from the summer TV gods, ABC’s wacky-whimsical workplace comedy Better Off Ted returns this evening for a string of new episodes. (Last week was a re-run of the series’ hilarious “Racial Sensitivity” episode.) We’ve been not-so subtle about our cheerleading for the show, so now is as perfect time as any to buckle down and watch. It’s got the bite and satire of The Office matched with the whimsy of ABC’s now-defunct Pushing Daisies. It’s also got one dashing star: Jay Harrington. Click through to the jump for Harrington’s thoughts on why the show is so unique and what sorts of shenanigans the cast gets itself into for the string of six brand-new episodes that begin tonight. Oh, and if you haven’t already, start watching, will ya?!
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We were both relieved and thrilled ABC decided to bring the show back for another season. Do you get the sense the network is fully committed to supporting the show?
JAY HARRINGTON: I do get that sense. Not only in the pickup, but the fact they’re going to air the additional episodes after what they think is going to be a ratings hit with The Superstars. So it’s a chance for those that did watch it to see some new episodes and hopefully pick up some new people along the way, and then be ready in the fall for a new season.
When you first read the script for Better Off Ted, what made you think you needed to do it?
I didn’t get it. It was the first thing that I read that was so different — with the show breaking the fourth wall. It was an exciting confusion, not necessarily to do with the character of Ted. I think I knew from the start what kind of guy he was, but I couldn’t get a handle on the tone of show. We all weren’t sure going into it what to expect. This is was the first time I’d ever read anything where I wasn’t sure how it was going to play out.
How would you describe Ted? He seems like a smart guy who’s more than a little naive?
I think he is. We’ve talked a little bit about his ex-wife who went on to save the world, and there’s probably a part of that in Ted as well. But he somehow found himself in a conservative right-wing world. In a sense, he’s a fish-out-of-water who’s just trying to stay the course and do the right thing, as morally as possible at Veridian Dynamics. And being a single dad helps motivate his decisions. There’s so many selfish characters on TV, and there’s so many selfish characters on this show, it’s nice to have someone who’s ultimately there for somebody else.
What does Ted, uh, do at Veridian Dynamics, exactly?
[Laughs] Well, you know, he runs a team. I always joke with friends of mine in the corporate world. I’m like, what do you do? At lot of my friends always talk about how they have conference calls, whatever the hell that means! But Ted more or less runs the team. He’s got the scientists, he’s got accounting, he’s sort of a VP among VP’s.
The show depicts the monotony and malaise of work really well, and I think people really relate to that. Did you connect to the show in a similar way?
Absolutely. I’ve had part-time jobs, not all of them in restaurants or bars. I worked in Boston for a spell and got on the train and Dunkin’ Donuts every morning. It was the exact same thing every day: Getting in the elevator with the same people, getting upstairs to the fluorescent lights. You find ways to act out. I have a friend who worked at a huge consulting firm and they have many floors. He had keys to a closet on a floor above him that he could take a nap in. When anyone ever asked where he was, he could say he was on the eighth floor. He was always accountable, because how would they know?
We’ve got six new episodes coming up. Will we see the Ted and Linda [Andrea Anders] romance develop a little further?
Yeah, we will. I think when we left she was dating a guy. That goes away, because of our feelings for each other. There was always the push and pull of whether Ted is doing the right thing by his daughter, because her mom left. There’s one episode where Linda says she just wants to get away, and that’s exactly what Ted’swife used to say, so he can’t do it again.
What about the other characters? What sorts of things will we see with them?
We’ll get a chance to see some of Veronica’s [Portia de Rossi] personal life. I’ll give you a little teaser on this: We have a technology that’s like Google except with face recognition. If you scan a picture of somebody, it picks up where their face may or may not have been over the course of their past. So we find a side-job/second-life Veronica has been living, and it’s really funny. There’s also an episode coming up where we see Phil [Jonathan Slavin] and Lem [Malcolm Barrett] let off steam in the basement by running a sort of fight-club. But it’s actually a medieval fight club. Ted gets involved because his daughter’s away, so he goes down to blow off to steam. You have to start as a knave and work your way up to knighthood. It’s hilarious.
People who haven’t watched yet haven’t missed too much, right? Why should they start watching now?
They can start right now. They haven’t missed to much in terms of back story, and it’s an inherently inviting show. With the show breaking the fourth wall, you’re invited right in. I’m talking right to you. There’s something inviting and comforting about that.
More on Better Off Ted:
Watching TV: ‘Better Off Ted’ returns tonight: A quick hooray!
Watching TV: ‘Better Off Ted’: Hey, let’s all yell at ABC to save this show!
Watching TV: ‘Better Off Ted’ vs. Pres. Obama
‘Better Off Ted’: Six minutes with Phil and Lem
‘Better Off Ted’: Why aren’t more of you watching?