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Ted (Seth McFarlane, 2012)


A proudly stupid comedy that unembarrassedly takes its high concept to the lowest possible level, Seth McFarlane’s Ted is too macho and unsophisticated to aspire to anything like wit. Telling the story of John (Mark Wahlberg), a manchild whose development has been arrested by his friendship with a talking toy bear, Ted offers pop culture references and poop jokes instead of anything with the slightest bit of depth. Sloppy and broad from the very start, in which we see John’s childhood spent with his bear Ted, the film makes clear McFarlane’s roots in television comedy. The leap to the big screen, in his case, mostly seems to have been viewed as an opportunity to up the raunch factor.


It’s not just that Ted is so crass that makes it so unpleasant. It’s that it is so terribly short in its attention span that it generally only can attempt to stimulate a laugh line by radically shifting tones from sentimental to inappropriate. The opening monologue, for example, is peppered with profanity and an aside devoted to the killing power of Apache helicopters. Over and over and over again McFarlane attempts this same trick. Jokes don’t develop, they just blurt out randomly. One wonders who might find this amusing for the duration of the film. The sight of a cuddly teddy bear smoking a bong might theoretically inspire a chuckle the first time, but seeing the same bear tripping over and over again surely must only inspire diminishing comedy value as it continues… surely.


Ted doesn’t recognize the difference between lowbrow and stupid. It’s not enough to have a dumb Saturday Night Fever reference plugged into the center of one of the few scenes without the bear. McFarlane overlays the already broad parody with sound effects taken from a Saturday morning cartoon. Even those pop culture references underestimate the audience’s pop literacy. Most of the time after reference is made to another work, a character makes an explicit aside, name checking the source (“That Van Wilder looking dude…” or “You know, like in Pink Floyd The Wall?”). There’s a sense of desperation to the comedy, as if someone might be too dumb to get one of the dumb references. This insistence upon might be done in the spirit of entertainment, but it smacks of condescension toward the audience.


Most of Ted’s jokes fall flat, and there’s not much here besides jokes to worry about. The plot, simple as it is, pits best friend versus girlfriend and the film inevitably chooses heteronormativity over furry sex. Ted is dispiriting because it has no faith in us and no ambition for itself. There’s so little development of the central concept that Ted could almost be anything. Instead of inspiration there is just a great deal of borderline psychotic cussing and an endless parade of lame gay jokes, fart jokes, drug jokes and sex jokes.



Jeremy Heilman