Left for Ted

Every season, the major networks and cable channels offer up one or two new series that they promise will be “unlike anything else on TV,” and every season, TV execs pull the plug on those shows when they get off to a slow start. In this TV season, two shows in particular seem destined for that great “ahead of its time” list that TV buffs keep with them. (LEFT: SEBASTIAN STAN DID HIS DUTY IN KINGS, WAS DISCHARGED)

One is Kings, the heavily hyped NBC series that tells the Biblical story of King David with advanced technology and way cooler costumes. NBC debuted Kings in a plum timeslot on Sunday nights, but since no one really watches NBC to begin with, the show topped out at a mediocre six million viewers. The network then shuffled Kings off to the dead zone of Saturday primetime, where viewership fell to about two-and-a-half million. At present Kings is off the schedule altogether, though NBC has promised to burn off the remaining seven episodes this summer. And if they don’t? Well, Kings fans will just have to wait for the DVD to see how the first season ends.

Granted, Kings‘ particular combination of elevated language, soap opera plots and weird, militaristic fantasia never completely gelled. But in the five episodes that have aired, Deadwood’s Ian McShane has given a rousing performance as the imperious, devious King Silas, and he’s been matched by stellar character actors like Brian Cox, Miguel Ferrer and Dylan Baker, who all seem to be having a blast with Kings‘ Shakespearean dialogue and bizarre premise. Kings is one of the best-looking, most unusual series that any major network has aired this past year, and though it may not have deserved a second season, it definitely deserves to have the remainder of its episodes aired, so that fans can mourn this crazy show properly.

The second show on the 2009 “ahead of its time” list actually does deserve a second season-and many more beyond. It’s ABC’s Better Off Ted, which airs its season finale tonight at 8:30 PM. Created by Victor Fresco—the man behind ahead-of-its-time classic Andy Richter Controls The UniverseBetter Off Ted is like Arrested Development meets Charlie Kaufmann, with a soupçon of Scrubs to keep it safely grounded in sitcom-land. Set in the R&D department of a high-tech multinational, the show follows a likable shill (Jay Harrington) with a crisis of conscience when he realizes how much of his work involves making the world a more miserable place. Better Off Ted keeps a light, absurdist tone throughout, but its satire is pointed and unexpected. In a recent episode, the corporation discovers that their new skin-tone-sensitive security system doesn’t recognize African American employees, which meant those employees can’t trigger the automatic water fountains. Solution: Give the black employees separate, clearly labeled water fountains.

According to Wikipedia, Better Off Ted has six more episodes in the can that ABC has no immediate plans to air, and the network has made no announcements yet as to the show’s future. Better Off Ted didn’t come out of the gate with strong ratings (it currently draws a little over four million viewers a week) or strong reviews (Chicago Tribune TV critic Mo Ryan called it “scattershot” and “underdeveloped”), but critics and offbeat comedy fans have begun to catch on, and if ABC could give Better Off Ted the kind of shot that Fox gave Arrested Development and NBC gave The Office and 30 Rock, the show might be able to build a genuine cult following. If not, Better Off Ted will join Kings and become 2009’s version of The Middleman and Swingtown—two series that were too-quickly cancelled last year. When will they learn?