'Better Off Ted': Six minutes with Phil and Lem
ABC’s Better Off Ted — whose season finale airs tonight at 8:30 ET — charms the pants off me week after week. (Literally. It’s often quite awkward for people in the nearby vicinity.) Part of what makes the show so vibrant and funny is the banter between Phil (Jonathan Slavin, left) and Lem (Malcolm Barrett, right), the two mad scientists at work in the mysterious labs of Veridian Dynamics. The pair’s volatile yet codependent relationship works effortlessly on screen, and after chatting with both actors on the phone for an all-too brief six minutes, it’s safe to say it translates in the real world, too. Continue reading to find out what they had to say about who the show’s true romance really is, Portia de Rossi getting drunk on set, and the possibility of a second season.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: I’ve got six minutes, guys, so I’m gonnamove quick: On the show, you play really smart people who doreally dumb things. Is that a fair assessment?
MALCOLM BARRETT: Sure, why not.
JONATHAN SLAVIN: Actually, we’re really dumb people who do really smart things.
Barrett: It’s an odd paradox.
And is it also fair to say your characters’ relationship is totally a bromance?
Barrett: [Laughs] So fair! It’d be unfair not to.
Slavin:I think that we’re the marriage on this show. We’re a complexrelationship but uncomplicated. We’re so enmeshed, we cease to existwithout each other. We’re the marriage on this show!
Barrett: You think on our show the love affair is between Ted [Jay Harrington] and Linda [Andrea Anders], but it’s Lem and Phil.
Wow. You went there!
Barrett: I went all the way there, buddy. [Laughs] I’ve got six minutes too, and I’m going to use ’em.
I have to ask about this, because I thought it was hilarious:After Phil gets frozen and thawed out, he makes this noise. I guess theonly way I can describe it is a horrifying screeching, bird-like squawkover and over again. What was worse — making that noise, or listeningto it repeatedly?
Slavin: Well, that’s not the exact noise that I made. They sort of electronicallyaltered the noise that I made.
Barrett: It sounded very similar.
Slavin:Yeah, they raised it in pitch. It was hard. They would let me go on andon, and you know you can’t stop and breathe in between. It reminded meof my days blowing the shofar in temple. That’s what it felt like.
Barrett: It felt like that for me too. Blowing the shoo-far….
Slavin: I think the reason they had me stop making it after the second episode was because the editor couldn’t take it anymore.
Barrett: It sucked for the editor, but it was always hilarious for me to watch. Just to see a grown man yell.
How many times do you think you practiced that?
Barrett: I bet he practiced all the time. You practiced all the time, didn’t you?
Slavin: I practiced a lot. I thought it out. My dogs were like, ‘what are you doing?!”
Barrett: He has 19 dogs, too.
Slavin: Don’t exaggerate.
One of my favorite parts of the show are those fake commercials for Veridian Dynamics.
Barrett: They’re hilarious, I agree. [Silence]
That wasn’t really a question, sorry. I just wanted to say that.
Slavin: Did you see the one about Obama?
Yes! “When presidents talk, Americans get hurt.” Brilliant.
Slavin: I know. Amazing.
What are a few of your favorite workplace sitcoms?
Barrett: Uh…Working, starring Fred Savage. [Laughs]
Wow, you keep going places.
Slavin: Mary Tyler Moore. I actually do love that show.
Barrett: NewsRadio. I was a big fan.
Slavin: I think 30 Rock is brilliant.
Barrett: That’s not a workplace comedy!
Slavin: Yeah it is!
We love Better Off Ted at EW. But for people who haven’t tuned in, can you guys give some reasons why they should start watching?
Barrett: Because it’s going to get better and keep pushing the envelope more. We’re doing thingsyou’re not going to see on TV. All of the shows you wish would’ve stayed on TV for longer, we’re the one you’re going to love. Themore people see it, the more they love it.
Slavin: And I think ifyou’re tired of being condescended to by bad television, this is a smart,fun, interesting, totally accessible show. It doesn’t take itself tooseriously, and yet it’s really intelligent comedy. I don’t think wedumb anything down. I don’t think we underestimate people and whatthey’re into, what they’re ready for.
Barrett: I don’t think there’s been a comedy this relevant on network television in a long time.
Slavin: We’re saving lives! [Laughs]
Barrett: We aresaving lives. This is similar to working in the peace corps! No, I meanI think the things that we get away with are only seen on cable. Idon’t think you see this type of subject matter-skewing and satire onregular TV.
Tonight’s the season finale. Can you share any tidbits about the episode?
Barrett:The episode is called “Get Happy.” The company basically tries to makeits employees happy without actually finding out what makes them happy.
Slavin:They’re encouraged to express their individuality, but the company isconcerned with just letting people do that. So it decides to expresspeople’s individuality for them, in four non-offensive themes:space, classic cars, the Green Bay Packers and kittens. So everyonecomes to work and their cubicles are decorated like that, which ofcourse goes horribly wrong because it incites a gang war, where catstake on space and stuff like that. And Portia de Rossi’s character,they mandate that she be friendlier — so she finally takes her hair outof that bun.
Slavin: She does!
Barrett: Fun fact? She was drunk. The whole time.
I’ve heard that rumor about her, actually.
Barrett: It’s true!
Slavin: [Laughs] She would never!
Will there be a second season, or is it too soon to tell?
Slavin: It’s too soon.
Barrett: It’s too soon to tell, but I would assume yes.
Well great. I’m going to assume that too, then.
Slavin: Iwould say I’m optimistic, and I’m not an optimistic person. He’sPollyanna over here, but I’m like “we’re all going to die.”
Barrett: I am so Pollyanna.
Slavin:I’m pretty optimistic about getting a second season. ABC has beenreally supportive. From the get-go, they’ve loved what we’ve been doingcreatively and they’ve been very upfront about that.