“… the wind is taken out of the sails of your comedy if fans of your work already know all of the punchlines.”
I have been a fan of Seth MacFarlane (mainly because of Family Guy) since I was a young boy, and I have made an effort to see all of his works since. I actually remember going to the theatre to see Ted, and absolutely loving. But recently, after watching (and disliking) A Million Ways to Die in the West, I was terrified to re-watch Ted thinking that I would realize that I was mistaken and it was my own rose-coloured glasses that were shaping my opinion. Last night I firmly said “Fuck those fears” and I watched Ted for the first time in years. For those who don’t know, Ted is a film about a boy named John who has no friends, who then wishes for his teddy bear (aptly named Teddy) to come to life. As luck would have it, his wish came true. But this is far from a children’s movie because the story picks up 20 some-odd years later when Ted and John spend their days getting high and watching the behind the scenes featurettes on the Cheers box set.
Now luckily for me, I still really liked Ted when I watched it last night; and I started thinking about why I like this movie, but not A Million Ways to Die in the West. It’s easy to argue that both have the same type of humour, but something seems to work better in Ted. Now it may be my nostalgia talking, but I think I have figured it out. Ted features a character who is the definition of immature. He is a 30-something year-old man who still hangs out with his teddy bear, which is about as ‘in your face’ you can get with a metaphor. The reason the comedy works in Ted is because Seth MacFarlane’s comedy is also immature, so it goes hand-in-hand with the characters that we see. We never question the decisions or actions the characters make because we know that John is essentially a twelve year old in a grown-ups body. So all of the dick and fart jokes fit perfectly with the ‘world’ of Ted.
Now Ted is not a perfect comedy, in fact it is far from it. There were many instances where I was rolling my eyes at the jokes. The reasoning for this varied from instance to instance but I seem to have narrowed it down to two categories. Category one: Some jokes used in Ted were similar to (if not just lifted from) Family Guy. Now it’s not necessarily plagiarism if you wrote the jokes, but the wind is taken out of the sails of your comedy if fans of your work already know all of the punchlines. Category two is one that is not specific to Ted, but is seen throughout Seth MacFarlane’s work; a celebrity cameo is NOT a joke. If we see Ryan Reynolds or Norah Jones, that doesn’t mean that you can take the next few minutes off, because without an actual punchline there is nothing to laugh at. Ted is better about this issue than other works by MacFarlane, but don’t be fooled because the problem is still there.
The acting in Ted can really only be described as passable. Mark Wahlberg played a great stoner, because you could tell that in every scene the dude just didn’t give a shit. This of course is a trait of Wahlberg in certain films of his (see: The Happening) so it is not out of the ordinary. Luckily, Wahlberg is not terrible at delivering punchlines. Maybe it is because we are used to seeing him play the “straight man”, or singing about good vibrations, but when the dude tells a joke it seems to be funnier because we don’t expect it coming from him. Of course this novelty does wear off simply because of the length of the movie and the fact that Wahlberg is constantly telling jokes. The stand-out for me was definitely Giovanni Ribisi who played a deranged super-fan of Ted, and brilliantly channeled his inner Buffalo Bill. And of course you have Seth Macfarlane voicing Ted, but there really isn’t much to say about his performance because he had been doing it for countless years beforehand with all of his roles in Family Guy.
And of course the music in Ted is pretty great as well. Those familiar with Seth MacFarlane will understand why, and those not familiar just know that he likes to use an orchestra whenever possible. This allows for a soundtrack that is pretty fucking great all the way through. One issue that I had was I felt that the main theme (which is great by the way), was being used too much throughout the film. Of course it was slightly changed each time to fit the setting of the scene, but once you realize what you are listening to it becomes a bit distracting.
Now one problem that I did come across while watching Ted was that the film really seems to slow down during what should be the climax. This is because the jokes are put on hold for a minute to allow for an actual story to unfold. I appreciate the sentiment of this, but the problem occurred because the film is not written exceptionally well, so without jokes we have almost nothing. This portion of the film I like to call the “self-reflection” portion, because since there isn’t much to keep your attention your mind starts to wander. First with something simple like “How much of this movie used an actual teddy bear stand-in?”, then getting a little more critical with thoughts like: “Why is this movie two hours long?”. My favourite portion of thinking comes when you realize that there won’t be another joke for a while and you start to wonder “Why did I even decide to watch this movie?”. Of these thoughts are bullied out of your head when the comedy comes back full swing just in time for the happy ending.
Ultimately Ted is a movie that will probably only be liked by fans of Seth MacFarlane, but for those fans it is pretty much everything we could ask for from a live action comedy made by the creator of Family Guy. The jokes are crass, the premise is childish, and the writing is mediocre, but overall it makes me laugh.
I give Ted a B