Smarter than your average bear

A childhood wish turns into a nostalgic sitcom for adults

Marky Mark and his boy toy.

Marky Mark and his boy toy.

Starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and Seth MacFarlane. Directed by Seth MacFarlane. Cinemark 14, Feather River Cinemas and Paradise Cinema 7. Rated R.
Rated 4.0

I suspect that at some point Seth MacFarlane pitched the idea of Ted as a sitcom. I’m sure the suits blinked at him and went, “Yeah, right. Try again, Seth,” and he went off and did another spin-off of Family Guy. I’ve never paid much attention to that show. While it was funny at first, after a few episodes it just seemed as if MacFarlane was obsessively hitting the same pattern of nails in a caffeine-fueled frenzy of pop-culture riff-a-rama. That, and I don’t particularly like cartoons.

But with Ted as his film debut, MacFarlane has delivered a surprisingly sweet live-action cartoon that is both a deconstruction of romantic comedies and that era of TV sitcoms when Muppets from outer space or robot school girls were dropped in the living room of American nuclear families to crack wise against canned laughter. Ted is the best sitcom never allowed to air on television, an onion of ’80s-nostalgia porn that positively bursts at the seams with a giddy excitement at getting to play on the big screen.

We’ve seen the template before: A lovable loser (John, played by Mark Wahlberg) with an amazingly hot girlfriend (Lori—a perfectly cast Mila Kunis) is given an ultimatum to leave behind his childhood toys and join the adult world, or else. But the toy in this case is a walking, talking stuffed teddy bear (voiced by MacFarlane), and John and Ted have been inseparable since the bear sprung to life after a Christmas wish 25 years before. But now that he is all grown up, Ted leaves behind his snuggliness to pound shots, snort lines of cocaine and bring home hookers.

Although Lori gets along with Ted in that way that understanding girlfriends get along with those bad-influence friends, she and John are also at that dangerous point in the relationship where she’d like to spend some quiet time with him doing stuff like, y’know, being adults. Complications ensue, and the script hits the beats that the rigid format of the romcom demands.

After an ominously sappy intro by Captain Picard, Ted hit the ground running and didn’t let up until the end. There are a whole lot of ways this premise could’ve gone wrong, and fast, but MacFarlane pulls off the impressive feat of delivering a consistently hilarious comedy that demands its audience sink or swim rather than spoon feed them the jokes with soothing tones.

It’s obviously patterned after the trash-culture devotion of Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead and even Hot Fuzz, but quickly establishes an identity of its own while deftly avoiding the danger of making the eponymous character cloying.