Better Off Dead | GETTING EVEN BETTER Jay Harrington, Matt Miller and Portia de Rossi bring the laughs on the new season of Better Off Ted .
Credit: Adam Larkey/ABC

Scrubs and Better Off Ted, both back for new seasons, work on the absurdist, surreal side of sitcoms. Set firmly in the workplace-comedy genre, Scrubs and its medical backdrop, and Ted and its Veridian Dynamics company, regularly unmoor themselves from reality. The musical numbers that Scrubs‘ J.D. (Zach Braff) and Turk (Donald Faison) break into, or Ted‘s company-mandated dating based on genetic compatibility, are loopy larks that require likable characters we can relate to; otherwise, the foolishness would become irritating.

Scrubs is pushing the irritation envelope as it returns from the near dead in a revised form. Zach Braff is committed for only a half-dozen episodes, and other regulars are gone or scheduled for a few cameos (Christa Miller is snuggled down in Cougar Town, for example, and Neil Flynn’s janitor is a dad on The Middle). So Scrubs has recruited some new hospital students.

You can see how show creator Bill Lawrence and his writers are attempting an internal spin-off. Kerry Bishé plays Lucy, a new student in the medical school that is the show’s updated setting. Lucy is one of J.D.’s students?in more ways than one. As was evident from the back-to-back episodes that premiered Dec. 1, she is going to gradually, steadily take over the funny voice-over narration that J.D. did.

Right now Lucy is just a wide-eyed innocent with eager-beaver ambition, but she’s verging on dumb. In other words, the writers need to get a fix on that character fast, or she won’t be someone to root for. Of the other newbies, I like the bratty, entitled Cole (Dave Franco, younger brother of some guy gueststarring on General Hospital) and grumpy Drew (Michael Mosley, a David Simon recruit from The Wire and Generation Kill).

Thank goodness Better Off Ted has returned intact. I love everything about this show, from star Jay Harrington’s delivery of Ted’s straight-man lines with WASP ramrod posture to the show’s up-front critiques of corporate capitalism. The first two episodes contain strong subplots about staff downsizing and rolled-back pensions, indicators that Ted is doing a better job of folding real-life resonances into its silliness.

Not that the silliness isn’t out in force. The first episode found a way to bring Portia de Rossi’s predatory boss in contact with Malcolm Barrett’s lowly researcher Lem (she needed his sperm — ‘scuse me, ”my baby ingredients,” he called them). The second episode revived a subplot I thought had been dropped: Linda’s (Andrea Anders) desire to be a children’s-book author. Well, that was the ostensible plot. It was really just an excuse for fine moments such as Linda’s spontaneous nickname for Ted (”Bloopity-bloo”) and Ted’s immortal observation ”Hmmm, Tasered flesh smells bacon-y.”

I think we’re all better off with Ted.Scrubs: C+ Better Off Ted: A?

Better Off Ted
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