There’s a grating problem with Seth MacFarlane’s label that makes it particularly difficult for me to accept his work. It goes beyond the subjectivity of comedy. And I’m certainly not accounting for a lack of finesse or cinematic formalism. No, the problem I have with MacFarlane’s work is largely an issue on the delicacy of infringement. With his work on Family Guy, American Dad, or even his debut feature, there’s a dependency on referencing every other niche film/television show/comic/etc as a means to establish a joke. This in itself is not an isolated incident – DreamWorks Animation has relied on this technique for years. But the issue comes from my ability to accept material from someone who depends so much on mimicking (a kind word) imagery from these niche films. What comes from this is a sense of reservation – even some of the picture’s highlights bring about the question: am I appreciating a cultural reference point or a genuine sight?
Ted and Seth MacFarlane’s worldview were obviously constructed by the media of the 1980s. This is evident through the early portions of Ted and its preoccupation with the film, Flash Gordon. But Ted employs so many references to the 1980s, from Airplane to Raiders of the Lost Ark to Top Gun, to the point that the film suffocates on its own comedic stylings. What are we left with when Ted doesn’t utilize its well of 80s nostalgia? Not a whole lot else. The concept of having a foul-mouthed plush bear is utilized to maximum effect, even as material dries up. The film’s philosophy is that while the material this bear spews is not necessarily funny, it becomes funny when the bear is saying it. This isn’t wholly false at first, but eventually, the sight loses its novelty and exposes itself.
And what McFarlane accomplishes with Ted is little more than a novelty. It’s an obnoxious picture that takes jabs from a place of male hegemonic privilege. The picture’s utilizes Mila Kunis as nothing more than a propeller for narrative conflict – she has no time to share in the debauchery and rambunctiousness displayed by her man-child co-star or a stuffed bear. The picture’s singular lesson seems to imply that woman need to settle into subservient roles while their underachieving men relish in the fruits of their labor. Ted amounts to very little, and what fleeting moments of amusement I derived from it is met with hesitation. For example, a slow motion sequence where Ted meets his demise in a baseball stadium is an impressive example of raising the emotional stakes through rich visual imagery. But am I to assume this is a unique image or another reference to some niche 80s film/television show. And more importantly, is it fair to assume that MacFarlane, who in the very same movie, has a scene involving the disposal of a piece of shit from the corner of a room, can really elevate the material when he needs to?