Better Off Ted: Interview with Jay Harrington

Last week we got chatting to the star of FX’s brand new US comedy import, Better Off Ted. Jay Harrington will be familiar to many UK viewers for his portrayal of Susan Mayer’s season two squeeze, Dr. Ron McCreadie in Desperate Housewives. In Better Off Ted, Harrington plays Ted Crisp, the head of Research and Development at Veridian Dynamics, a heartless technology company. He shares his thoughts on, among other things, Better Off Ted, gargantuan singing flies, Fawlty Towers and real men. Better Off Ted premieres on Tuesday 27th at 9pm on FX.

For new viewers of the show, how would you describe Better Off Ted?

Better Off Ted is a comedy that centres around a company, a large American corporation, that would be considered morally bankrupt. It’s very comparable to most American corporations…and probably a certain British oil company. It’s a Johnson & Johnson or a Proctor & Gamble. They make weapons and they make scotch tape. And I’m the conscience. My job is to put out the fires. But Ted cashes the cheque. He’s got his own faults too, but ultimately he tries to take the high road as much as possible.

Ted’s character is a single father, and in many ways his daughter Rose is the true moral beacon of the show:

That’s right. And everything Ted does is for her, and ultimately it’s because of her that Ted tries to do it “the right wayâ€?.

Better Off Ted will air every Tuesday at 9PM on FX. Are there any other FX shows you particularly enjoy?

I’m a big fan of Brotherhood. The show is set in Providence, Rhode Island which is a similar city to Boston, where I grew up. It’s such a good show. I also like Dexter. I actually read the book before the show started. I was going to audition for the pilot but they gave it to Michael C Hall before anyone got a chance.

What or who did you base your character on?

The person that I would like to be. Portia [de Rossi]’s character referred to me as Bruce Wayne: “Out goes the chest, up goes the chin and awaaaay!â€? as if I’m going off to save the city. I just based it on something I would love to be myself: “the good guyâ€?.

On May 13, 2010, the show was officially cancelled after just two seasons. Was that a surprise?

No. I was disappointed about the decision, but when we got a bad time slot, and when I didn’t see a lot of advertising, I kind of knew. We weren’t afforded leniency, and we never got the financial backing to promote it. So I wasn’t surprised.

Do you have a favourite British comedy?

It’s new to me, but The Thick of It and Coupling too for obvious reasons, seeing as I played Steve Taylor in the US version. I also grew up watching Benny Hill, Monty Python and Fawlty Towers.

Fawlty Towers only ran for two seasons (and 12 episodes) and is now in the comedy canon. Do you think Better Off Ted will be looked upon more favourably in the future?

I do. And I think that something is always going to be viewed so much better in retrospect than it was originally. We do have that golden opportunity of being considered a classic in a positive way: Brilliant but cancelled. I do feel that if people watch it in the UK I bet that they would respond positively.

Is there any chance of a third season?

There has been in the past but right now we’re all looking at other projects.

One such project is the animated movie, A Monster in Paris. Tell us a bit about that.

It’s a really cute story. It’s directed by Bibo Bergeron who also directed A Shark’s Tale. He’s with Luc Besson’s production company. It’s set in turn of the century Paris and I am a shy projectionist who teams up with Adam Goldberg [Joey, Dazed and Confused, Saving Private Ryan]. We stumble into an inventor’s botanist garden full of potions, knocking them over and ultimately causing a fly to change into a 12 foot monster that can sing beautifully.

UK viewers will recognise you from Desperate Housewives, did you enjoy your time on the show and did you ever see any signs of the widely reported tension between the show’s four female leads?

Honestly I never did. The only thing I could say that would support that would be being in a make-up trailer at 5.30AM. But anybody would be tense that early in the morning. That would be the only time I ever noticed anything. But the Better Off Ted trailer was similar at 6AM in the morning. I had a great time on Desperate Housewives, it was the second season and they were really great.

If you could have been in any film, what would it have been?

I loved the movies back in the 1940s. Carey Grant: The Philadelphia Story. Those guys (Carey Grant, Jimmy Stewart) were men. We need more MEN. There are only a few men in movies: there’s Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Brad Pitt. That’s really it.

How would you describe Better Off Ted in 3 words?

Sharp. Outrageous. And heart. A little bit of heart.