Chet Greason, Popcornucopia
When Seth MacFarlane, creator of television programs Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show, made the jump to the big screen with the comedy Ted, there were a few things we knew we could expect. After all, his TV shows, though funny, are admittedly somewhat formulaic.
We knew that, in Ted, there would be gratuitous vulgarity (there is), a long, drawn-out fight scene (there is), and lots of celebrity bashing, (is there ever! In fact, Ted’s numerous references to contemporary names such as Taylor Lautner, Justin Bieber, and Brandon Routh may hurt the film’s longevity.) We knew that Ted would feature longtime MacFarlane collaborators such as Mila Kunis, Patrick Stewart, Patrick Warburton, and Alex Borstein (it does) and would probably take place somewhere in New England (it does).
All in all, Ted is exactly what you would expect from MacFarlane, which is fine. Why mess with a good thing? However, there is one aspect of MacFarlane’s brand of comedy that didn’t translate. More on that later.
Ted is the story of a young boy who makes a wish on a star that his teddy bear would come to life. The wish comes true, and the boy and his bear become instant best friends. Fast forward a couple of decades, and the boy is now a man (Mark Wahlberg) who enjoys smoking pot and watching Flash Gordon with his delinquent teddy bear, Ted (CGI-animated and voiced by MacFarlane). Wahlberg spends the movie trying to find a balance between his responsible girlfriend (Kunis) and fun times with Ted.
We’ve heard these kinds of plots before: Buddy movies where a goofball tries to go straight; a girl getting in the way of good times; in other words, a bromance movie. In fact, much of Ted’s plotpoints seem recycled...there’s a break-up, a reconciliation, a bad guy, a chase scene, and even a (spoiler alert!) ‘I wasn’t really dead!’ moment.
This seems to be the part that didn’t translate from television. On TV, MacFarlane seems uncannily good at dissecting our fads and entertainments; generalizing whole genres into a 3-second joke that often manages to peg it brilliantly. Family Guy is able to sum up the formulas of TV cop dramas, depressing 70s sci-fi, political discourse, and even Family Guy itself.
One has to wonder, then, why MacFarlane’s own movie falls for so many of these tired cliches. If anyone would know what’s in EVERY bromance movie, it’d be MacFarlane. Why would he choose to embrace these trends when he could just as easily flip them around and comment upon them as he does so well on TV?
And that’s what’s missing from Ted. We get all of the farts, fights, and tastelessness, but none of the clever commentary. The plot is simply a means of joke-conveyance rather than a part of the joke itself.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s still funny. I just expected Seth MacFarlane to push back a little more against convention.
Next week, Popcornucopia will be covering Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. If you’re anything like me, you’ve been chewing your arm off in anticipation for this film. Here’s hoping it’s what we’ve been hoping for!