Corporate coupling on ABC's 'Better Off Ted'

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THE SHOW "Better Off Ted"

WHEN | WHERETuesday night at 9:30 on ABC/7

REASON TO WATCHReturn engagement of a very funny show.

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Nice guy Ted Crisp (Jay Harrington) runs the R&D wing of heartless conglomerate Veridian Dynamics. The company makes . . . well, it's not entirely clear what V makes, but they make a lot of it (in tonight's episode, the manufacture of an aggressive moss that astronauts will eat is under way).

Ted has a Cruella De Vil-style boss, Veronica (Portia de Rossi) and a pal at work who shares his ironic sensibility, Linda (Andrea Anders). He pays particularly close attention to the work of his talented R&D guys, Lem (Malcolm Barrett) and Phil (Jonathan Slavin).

Tuesday night, Veridian hits on a plan to save millions in insurance costs - matching up staffers who will spawn the most genetically healthy children. Ted and Linda think the plan is insane - imagine! - but give it a whirl anyway when they see with whom they get matched. Linda, for example, ends up with Greg (Taye Diggs). But Greg, alas, is quirky. . . .

MY SAY There's a running gag Tuesday night about the state of Utah that almost perfectly captures "Ted's" strengths and weaknesses. Ted nearly blurts out that he loves his new Veridian girlfriend, but fearing she'll think him needy, says, instead: "I love . . . Utah."

Away it goes from there - a soaring flight of verbal lunacy. It's wonderful, but there's not much oxygen up there. It is so packed with jokes, riffs, gags - more in five minutes then you'll get in 22 minutes of your typical garden-variety sitcom - that it's sometimes hard to breathe, and hard for the characters to breathe as well. You never really get to know them - they are ciphers and stick figures, or jokes wrapped within bigger jokes, in the service of even grander, gaudier jokes. By the way - "Ted's" not for the kiddies. There's some vulgar stuff here.

BOTTOM LINE OK, so "Better Off Ted" can be oxygen-

deprived. This is still one of the funniest shows on TV, and the cast sparkles with vets like Harrington, Barrett and de Rossi . . . Anders and Slavin, too.

GRADE B+

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