July 1, 2012


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TED:  Watch It At Home – More Than a TV Show, Less Than a Movie


With TED, Seth MacFarlane makes his move to the big screen from a spectacularly successful career in adult-oriented TV animation, steering most of FOX’s non-Simpsons “animation domination” line-up with Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show.  More significantly, though, Ted marks his first substantial step away from his comfort zone of 22-minute storytelling, and that turns out to be a problem.

Ted‘s concept has the beauty of simplicity.  A little boy named Johnny  (who grows up to become Mark Wahlberg) makes a Christmas wish that his teddy bear could come to life and become his real best friend, and the result is Ted (a marvelous CG creation voiced by MacFarlane), who becomes a minor celebrity, appearing among other places on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.  But 25 years later, people barely remember Ted, and he and Johnny are boy-man stoners going nowhere.  The stern hand of civilization, though, approaches–as it almost always does in this genre–in the form of a disapproving woman, Johnny’s longtime girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis).  She thinks it’s about time that Johnny put away his childish things and became a real adult, but where will that leave Ted?

There’s not much more than that to Ted, which starts off as hugely funny, but increasingly wears out its welcome.  MacFarlane and fellow writers Alec Sulkin and Wellesley Weld (both from the Family Guy staff) don’t use the scope of a feature film to expand their repertoire of humor, and at around the halfway point, it becomes clear that Ted is little more than the live-action version of Peter Griffin, with his rude, inappropriate (but always just borderline offensive) humor, combined with Peter’s talking dog Brian, plus the ability to use some words FOX standards & practices wouldn’t allow.  It’s particularly disappointing to see Kunis, so funny and cool in Friends With Benefits (and herself the voice of Family Guy‘s Meg) relegated to being just The Girlfriend here.

Wahlberg has become a game and adept comedian on screen, and he has a great time with the all-out fight scene Johnny and Ted have late in the film.  But Johnny is little more than a stock Seth Rogen character, without the sardonic wit Rogen would bring to it.  After about an hour of lame plotting (Joel McHale plays Lori’s lecherous boss, who roots for Lori and Johnny to break up so he can pounce) and celebrity cameos (Norah Jones and Sam J. Jones, star of the 1980 Flash Gordon movie), MacFarlane seems to realize he still has half an hour to fill and just throw up his hands, introducing an entirely different storyline for the rest of the movie with Giovani Ribisi as a deranged Ted fan.

MacFarlane’s cartoons aren’t known for their glorious visuals, and that’s even more true of Ted, which is a technically lazy piece of work, indifferently shot (by Michael Barrett, from the Adam Sandler/Happy Madison corral), edited and scored (by Walter Murphy, seemingly from unused Family Guy segue music).  Apart from Wahlberg, and of course MacFarlane and his CG handlers, no one in the cast gets to make much of an impression.

Ted certainly has its moments, mostly the ones in the movie’s red-band trailer.  MacFarlane is a funny guy. Next time, though (since the opening weekend success of Ted makes a sequel far from unlikely), maybe he’ll put more effort into crafting a script that’s actually suited for a 105-minute running time.  Or maybe not.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."