Anyone who's seen an episode of modern Family Guy — discount the halcyon seasons of 1999-2002, when nobody watched it — is immediately familiar with the cartoon's formula. That is, nostalgia-fueled pop culture gags paired with smash cuts plus a sincere yearning for Golden Age of American animation coupled with a few caustic gags just for the sake of edginess.
It's a scattershot comedic architecture, one that doles out cheap shots about race and sexuality and delightfully absurdist jokes so randomly that South Park once posited that Family Guy's scriptwriters were manatees nudging an "idea ball."
And Ted — Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane's feature film debut about a bong-ripping, floozy-diddling stuffed animal animated by a Christmas miracle — adheres to this formula. This is a pity, as this funny movie could've been a lot funnier if the script wasn't so damn lazy.
The film's premise — as a child in the 1980s, John (Mark Wahlberg) wishes his stuffed bear (voiced by MacFarlane, at the midpoint of Peter and Brian Griffin) to life — plays it fast and loose with the ramification that magic exists in the world. Sure, we see the odd parent and newscaster melt down hilariously before this revelation, but Ted doesn't end up in an unmarked government bunker somewhere.
No, he hits the talk show circuit and evolves from chipper child star to a vice-addled, washed-up celebrity. To paraphrase the movie's narrator (Patrick Stewart), "It doesn't matter if you're Corey Feldman or a talking bear — eventually the public stops giving a shit."
It's clever to have a civilization-shattering event diminished by the populace's fickle attention span, but the movie jettisons this plot early to focus on a buddy comedy starring the adult John and Ted. The former has an on-the-verge-of-dumping-him girlfriend (an underused Mila Kunis) and no ambition. The latter is looking threadbare and enables his childhood friend with a never-ending parade of booze, pot, and other ill-advised good times.
It's a familiar routine, but it's one that frequently works thanks to Wahlberg's doe-eyed doofiness and MacFarlane's A-hole swagger. (For example, Ted is undaunted by his lack of genitalia and gamely incorporates parsnips into his lovemaking.) This viewer was also charmed by their mutual love of 1980's Flash Gordon, which proves to be a huge plot point.
The enjoyable gaudiness of Flash aside, a lot of the pop cultural references are shoehorned in such that they won't fly five years from now. The ethnic gags (see: a histrionic Asian neighbor right out of Breakfast at Tiffany's) are just as leaden.
But like Family Guy, MacFarlane's not going for coherence here. The yapping teddy is his mouthpiece to fire out any gag, no matter how "boundary-pushing." This is regrettable, as Ted's quite the hoot when the script stays on task. Like endless reruns of Family Guy on Adult Swim, it's tailored for background viewing, such that the audience can jump in and out of the narrative at their choosing.