If you’ve seen a poster, a trailer or a bus advertising Ted you’re sure to know that this film is brought to you courtesy of Seth Macfarlane: the man behind the Family Guy, American Dad! and The Cleveland Show franchises. Though I think it’s best for all if we forget the last title on that list, as I’m pretty sure people with an IQ over 39 don’t think The Cleveland Show is “comedy” in any shape or form. Unless you’re a simpleton. For the uninitiated, Family Guy revolves around a Simpsons-esque family and their shenanigans. Most of these episodes are essentially random sketches tied together with some semblance of a plot. American Dad! again focuses on a family, but is much more plot-driven – like any good sitcom. The Cleveland Show… well… let’s just not go there. Why am I explaining all this? Well, everyone has a “favourite” of these three titles whilst some can’t stand Macfarlane‘s brand of humour. Consequently, your enjoyment of this film will rely heavily on which of these four shrines you worship at. See if you can guess where I fall…
Ted follows the life of 35 year old John (Mark Wahlberg) and girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis)… and of course Ted (Seth Macfarlane), the toy that came to life when John was 8 years old. At a core level, the film deals with the dilemma of being one of the boys vs settling down. Add in a truck load of 1980’s TV references, a sprinkling of drug paraphernalia and a sometimes obvious plot and you have Ted. Firstly, I want to say that in recent years I’ve become a big fan of Wahlberg, especially his contributions to HBO’s Entourage both on and off-screen, and in 2010’s spectacular The Fighter. His performance in Ted is what you’ve come to expect of the guy – professional, comic and charming. Similarly Kunis, who works with Macfarlane on Family Guy, acts admirably; although her role as the “straight guy” limits her ability to flex any comedic muscles on screen. The supporting cast is also brilliantly put together, surely thanks to Macfarlane‘s rich address book accrued from the numerous cameos that Family Guy and American Dad! have had over the years. I won’t ruin any of these for you, but appearances from a 1980’s film star and a famous Hollywood A-lister who doesn’t utter a single word are simply sublime. The only negative I can draw from the cast is the fact that Macfarlane didn’t write anything comedic for Lori’s boss Rex, who is played by the awesome Joel McHale from one of my favourite ever series: Community. An opportunity missed.
This brings us to Macfarlane himself who voiced Ted and wrote the script. Ted as a character is solid and beautifully rendered by the animation team. I just feel that we’ve seen this character before if you’re familiar with Macfarlane‘s TV series. He’s a slacker, a “bro” and less than politically correct – all things which you could pin to numerous other characters. But overall, I can look past this as it’s clearly Macfarlane‘s sense of humour and that’s fine. The character worked well. What felt a bit more hackneyed was the script, which came across as a number of hit-and-miss sketches loosely woven into a plot. Ringing any bells yet?
The trailers showed off some of the big hitting comedic moments, and there are more to be found in there, but there was also a lot of humour that fell flat for me. For instance, an elongated fight scene erupts that reminded me of Pineapple Express. I didn’t like Pineapple Express. I didn’t like this either. It just wasn’t funny. Luckily these duds were outweighed for me by Macfarlane‘s pop culture references (when they sit inside the plot) and sometimes sinister sniping at other popular celebrities. He does this in his animated shows and doesn’t pull any punches on the big screen too. This, for me, is funny. It’s a shame that more of the film wasn’t as guffaw-inducing as the prologue and epilogue by Sir Patrick Stewart (who also voices characters for American Dad!).
But then again, many people in the screening I was attending laughed at literally everything. For some their humour level was any reference to drugs. I call these “The Cleveland Show fans” (or young teenagers… or adults with the brains of young teenagers… or morons – it’s ok, they won’t get offended; often they can’t read) – replete with honking laughs that made me think I was about to be attacked by a flock of geese. Next you had the people with a humour level resulting in them laughing at jokes that were in the trailer that surely every film-goer has seen? I call these “Family Guy fans“, as the jokes are funny but you’ve seen them before – just as with many jokes on Family Guy. Then finally you have people that enjoy the humour thrown up as part of the plot: the “American Dad! fans“.
If you’re playing along at home and guessed that I am c) an American Dad! fan, then kudos to you. Go get yourself a cookie. If you guessed a) then I strongly suggest you watch The Cleveland Show – it’s probably right up your alley.
Ultimately, Ted earns the title of “funniest film of the summer”, but more by default as it’s not had strong competition. Had 21 Jump Street landed at the same time, it’d have easily lost the title. It has its great moments, but much like Macfarlane’s Family Guy it has an uneven hit-to-miss ratio in term of gags.
If you didn’t like Macfarlane before, then seeing a non-animated form of his comedy won’t change your mind. If you believe the man can do no wrong then
you’re delusionalyou’ll get a lot of kicks out of this film. If you fall somewhere in between and think that his shows have their moments, then there’s fair reason to see this. Macfarlane‘s humour has made the jump to the big screen far better than Matt Groening‘s The Simpsons Movie… but nowhere near as well as Matt Stone and Trey Parker‘s South Park or Team America: World Police. That’s what you get for letting manatees write your comedy Seth!