Whether you’re a fan of Seth MacFarlane or not, you have to admire his work ethic. On top of producing Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show, the most powerful figure in television animation recently put out an album wherein he sings Pop Standards, probably for no other reason than he felt like it.
His workload only got heavier when he decided to jump another step further into Hollywood dominance with Ted, not just his first live-action film but his first live-action anything. Unfortunately, even if you weren’t aware of his very full plate of jobs, Ted comes off as a half-baked production – not without some real talent, but it clearly didn’t have the time or dedication it required to fulfill its potential.
It’s not entirely live-action. MacFarlane provides the voice of the title character, a little boy’s teddy bear that came to life after that little boy wished upon a shooting star for a new best friend.
That was 27 years ago, and now Ted is a slacker and former celebrity (the 80s media took note of the walking, talking plaything). He’s still best friends with John, the boy that wished him into life. But Adult John (Mark Wahlberg) also has girlfriend that he wants to marry (Mila Kunis), and he’s having a hard time fitting both of the most important people in his life into his life.
It would be a lie to say that MacFarlane isn’t a really funny guy. His script, co-written with Alex Sulkin and Wellesley Wild, has a respectable number of laughs, and at least at the beginning, the hit-to-miss ratio for the jokes comes out over .500.
But there are also some very low moments, like a character entirely inspired by racist stereotypes (an Asian who carries around a live duck that he’s about to eat), and some vaguely homophobic jokes.
But maybe the biggest roadblock for the humor is its over-reliance on negative pop culture references. Scenes are cut into so Ted can hate on easy targets like Katy Perry and Adam Sandler. Sometimes it’s in the name of a funny joke, but more often it’s for the sake of a weak joke, or just an opportunity to diss on mainstream culture with the grace of high schooler who’s not going to anymore of your lamestream bullshit, MOM. Those jokes – and they make up a lot of the film – are easy, cheap, and do nothing to build the film.
The humor in Ted is of debatable quality, but serves more consistently than its plot, which takes clear prominence over the comedy when the third act hits and aims for heartstrings it never had a chance of grabbing.
That’s because the drama of Ted is that of convenience. None of the characters are people so much as road maps designed to take the story along all of the familiar beats. Wahlberg and Kunis can do good work, but not when both are given acts of stupidity that only serve to build stakes, and paint their characters as mindless and thoughtless.
Ted is a better movie than the Adam Sandler movie it calls out, but not by a lot. There’s enough here to cut it for an episode of a long-running sitcom, but MacFarlane’s story only works as a framework to crack jokes. And since he can’t craft any stronger laughs, he fails to bring Ted to life.