There's no earthly reason to compare these two shows. They are both worth your time, two excellent examples of television comedy that each deserve a bigger audience.
My point is, watch both of these. But I'm not like that, and frankly I don't think most people are, either. Everybody wants to crown a winner, one show to rule them all. And I am here to do that. Let's break it down by category:
Joel McHale has been killing it on The Soup for years, but it's a little easier to be likable when you're hating on the dregs of reality TV and washed-up celebrities than it is to pull off a multi-faceted, flawed and all too human character like Jeff Winger. Jeff is charismatic, but his "a-hole who slowly learns to love people" shtick reeks of chick flicks and sometimes makes him difficult to sympathize with, especially when (season one spoilers coming up) every woman on the show basically throws herself at him in the finale and his problem is he can't choose between them. Aww. Plus, as the show moves into its second season, he's hardly the focal point of most episodes anymore.
Ted Crisp, on the other hand, is played by Jay Harrington as a good guy working for an evil company. The worst thing you could really say about Ted is he's such a company man. As for the rest, the character is so gosh-darn lovable he makes me use the word "gosh-darn". I'd like to hang out with Jeff and perhaps even be in his study group, but I'd LOVE to have Ted as my boss.
Advantage: Better Off Ted
BOT has solid supporting players in Lem, Phil, Linda and especially Veronica (Portia De Rossi, cast MVP hands down, pulling off a role that's completely the opposite of Lindsay Bluth while being just as convincing). But Community brings together the comedic powers of Donald Glover and Danny Pudi (as Troy and Abed, who are basically the Wondertwins of hilarity on this show), Mad Men's Alison Brie (proving she's way more suited to comedy than drama), plus John Oliver, Ken Jeong, and Chevy Chase (in a role that screams "How the hell did I get so washed up? I'm awesome!"). That's not even including recurring characters like Starburns, Dean Pelton, Leonard and others. In fact, Community might have the strongest cast of any comedy show on the air right now.
One of my problems with TV comedy today is that every new hyped-up show seems to be either a ripoff of The Office or Arrested Development, or some combination thereof. Better Off Ted doesn't quite avoid that trap (it's kind of hard not to notice de Rossi is on this show), but it manages to set its own sort of tone for the most part, especially when they exploit the wacky "mad science" side of Veridian.
Community is one of those premises that just make you think "Why hasn't anybody done this before?" They could easily stretch this concept for about five seasons without becoming derivative or repetitive. The college setting provides endless fodder for weird stories and the diversity of the cast often means a different type of episode each week.
Too hard. Only way to resolve this is through a Battle of the Quotes Smackdown:
Better Off Ted - "Friendship. It's the same as stealing."
"The Veridian Foundation... helping the world then telling people about it makes us feel so good. The Veridian Foundation... Helping people. By telling people we're helping the world."
Veronica: Those are just facts, and facts are just opinions, and opinions can be wrong.
Veronica: Oh, God, we have unhappy Germans. Nothing good has ever come from that.
Ted: The potential for a long-lasting light bulb is enormous. In a recent study, people's desire to see things ranked third, right after hitting things and trying to have sex with things.
Linda: You guys are thinking about antlers and tails, aren't you?
Phil: Why do animals get all the best stuff attached to their bodies?
Lem: I would love to have a blowhole.
Lem: Oh, my God. Maybe we're evil scientists.
Phil: (laughing maniacally) I'm sorry. I laugh like that when faced with an unpleasant truth. That's why I got thrown out of that Al Gore movie.
Ted: The implications for weight loss are enormous. And while elective brain surgery doesn't test that great, it still tests better than dieting and exercise.
Commercial: Veridian Dynamics. The environment. Everyone likes it. And so, we do too. That's why we're committed to saving it. Veridian Dynamics is turning every one of our buildings 100% green. It's ridiculously expensive and spending money makes us sad. But we're doing it because we love nature, even when it's being mean or just acting stupid. Veridian Dynamics. Greening our world.
Community - Troy: My uncle was struck by lightning. You'd think it would give you superpowers, but now he just masturbates in movie theaters.
Pierce: Abed, Your social skills aren't exactly streets ahead, know what I mean?
Abed: I don't.
Jeff. You're not alone in this case. Pierce, stop trying to coin the phrase 'streets ahead'.
Pierce: Trying? Coined and minted.
Jeff: Why do you have a monkey?
Troy: Uh, it's an animal that looks like a dude. Why don't I have 10 of them?
Troy: You should be like Calvin. His best friend was a tiger, he always went on dope adventures, and if anything stood in his way, he just peed on it.
Vaughn: Actually, everyone is my bro in the whole entire universe because everything is connected. Rocks... eagles... hats.
Troy: Girls are supposed to dance. That's why God gave them parts that jiggle.
Shirley: You think religion is stupid.
Jeff: No, no. To me, religion is like Paul Rudd. I see the appeal and I would never take it away from anyone, but I would also never stand in line for it.
"East Side, West Side, North Side, South
Vaughn's breath is so bad his butt's mad at his mouth
This rap is by Pierce, Vaughn is dumb
He wears diapers to bed and sucks his mother's thumb
When he wakes up stupid wishing he was me
He has a big poop breakfast and a glass of pee
Then he goes to school where he's stupid again
And everybody hates him even all of his friends
When you come after Pierce, then the battle is on
So this rap goes out to stupid Vaughn"
Advantage: Too hard. Let's call it a draw.
Cancellability (not a word? is now):
Everybody knows cancellation makes the heart grow fonder. There's several reasons for this: unfulfilled potential is always better than mundane reality, shows that stay on the air too long will inevitably start to suck after awhile, it's more fun to root for an underdog than a champion. Mostly I think that after Arrested Development and Firefly got so popular (i.e. post-cancellation), nobody wants to miss the boat on these things anymore.
Community hasn't exactly lit the world on fire ratings-wise, but Better Off Ted's ratings were so abysmally low it's amazing it even lasted a full season, let alone two sets of 13 episodes. Plus, Ted has already been canceled. No contest.
Advantage: Better Off Ted
Better Off Ted could pull off some emotional moments when it wanted to, but ultimately it was too absurd of a show to get too sentimental (reminiscent of Arrested Development in that way). Community regularly goes for the TV trope of "characters learn lesson X this week", but somehow they manage to pull it off almost every time. The second season in particular has contained episodes that are almost bittersweet in their resolutions. It's a subjective thing, but I feel that comedy has more impact when it involves characters that we care about, that we care what happens to them. It's the difference between a show like The Simpsons or South Park and a show like Family Guy. No matter how funny the latter can be, it's impossible to feel invested in anything that happens. Comedy doesn't always have to be an empty laugh.
Total score: 3-2, and 1 tie. Better Off Ted is one of the funniest comedies in recent memory. It has it all. But Community is streets ahead, and since it's still on the air, has the potential to get even better.
But seriously, watch both shows.