'Better Off Ted'

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"Better Off Ted" has the fresh and lively feel of something great being born, rather like an officebound version of "Malcolm in the Middle" in terms of style and sensibility. Born in the stable of nutty creator/exec producer Victor Fresco — who penned this pilot and has been behind "My Name Is Earl" and "Andy Richter Controls the Universe," among other shows — the sitcom has an instant comfort level and chemistry one so rarely sees.

The off-kilter music and askew camera angles speak to the show's warped orientation, but that sort of conceit can be grating if not backed by substance. Fortunately, "Ted" is. It stars Jay Harrington ("Desperate Housewives") as a research-and-development exec at the soul-deprived multinational corporation Verdian Dynamics and a single father to an adorable 7-year-old girl (great work by Isabella Acres). He always seems to have the right answer to whatever absurd questions happen to be in the offing at a company that can make meat in a test tube or create a pumpkin that kills.

Harrington gets to play off of a grand trio headed by "Arrested Development's" Portia de Rossi as a ruthless witch of a hatchet woman who somehow manages to make cold assassination funny. It's quite the feat. Equally terrific are Andrea Anders as Linda — who would be Ted's love interest had he not, as he maintains, already used up his office affair — and Jonathan Slavin as Phil, a sad-sack research drone who is obliged in the premiere to submit to a freezing experiment gone very wrong, resulting in his face being molded into a horrid mask of frostbitten agony. Once the experiment is abandoned, Phil screams compulsively and without prompting, unnerving everyone in his vicinity. It sounds ghastly, but in Fresco's hands it's truly hilarious.

At the heart of "Ted's" comedic genius is its rat-a-tat dialogue that actually seems real, not forced. One also can tell how much care was taken in the casting based on the level of chemistry evident among the characters. Carrying it all effortlessly is Harrington, who looks to be fronting a sitcom with great instincts and promise.

If there is justice, this thing will generate a Wednesday night audience for ABC. It's the clever satire for which we've all been waiting. (partialdiff)
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