In one corner we have the spoiled, self-centered, jobless wife of an analrapist, and in the other, we have a powerful, emotionally-challenged supervisor at the morally-corrupt conglomerate Veridian Dyanmics.
Quite the résumé for Portia De Rossi, who plays Lindsay Fünke on Arrested Development and Veronica Palmer on Better Off Ted, respectively.
Yet, despite being a lead actress on critically acclaimed television series, De Rossi’s shows have not been lucky with ratings, both getting the axe in during their show’s comedic prime.
So let’s look at the similarities between the two post-Ally McBeal sitcoms from De Rossi, and see where the public went wrong.
The Straight Man vs. The Eccentric “Family”
In Arrested Development, Jason Bateman plays the straight man to De Rossi’s ridiculous Lindsay. AD is unique in the sense that we as viewers somehow love this eclectic mix of characters so bizarre, they barely qualify as human.
Speaking of barely qualifying human, the De Rossi plays the robotic supervisor to Better Off Ted’s straight-shooter and protagonist, Ted (played by Jay Harrington). While not quite as unusual as AD’s crew, the main cast of Better Off Ted includes a company first-world anarchist (thanks for the term, Reddit), am incredibly brilliant and incessantly socially inept and inseparable duo, and a little girl who is more grounded than all of them.
Why This Formula Works: Because the people playing the eccentric characters are amazing, and in both cases, are given enough facetime that they’re more than just comedic relief.
Power plays – Characters Trying to Outsmart Each Other
George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) is a mastermind of manipulation. Whether it’s pitting his two oldest sons against each other to sell video tapes or employing a one-armed man to teach lessons, George Sr.’s mind games make for some of the best recurring jokes of the series.
As “the boss” of the series, De Rossi’s Palmer uses various “motivational techniques” in hilarious ways to get her employees to do what she wants. Highlights include using a eulogy to a set a fire under her workers or giving Linda (Andrea Anders) more work because Linda beats her in a throwing-a-bagel-into-a-vent competition. That’s right, you read it.
Why This Formula Works: As parodies of your run-of-the-mill sitcoms, the two series use power plays to keep things unpredictable and serve as a reminder that their show runners are smarter than you think.
The Inseparable Duo
Buster (Tony Hale) and his Lucilles (Jessica Walter and Liza Minelli) make for some wonderful back-and-forths that quite literally encapsulate the series title, Arrested Development. The incessant Freudian slips and Buster’s Oedipus complex provide for some real creepy and gross comedy. Plus there’s Liza Minelli.
Nerdy and socially inept is a heavily-treaded comedy trough. But the combination of Phil (Jonathan Slavin) and Lem (Malcolm Barrett) never ceases to provide the funnier moments of the series. Most of the time the two sound like a bickering old couple, perhaps because the women of their lives (for Phil it’s his wife we never meet, and for Lem it’s his intimidating, genius mother) emasculate them.
Why This Formula Works: Because we need some sort of united duo amidst all the chaos that surround the two…even though the duos are self-destructive themselves
“Will They or Won’t They?” … With a Twist!
Are we actually rooting for two cousins (Michael Cera, Alia Shawkat) to hook up? Maeby. I crack myself up. AD plays with the cliché by making the tension occur between family members, despite one really only feeling any tension. Man does this show find incest hilarious. This helped propel Michael Cera to countless roles as an awkward teen. Alia Shawkat? Well..she was in the The League…
And of course, there’s the office romance. Except there are two (?) here. Ted gets caught between De Rossi’s Veronica and his newest employee Linda. Our titular character claims he can have only “one office affair,” so Veronica can the only co-worker he’s physical with despite his constant flirtation with Linda. The play between Linda and Ted as they try to make the other one jealous is one of the series’ go-to conflicts, and is a great way to take twists-and-turns on this lengthy will they or won’t they. Sure it’s frustrating when Ted should be with Linda but nearly hooks up with Veronica, but it’s also what keeps viewers on their toes.
Why This Formula Works: Because it’s a twist, duh. Classic M. Night Shyamalan thrills.
THEY BOTH ENDED TOO SOON
Seriously, American television audiences, how could you? Portia De Rossi deserves your love.
Why This Formula Works: IT DOESN’T. Stop doing it, ‘Murica.