Seth MacFarlane’s ‘Ted’ is Aggressively Unfunny

by Eric Melin on June 29, 2012

in Reviews,Video Reviews

This review originally appeared in shorter form on KSNT-NBC, KTKA-ABC, and KTMJ-FOX, Kansas First News.

ted-movie-poster-2012-wahlbergA little boy who wishes that his teddy bear could talk grows up and finds it’s still talking—only now it’s vulgar and has lots of bad habits, in a new comedy from the creator of Family Guy.

Seth MacFarlane writes, directs and voices the teddy bear come to life and Mark Wahlberg is the perpetual manchild with a heart of gold in Ted, an R-rated comedy that gets a little mileage out of its setup and then is offensively unfunny for most of its running time.

Ted is the definition of a lazy film, taking a fun premise and going nowhere interesting with it, choosing instead to be another movie about a 30-something guy with a severe case of arrested development and a girlfriend who nags at him to grow up.

This is very much the same kind of humor as Family Guy, only it doesn’t work in live action. Note to MacFarlane: Non-sequitur pop culture references are not funny just because you bring them up. It’s the context that turns them into jokes. In Ted, the context is absent and the timing is all off. MacFarlane should know by now that he can’t edit a full-length movie like a 21-minute cartoon.

bed-ted-mark-wahlberg-mila-kunisWahlberg and co-star Mila Kunis are faintly charming and up for anything, but it isn’t enough to save the movie. Poor Kunis is stuck with the thankless role of the girlfriend who isn’t necessarily a bad person, but still wants to tear a friendship apart. In fact, she’s so reasonable about things that the ending of the movie almost makes sense. No wait — it doesn’t at all.

The one clever conceit in Ted is that by the time Wahlberg’s grown up, the bear is a one-time celebrity who’s had his 15 minutes back in 1986 and nobody cares about him anymore. Unfortunately it sets up the most tired part of the movie: Giovanni Ribisi is horribly wasted in a weird kidnapping plot that’s never funny even though it tries desperately to be, despite the fact that it exists only for a predictable, insulting, and unearned third-act conflict.

ted-humping-register-supermarket-2012There are a couple funny scenes in Ted where MacFarlane’s “voice” isn’t  smothering everything. Wahlberg and his teddy bear bond over Flash Gordon and have a real connection to their childhood. There’s another funny scene with little dialogue (one of the reasons its funny) when the the two have a physical confrontation in a hotel room.

But here’s the thing: So much of the film’s humor is mean-spirited, racist, homophobic, and misogynistic that it makes me wonder why I’m in the minority on this one. The theater I saw the film in was full, with lots of people laughing constantly. There’s a serious cultural divide going on here. The press material from the movie studio calls MacFarlane’s brand of humor “politically incorrect,” but that’s the politically correct way of saying its racist, homophobic, and misogynistic.

When Sacha Baron Cohen goes over the top with his brand of boundary-pushing offensive humor, it’s because he’s pointing out hypocrisy and how messed up the world can be. When MacFarlane goes over the top, he’s just laughing at people for being who they are. There’s a difference.

Eric is the Editor-in-Chief of Scene-Stealers and regular critic for KCTV5. He’s a member of the BFCA, VP of the KCFCC, and drummer for The Dead Girls and Ultimate Fakebook. He is also the current 2013 Air Guitar World Champion Mean Melin. Eric goes to 11. Follow him at:

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 CF June 29, 2012 at 1:05 pm

2 things Eric – first, there’s poking fun at people for who they are – period. Over the last 20 years, especially the last 10, we as an overly-sensitive society have made it taboo for those people to include people of minority races, challenged people, and women (while remaining perfectly okay to make fun of white people for being white, men for being men, etc.).

Just because a joke makes fun of an ethnicity does NOT make it – or the teller – racist. You may not LIKE it, but you don’t get to lump that in together. A joke that ties being a hooker to having daddy issues isn’t misogynistic. It’s funny – and probably a little too close to the truth.

Second, you are giving WAyyyyyyyyyy too much credit to SBC (who I love). He’s not going out of his way to expose hypocrisy. He’s just making fun of groups of people YOUUUUUUU feel are hypocrites. See the difference?

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2 Eric Melin June 29, 2012 at 1:48 pm

Chris- Thanks for your balanced response, I appreciate it. I see where you are coming from, but there is a difference between making fun of racist and misogynistic stereotypes and being racist and misogynistic. One is poking fun at the racist for being an idiot and the other is making fun of the Jewish person because they are Jewish. Lots of the jokes in “Ted” crossed that line, weren’t funny, and were just plain mean-spirited with nothing else to say. SBC’s Anti-Semitic remarks in character as “The Dictator” were so extreme and clever that the satire reached insane levels of absurdity and pointed out how ridiculous racism and hatred can be.

MacFarlane’s comedy is insultingly lowest-common denominator with an underlying cruel streak. That’s what I’m reacting to…sometimes it’s also MacFarlane’s condescending tone that makes the “jokes” so aggressively not funny.

Yes, SBC is making fun of people I think are hypocrites, and maybe I think h’s funnier because his social values and moral compass are more aligned with mine. I’ll certainly admit that. MacFarlane’s hasn’t developed since he was about 13, so that’s also part of the problem.

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3 Sid Much Rock June 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm

“A joke that ties being a hooker to having daddy issues isn’t misogynistic. It’s funny”

No, I’m pretty sure it’s not. If these gals had dad’s that beat them and were now permanently disfigured would it also be funny (and too close to the truth)? You laugh at the prostitute, I prefer comedy that mocks the dad. It’s still not “PC,” but it’s not mean spirited.

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4 Taylor June 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm

I have to say that there is a difference between poking fun at a group of people that take themselves too seriously, like our late great friend George Carlin used to do, and hitting that group below the belt. My beef with McFarlane is how low he hits these groups, and has no remorse for doing so…..

In general I completely avoid anything that has his name on it for a few reasons, but Eric was dead on, he is still about 13 years old…. All of his jokes might be different but have the exact same delivery. How many times have you heard Peter Griffin say this line: “That reminds me of the time when……” It’s completely unoriginal and at times downright offensive. The delivery of all these jokes are uncreative, if we look at something like South Park, which is extremely offensive as well, the delivery of each joke is completely different in each episode, and in the end seem to be in better taste.

In my opinion when you boil it down MacFarlane’s lack to deliver make all his jokes seem crude or mean, instead of poking at a group of people that take things to seriously.

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5 Maggie July 2, 2012 at 11:35 pm

I’m usually pretty tolerant of politically incorrect humor, but I agree that there is a fine line between putting a light spin on the darker aspects of humanity and exploiting it for cheap laughs. I watched this movie today and I left the theater feeling cynical, offended and gross. What makes Family Guy fun to watch and its ethnic humor tolerable is that EVERYONE is ridiculed, and no one is spared. But in this film, I felt that it lacked the balance that made this okay. For example, the angry Chinese neighbor next door complaining in heavy Chinese accent that he can’t slaughter his live duck for dinner crossed the line of offensiveness to the point where it reminded me of Mickey Rooney’s infamous performance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I didn’t see the irony or satire, just plain unnecessary stereotyping.
I’m so glad I’m not the only one who feels this way, I was beginning to worry that I was just feeling butthurt and oversensitive.

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6 Eric Melin July 3, 2012 at 9:06 am

Ha ha ha! Tell me about it, I felt the same way. Like you said, there’s a balance that I think this kind of humor needs to strike in order to work, and I think “Ted” is really unbalanced. Thanks for crystallizing that idea!

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7 Dan From Australia December 1, 2012 at 4:54 am

I agree with you mate… I find Russell Peters’ ethnic jokes quite humourous, as opposed to offensive, because he ridicules EVERYONE, and doesn’t single out any ethnic group. In this movie though, there is no balance… is simply offensive.

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8 Cde. July 8, 2012 at 7:49 pm

Exactly what I was feeling after watching it. Thanks for going against the herd and saying this.

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9 Eric Melin July 13, 2012 at 11:12 am

Yep…had to be honest with myself…trying to dissect why I wasn’t laughing is tough though because I’m not easily offended.

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10 Mike July 9, 2012 at 12:54 am

If you turn off the sound in order to use other senses, you notice how ridiculous the story premises really are. Who pays for the four hookers? After playing their little game, why no reaction to the smell in the room?
How can John use weed so often yet not reek so that his girl, boss and coworkers notice? Druggies prefer druggies. Why is Lori tolerating this? Why doesn’t John or Ted react to their first time using cocaine? Is John a slacker or not? Next in line for promotion despite regularly arriving late and stoned makes no sense. Why is everything Ted’s fault when John has behaved the exact same way for years? How has John managed to support Ted’s extravagant lifestyle all these years but still be a loser with women that hooked Lori by accident?
How can the bear exist for years and years before finally getting bear-napped?
Why didn’t Lori sleep with John because he is hot, consider his potential as a long term mate, then move on like every modern girl?
Why is Ted staying with one girl? Why is she staying with Ted?

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11 Eric Melin July 13, 2012 at 11:10 am

so in addition to it being not very funny, there are enormous plot holes too–thanks for breaking it down!

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12 james July 11, 2012 at 1:38 pm

Dead-on mate. As others have said glad to see I’m not alone on this. I keep wondering when this guy is gonna get exposed for what he is. Can somebody please explain to me why the dark humor of Step Brothers made Roger Ebert think the world had lost any moral compass but he gave this one three and a half stars. Did they make a different version for the press?

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13 Eric Melin July 13, 2012 at 11:13 am

Yeah, I was wondering about Roger as well. Haven’t seen ‘Step Brothers,’ but I hear its underrated. Accusing it of proving “the world has lost its moral compass” is pretty hardcore. Never known Ferrell movies to be that mean-spirited…

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14 Joe July 12, 2012 at 2:41 pm

The film was OK. Like a mediocre episode of “Family Guy”. It was kinda funny at times, but really never took the premise further. It’s like the movie is saying “LOOK! It’s a talking teddy bear.” Just like narrator said in the beginning of the movie, “It doesn’t matter how big of a splash you make…Eventually, nobody gives a shit.” And eventually the talking teddy gimmick gets old.

As an Asian-American, I found the Asian neighbor scene extremely offensive. Why can’t there be just a normal Asian person who speaks English normally for once? Ken Jeong’s characters while totally crazy, at least don’t fit neatly into a box of stereotypes. Unlike the Asian man in “Ted”.

Can anyone imagine the outrage if that had been a black person, eating fried chicken and watermelon, and dancing to loud rap music? I honestly think Macfarlane would have loved to rip on Jews, or gays, or blacks but he knows that those groups will openly protest his movie if he did. But it’s OK to bash on Asians. Pffff.

There’s a saying that “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.” Actually, I’m really starting to think that sarcasm should be replaced by Macfarlane. His jokes are old, offensive, and – most importantly – not funny. He needs to disappear like Tom Green.

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15 Eric Melin July 13, 2012 at 11:18 am

Wow. Yeah, I didn’t even have time to mention the guy next door. That was HORRIBLE. MacFarlane tries to get jokes over on people and make them laugh when they know they shouldn’t be. That initial shock then gives way to guilt and it’s his way of saying “See? You’re not so uppity and cultured after all!” On some level, that works some of the time. But a crude racial stereotype that over the top and completely unoriginal isn’t funny at all, so because you’re not laughing, you don’t get that “guilty as charged” moment that he wants you to have. Either way, that style of comedy gets really old really quick when he’s got nothing to say underlying it all….

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16 Shane July 13, 2012 at 11:26 am

Totally in agreement with you here, Eric. Everyone kept talking about how funny it was. I just found it lacking. I didn’t vehemently dislike as much as you, but I certainly find myself in the minority of thinking it just wasn’t as funny as it could have been.

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17 Eric Melin July 13, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Yep, well I think maybe what happened is I had to analyze why I wasn’t laughing and then I got offended. Glad to know someone who I know with good taste in films had a similar experience.

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18 RICH July 18, 2012 at 7:02 pm

You Know, you’re just a liberal fool. I like homophobic, and misogynistic. Homosexuality IS sinful, after all. What I didn’t like is that they insulted Thunder, because they insulted Those Gods, And Goddesses.

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