By: Addison Wylie
The comedy of Seth MacFarlane is an acquired taste. Some think his writing on the hit series Family Guy is unoriginal and crude while others think MacFarlane is outspoken and is breaking a lot of comedy barriers.
You perception of his first live action outing, Ted, will depend on what camp you fall in.
Where am I at? Personally, I started off liking him when Family Guy was in its first couple of seasons. Then, his vulgarity and his inappropriate button pushing lost me when the show was brought back on the air. But, as I’ve caught re-runs recently, I find myself howling at what MacFarlane refers to and how they’re intertwined in the show.
Now Ted, while no connection to Family Guy, is similar in a lot of ways to a cartoon because it’s, in fact, a live-action cartoon.
The characters have very little character development. The only characters we get to know are our leads; John (played by Mark Wahlberg) and Ted, an appallingly honest teddybear who is John’s best friend voiced by Seth MacFarlane.
Audiences get plenty of background on these two in, what feels like, the first third of the movie. One can tell that MacFarlane along with the two other screenwriters (Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Wild) adore innocent storytelling.
The first scenes show a young John (played by Bretton Manley) receiving Ted at Christmas and establish how the unlikely two built the friendship we see in the movie. These initial scenes are actually very sweet; even if they deal with R-rated humour. The actors know what the screenwriters and the director are going for and are able to capture that charming, magical innocence that can be found in children’s books. The Christmas setting is just the icing on the cake.
The CG creation of Ted is integrated into the settings incredibly well too with well executed lighting making him blend in even more. Footage of Ted on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson was a marvel to watch.
When the film shows Wahlberg and Ted in their present shabby state of condition, we stick with these two because of how their friendship has been handled in a matter-of-factly way before this and because of how natural Wahlberg is around his buddy.
When other characters come into play like John’s girlfriend Lori (played by Mila Kunis), Lori’s sleazy boss Rex (played by Joel McHale who feels like he’s being typecast with this and his previous role in last year’s What’s Your Number?) and John’s co-worker Guy (played by Patrick Warburton), they lack the depth that John and Ted’s personalities have. They are cartoon characters and the only way they’re fleshed out is because they’re being played by human beings.
But, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say that MacFarlane is aware of this. At the end of the day, he wants to make you laugh to which his film is more successful than it is not.
It’s a good comedy and just that. That may surprise the Family Guy naysayers who are dragged to this but also may disappoint hardcore supporters of Seth MacFarlane who are expecting a more grander scale of comedy.
The jokes made me laugh very often but MacFarlane has a way with words. It’s obvious that he’s spent a lot of time rehearsing with Wahlberg and because of that, both leads are hilarious.
The other side characters have a hard time delivering the punchlines. That’s not to say these actors always fail but there are some set-ups that have a hard time taking flight because of how the actors are saying these jokes.
McHale, who is a funny guy, is weirdly one of these actors. His portrayal as the “jerk boss” and his readings of the punch lines don’t mix well. We see him having fun being the pushy and very sexual manager but it feels like he puts so much focus on the line reading, that he drops his character and the joke comes out dry.
Reading MacFarlane’s writing is like reading sheet music, as is with all comedy. There’s a certain flow that must be applied to the lines in order to emphasize certain points of the build-up. When the actors break that flow and the zingers come out at with an odd staccato, the writing doesn’t work as well as it should.
However, it isn’t just some of the actors that slip up. Editor Jeff Freeman is guilty as well, leaving a little too much padding between takes making the film take on a slower pace. We feel the film dragging its feet at points.
It should also be known that Ted isn’t necessarily a flat-out comedy. There are times when the film feels like a romance or (towards the last third) an action movie. It’s a mix of uneven direction and the screenwriters adding acts. When we think we’ve seen the climax, the film introduces another one stretching out the duration even further.
A side story with Giovanni Ribisi’s down-and-out character and his equally rough looking son, which unfortunately and inevitably becomes something more, wants to be darkly funny but ends up being a tug o’ war match between being too sad and being too creepy. Both equally ineffective.
These tone changes feel like that Whoose Line Is It Anyway? game where actors would act out a scene while the host would yell out a new genre. The character’s motivations don’t drive the emotional impact of the story but rather MacFarlane’s intentions to make Ted a different movie every 15 minutes.
As for Family Guy parallels, there are references to celebrities (Ted calling a heftier kid Susan Boyle being a memorable one), lots of Family Guy voice actors play parts, and there is even a fight between Ted and a duck named James Franco. Again, those scenarios will either make you laugh or confirm your anti-MacFarlane beliefs.
As I said though, it’s a good, solid comedy. I’m glad I saw it and I wouldn’t be opposed to future live-action work Seth MacFarlane tackles. Those romantic elements the film offers may even help couples on a first date to convince themselves they’ve made a good movie pick after seeing Ted fellate a chocolate bar or seeing the aftermath of a rowdy night with Ted’s prostitute friends.