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I guess I just like liking things

This week’s storylines don’t crossover much, so let’s try a slightly different format.

Ted & Linda

Things are awkward between Ted & Linda because of last week’s kiss and subsequent stoppage by Ted. He runs into her at the elevator and tries to smooth things over with her, only to find that her ex-now-current boyfriend Don is right there with her. This leads to a wonderful little moment where Ted gets on the elevator with them, the doors close, and the doors reopen – on most shows, this standard event usually means that they’ve landed on another floor, and that characters say something that hints at what transpired between floors. Not here! In Better Off Ted land, this leads to a “Ted, we didn’t go anywhere. This is the same floor.” with Ted’s response of “I know. I like this one.” A great skewering of a standard joke while also being a perfect “man it’s awkward to be around someone you almost dated but then didn’t” sort of scene.

Later on, Ted gets roped into playing racquetball with Don, mostly because Linda wants him to get beat and see that she’s doing all right without Ted and Don is awesome.  Turns out, Don is awesome, and Ted likes him…and that doesn’t sit well with Linda. One of my favorite scenes about just how not okay she is with it is when Ted wants to try one of Don’s crepes, and Linda shoves the whole thing in her mouth all at once.

Ted is completely flummoxed until he gets insight from Veronica (who, by the way, gets involved in her employees’ lives an awful lot for someone who purports to hate that sort of thing – I get the impression it’s more from problem solving aspect than anything else. Her line early on in this episode “Stop. I need to be out of this conversation by tomorrow.” really illustrates her impatience at putting up with employee babble, but then she helps them, usually quite efficiently. In fact, is Veronica ever wrong?  We should keep an eye on that.). If Ted likes Don, says Veronica, that means Ted is over Linda, and Linda doesn’t want that, Linda wants Ted to be jealous. Ted compliments her on how easy it is to talk to her about stuff, and Veronica replies, “I’m different than other women, Ted. And by different, I mean better.”

There’s also a scene where Ted and Veronica kiss, after which Ted starts to quickly disrobe. Veronica puts a stop to things, but not until after Ted has dropped his pants. Again, her insight into the situation is right on, as is (apparently) her insight on what sort of underwear Ted should be wearing, since she buys him some briefs at the end of the episode.

The episode (and this storyline) ends with Ted and Linda walking away from each other but looking back over their shoulders at each other, but not seeing each other do that. We’re not done with the Ted and Linda storyline by a long shot, but I still don’t mind.  I don’t ever actual end up minding, but I do wonder if I would have had the show gone on longer.

Lem & Phil

This storyline is the meat of this episode, and it is great. In fact, this is one of my favorite storylines in the whole series. Veridian has replaced the automatic systems with something that doesn’t detect black people. Lem and his unnamed black coworkers spend the episode trying to right this wrong and eventually sort of win.

Lem and Phil start off the episode fighting about Lem’s use of hydrochloric acid instead of soap to clean the coffee cups, but in Lem’s defense, soap does leave a film. When Phil leaves the room to get coffee, the lights go off and Lem can’t get them to come back on. Phil comes back in all mad about the coffee cup stuff, and Lem says “It gets dark whenever you leave the room,” leading to Phil’s excellent delivery of the line “Oh… how can I stay mad at you when you say things like that.” I love the friendship these two have and I love lines like that.

When Ted finds out from Veronica that the system doesn’t see black people, he gets this absolutely perfect look on his face when he says, “That’s basically, well, racist.” It’s the look white people get when they’re not sure if it’s okay for them to be talking about race-related issues. It’s the same look the Seinfeld characters get in “The Wizard” when they’re trying to talk about race but aren’t sure how to go about it. It can be tricky to navigate talk about race issues in a sitcom, and it’s good that Better Off Ted acknowledges that right off the bat.

From there the episode hits some great jokes, and I don’t think it crosses any offensive lines, but I probably need the input of someone who isn’t a middle-aged white guy like me. (Comments are welcome, encouraged, and needed, is what I’m saying.) One of the solutions the company comes up with is to put in manual drinking fountains, which isn’t a great solution, but might have worked if they hadn’t labeled it: “Manual drinking fountain (for Blacks).” When Lem and seven of his black coworkers get on an elevator to go talk to Veronica about the problem, they’re stuck because the elevator doesn’t see them. “I knew we shouldn’t have let that white guy off,” to which Lem replies, “We’re eight black guys in an elevator, of course the white guy’s gonna get off.”

The meeting with Veronica goes pretty well, since she’s already aware of the issue and is working on it, but it includes the hilarious bit where Veronica tells the assembled that she sympathizes with them because she, too, was discriminated against. Why?  Because she was too stunningly gorgeous.  The way she presents that fact, something so difficult to go through, and the way Phil reacts – and the look Lem gives Phil! – are such an incredibly insensitive reduction of the long civil rights struggle that it’s hard to not be floored by it at the same time as you’re laughing at it.

The company’s solution is to hire minimum wage white guys to follow black workers around, which is hilariously wrong-headed for reasons that don’t exactly register but are very clearly correct feelings. Lem is (rightly?) incensed and complains to a fellow black coworker (IMDb calls him “Burt,” but I didn’t catch that actually being said in the episode). Burt says his white guy is great and even picks up some drycleaning for him. Lem says his white guy (Stu) sucks, which prompts Stu to tell Burt’s white guy that he got “the worst black guy.” There’s your racial equality right there, folks!

Eventually it gets figured out. The company has figured out that it’s racist of them to only be hiring white guys to follow employees around, so they’ve had to hire black guys, too, but since those black guys don’t activate the sensors, they have to hire more white guys, and the circle keeps on going.  At a meeting about it (where we find out this program was named “Operation White Shadow”!), Ted and Lem present charts that show if this keeps up, by Thursday, June 27, 2013, everyone on Earth will be working for Veridian, and, as Ted explains, they don’t have enough parking for everyone.

So the putting the old system back in makes more financial sense compared to hiring everyone on Earth, so it’s done. Problem solved.

This week’s commercial:

Veridian Dynamics. Diversity. Just the thought of it makes these white people smile. We believe everyone works best when they work together…even if they’re just standing around. Just like we enjoy varieties of foods, we enjoy varieties of people, even though we can’t eat them. At Veridian Dynamics we’re committed to a multiethnic workplace. You can shake on it. Veridian Dynamics. Diversity. Good for us.

That “Diversity. Just the thought of it makes these white people smile.” line is one of my favorite lines in any of the commercials in the whole run of the show.

Some other thoughts and choice bits: 

  • “The company’s position is that it’s actually the opposite of racist because it’s not targeting black people. It’s just ignoring them.”
  • Why is Don able to just hang out at Linda’s work? He seems to be there an awful long time. You’d think Miriam in Payroll would be docking her time all over the place.
  • A Tiger Woods reference!  In an episode about race! This means something.
  • “You have to talk to Veronica!” “Yes, I might.”
  • Lem’s speech to Veronica starts with “Veronica, you are a terrific boss.” “Thank you, Lem, I’ll take it from here.”
  • “Well, my door is always open to you. Please close it on the way out.”
  • Veronica (about Linda): “That chick gets weirder every day”
  • “Money before people” is the company motto, and it looks more heroic in Latin
  • We find out that Veronica earns 3x Ted’s salary

Ideas/Inventions mentioned in this episode:

  • Nothing, other than the automated systems that see every skin tone except black

Coworkers named/seen:

  • Security Guard Lamont (mentioned, not seen)
  • Burt, even though I really don’t think his name gets mentioned. Did I just miss it?


Next week: S01E05 – “Win Some, Dose Some”

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