Seth MacFarlane has a problem. He is incredibly successful and has built a media empire on a certain vision of no holds barred pop culture comedy. Seth's problem is that he doesn't necessarily want to only do that. Ted is probably the closest Seth MacFarlane will ever get to stepping outside of his Family Guy/American Dad!/Cleveland Show mold until all the shows are off the air. At its heart, Ted's an old-fashioned family-friendly romantic comedy. That's its true essence. It's just covered in raunchy and outrageous jokes that could make a practiced cynic blush.
John is a 35 year old man about to celebrate his four year anniversary with Lori, his younger and much more successful girlfriend. The problem is that John lives with Ted, a lewd living teddy bear who became a national sensation when brought to life by John's childhood wish. Ted helped John become more confident while growing up. Now he encourages John to skip work, binge drink, and smoke pot all day long. Lori is getting fed up with John's devotion to Ted and issues an ultimatum: the bear or the girlfriend.
The strength of Ted is hard to lay on one element. The screenplay is one of the tightest to come out since Juno. MacFarlane knows how to pace a story and all the beats, turns, and character revelations ring true and authentic. It's unfortunately disguised by using Flash Gordon as a major plot device. You'll zoom in on the love it or hate it references to the 80s' franchise and probably miss out on how the show within the film functions the same as the long lost relative or friend offscreen for the first act. Replace Flash Gordon with a less absurd reference and the structure would hold up beautifully.
MacFarlane's direction is excellent, as well. What he manages to do with a silly fantasy about a living teddy bear is very impressive. His understanding of camera angles, pacing, and use of light is straight out of the 1960s prestige film playbook. Every scene has a music cue, every lighting cue a slightly different filter, and every performance--no matter how small--has weight and substance.
Where Ted will lose viewers is the style of humor. It's raunchy. It's very Trey Parker and Matt Stone pre-South Park. The comedy is no holds barred. There are rape jokes, drug jokes, domestic abuse jokes, and addiction jokes. That's not a complete list, either. Those are just the jokes John makes about himself as a running self-deprecation gag. The humor is broad, shocking, and offensive. There is no way it will appeal to everyone and I doubt anyone could laugh at all the jokes in the film.
When the humor's not raunchy, it's all about pop culture references. The reveal of a Tiffany music video playing in the background is a joke by itself. So is the presence of a few guest actors, a karaoke party, and even a reference to Family Guy. If you don't know the references, the jokes aren't funny. There's a certain level of silliness to these scenes that might elicit a chuckle. However, these jokes land harder if you have seen Flash Gordon or any of the 80s/early 90s pop culture references.
I can say that I thought the film was a hilarious but a bit forced at times. I watch Family Guy and American Dad! and Ted plays somewhere in between. The plot and tone is more the strange but heart warming style of the latter but the humor is firmly in the realm of the former. Seth MacFarlane fans won't be disappointed even when Ted goes for broke on an emotional climax.
Did you catch Ted yet? What are your thoughts? Sound off below. Love to hear from you.