Ted is a highly raunchy comedy centered on a 35-year old underachiever (played by Mark Wahlberg) and his childhood friend, a now perverse teddy bear, who by virtue of a wish had come alive. It’s written and directed by Fox animation mogul, Seth MacFarlane, who is behind such popular shows as Family Guy, American Dad, and the Family Guy spin-off, The Cleveland Show. For those of you unfamiliar with MacFarlane’s prime time animated creations, these shows have made their mark by pushing the envelope in both anti-political correctness and various forms of vulgarity, ranging from musical numbers featuring aborted fetuses to every type of scatological and sexual humor imaginable. Another feature of these shows is their constant referencing to Generation-X pop culture (MacFarlane was born in 1973), which seems to be a fad these days in more mediums than just film/television. Watching Ted is something akin to reminiscing with an old friend about, to borrow a phrase from Pauline Kael, “the crap from their childhood”. Usually, I consider this a very cheap shot, much in the same way as we regard individuals who casually drop names for affect. In Family Guy, this sort of referencing actually works very well, because it’s presented in a manner as to where they are able to put a spin on it. For example, in a certain scene in Family Guy, there is a reenactment from the shower scene in the 1982 film, Porky’s, in which one of the characters is viewing a group or young women taking a shower. In the original film, a group of boys peek through a small hole in the wall to get their glimmer. In Family Guy however, after we are given the same perspective as the original film, we see that Peter Griffin is merely standing in the shower room along with the girls, holding a small chunk a wood with a hole in it. It’s this sort of unexpected whimsy that make these references successful, and virtually all of the pop culture references made in Family Guy are done in a similar spirit. In Ted however, there’s no spin, just a blatant onslaught of casual references inserted ad nauseum. It’s as though MacFarlane expected that at the mere mention of these, he were allowing the audience to share in a series of “in jokes”. As I said earlier, it’s a cheap shot at best, but I’m at least grateful that the characters are of the correct age to be making such references, unlike the recent film, Juno, which did more or less the same thing, but with a protagonist who was born well after the pop culture items she constantly alluded to.
I make such a significant point of the pop culture infusion in Ted because it’s a major component of what Seth MacFarlane’s brand of humor rests on. Unfortunately, where it has worked quite successfully in his animated shows, it doesn’t quite translate to live-action film. Another significant facet of MacFarlane’s brand of humor is the raunchiness. And oh boy, is this film raunchy. I won’t go into details, but this film was given an “R” rating, and it deserved it. Ted, while not a particularly funny film, gathers its biggest laughs from its most distasteful jokes. There were numerous times where I had laughed uproariously, only to be ashamed of myself a few moments later for realizing what it was I had laughed at. Such as it is with MacFarlane’s brand of humor.
Seth MacFarlane himself is something of an enigma. An enormously multi-faceted talent, if you’ve seen him in interviews then you have learned that he actually possesses very refined tastes. He’s a great admirer of such figures as Rex Harrison and Frank Sinatra. A talented vocalist himself, he recently recorded an album of 1960s Sinatraesque big band arrangements. So, it comes as quite a shock when you are exposed to the kind of jokes he employs in his animated shows, and in Ted. But at the same time, there’s the guilty sensation of actually enjoying them.
The jokes in Ted unfortunately are not enough to carry the film. And as it happens, the only funny character in the film is Ted himself, who is voiced by MacFarlane. There really isn’t much for the other characters to do. They are just there to serve the film’s mundane plot, and most of them are very two-dimensional. The story, which is uninspired, is also so formulaic that the audience can predict everything that is going to happen in the film within the first fifteen minutes. I felt that had the film managed to be more zany and unpredictable, as Family Guy is, that it would have been more successful. There’s a good concept here, what with the talking teddy bear, but it gets horribly diluted with the stale, rehashed story they chose to pursue. If you watch Ted, you’ll get more than a few good laughs sporadically throughout the film, but the rest is a big yawn.