Ted, the R-rated teddy bear movie starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis, and Seth MacFarlane, hits theaters this week, and for what it’s worth, it is the best R-rated comedy starring a foul-mouthed, cocaine snorting stuffed animal ever made. The titular Ted lives up to the promise of Fox’s advertising blitz: He imbibes alcohol and drugs, bangs hookers, and insults children. MacFarlane milks all the dark, inappropriate comedy he can from the premise and adds just enough genuine heart to the mix that the film never begins to border on grotesque. Ted is the Citizen Kane of Pothead Teddy Bear movies.
Like with 21 Jump Street earlier this year, I don’t think anyone found themselves particularly looking forward to this movie, yet here it is, and it is pretty damn good. Ted carries all of the strengths of MacFarlane’s Family Guy but few of the show’s flaws, and as an added bonus, we get to see how MacFarlane’s comedy looks when unshackled from the prudish prison of network television. This feature won’t win any new converts to the MacFarlane juggernaut, but it will appease fans and will likely appeal to disenfranchised former fans of the man’s work.
The story opens in the Christmas of 1985 with narration from Captain Jean Luc-Picard as we follow young John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg), the most unpopular kid in Massachusetts—while all the other children engaged in the Christmastime tradition of beating up the local Jews, no one would allow him to join in the games, not even the besieged Jewish kid. He receives a stuffed teddy bear as a Christmas present and soon wishes upon a shooting star that the toy was real. Of course, his wish is granted. Ted becomes a worldwide sensation, but is soon forgotten, because as Patrick Stewart’s soothing baritone reminds us, “[W]hether you’re Corey Feldman, Frankie Muniz, or Justin Beiber…eventually nobody really gives a shit.”
Flash forward to the present day where John remains in a state of arrested adolescence, working an entry level job for a car-rental agency, and coming home to smoke pot and watch Flash Gordon with a burned out Ted. As played by Wahlberg, John is a lot like Dirk Diggler from Boogie Nights minus the hardcore sex and drug abuse. Aside from Ted, the one good thing John has going for him is his relationship with Lori (Mila Kunis). Of course, since even a comedy requires some dramatic momentum, she becomes exasperated with adult Ted’s obnoxious behavior and forces John to make a decision between her and the stuffed bear.
The basic story arc is pretty straightforward and has been done many times before, albeit with human characters. We know from the outset that either John will find a way to reconcile his friendship with Ted with his relationship with Lori, or Lori will be exposed to be an unfaithful, manipulative bitch who deserves to be dumped. Ted, however, is distinguished by politically incorrect humor, lightening fast one-liners, hooker poop, and a libidinous, alcoholic teddy bear.
A vocal contingent of the internet have been sharpening their daggers against this movie as soon as it was announced, and I doubt a movie with Seth MacFarlane’s name attached to it could do anything to appease them. The most valid complaint against MacFarlane’s style of comedy came from the creators of South Park in a two-part episode in which they eviscerated the writers of Family Guy for cobbling together episodes that were little more than pop culture gags with no build-up or payoff. Everyone else seems to hate him because he’s now a billionaire.
Well, I consider myself a fan of Family Guy. I liked Family Guy when it first aired; I liked it when it was canceled and the internet collectively howled that Fox had just committed the most egregious crime since the cancellation of Twin Peaks; I liked it after it was revived; and I liked it after Trey Parker and Matt Stone made it cool to hate the show (though I will admit that I haven’t followed the show in four years). And I like Ted.
If you’re a casual fan of Seth MacFarlane like I am, I can say that there’s a strong likelihood you’ll like this movie. Unlike the typical episode of Family Guy, Ted follows a solid three-act structure, it is coherent, and there’s actual character development on display here; random pop culture references are kept to an absolute minimum, and those pop culture references that are introduced into the movie actually add to the story and are not merely throwaway gags.
If you’re one of the millions who still unequivocally love Seth MacFarlane, you’re going to love Ted. If you’re on the opposite end of the spectrum, nothing I can say in defense of the movie is going to change your mind. Those in the middle as well as the uninitiated should at least find Ted to be worth a Blu-ray rental.