If you’re into sophomoric humor, chances are you have watched the movie Ted starring Mark Wahlberg and the voice of Seth MacFarlane as the titular vulgar talking bear. The movie came out in 2012 and was followed by a sequel, Ted 2, in 2015. Now, almost a decade later, MacFarlane is back with a prequel series called ted (lowercase stylization likely to differentiate it from the movie). Set in the ‘90s, the comedy series takes viewers back to when John Bennett (Wahlberg in the movies, Max Burkholder in the series) is growing up in high school with Ted as his only friend.
Fans of the movies are the most obvious fanbase. But there’s something unique about the show as just a downright fun and raunchy sitcom. The styling is that of a typical ‘90s sitcom, complete with musical interludes as the show cuts from one scene to another and a family dynamic at its heart. Anyone who knows MacFarlane knows that nothing he’ll ever produce will be as wholesome as a morally sound sitcom, and this show is anything but. You don’t want to watch this with your kids, not even your teens.
But surprisingly, there are deeper conversations and commentary that touch on everything from racism to sexism, sexual identity, and teenage peer pressure. You won’t see Danny Tanner sitting on the edge of the bed with Stephanie waxing poetic about how she needs to believe in herself. But ted isn’t all vulgarity and ridiculous humor. It’s just a lot of it.
It’s instantly evident that Ted is the same foul-mouthed, sex-obsessed, crass sentient teddy bear fans came to know (and oddly adore) from the movies. The series flips past the childhood era and Ted’s 15 minutes of fame. It’s a decade since Ted first shocked the nation, and now no one gives a hoot about the fact that a walking, talking toy lives among them. He’s living a regular, mundane life in the Bennett household as part of the family and community.
The relationship between Ted and John is the central focus of each episode and the story overall. But it’s the interactions with other family members that makes the show watchable. Alanna Ubach is completely believable as John’s squeaky clean, ultra-sweet mother Susan. Her character is set up instantly when Ted pleads with her to say the “F” word at the dinner table and she bashfully refuses. She seems completely unphased by the fact that her entire family speaks like drunken sailors, easily making her one of the most likable, and patient, characters on the show.
Scott Grimes is Matty, John’s veteran father. He is as traditional as they come, putting in his workday then sitting in front of the TV with a beer in hand while his wife caters to his needs. He’s a provider and he’s seen (and done) horrific things while at war. He’s a wonderful person in his eyes, a provider. Most of what comes out of his mouth is disrespectful and racist, but he does have the chance to show a softer side as well.
There’s only one person willing to stand up to Matty, and that’s his niece Blaire (Giorgia Whigham), an interesting addition to the mix. Her presence pays off in spades, the ‘90s version of a feminist and woke Gen-Zer (she was clearly an ahead of her time Gen-Xer). Like a big sister to John, the relationship between the cousins is arguably the most compelling on the show. There are wonderfully tender moments, even if they’re often paired with a snarky, inappropriate comment from Ted.
Like any traditional sitcom, there’s no real plot with ted. In every episode, John deals with the typical trials and tribulations of coming-of-age. This ranges from bullies to trying drugs, renting dirty movies, and even going on his first date (hint: there are timely references to both Aladdin and O.J. Simpson).
MacFarlane is perfectly crass as the voice of Ted. Burkholder is thankfully much older than the character he plays, but he beautifully and convincingly portrays a believable 16-year-old, capturing the innocence and the curiosity of a teenage boy (he’s shockingly 26 years old in real life!) The ‘90s references, from video game systems to renting videos, Lori Loughlin, Pound Puppies, and, of course, the absence of cell phones, are abundant. Anyone who grew up in that decade will relate to every reference and love the nostalgic feel.
MacFarlane knows exactly what he’s doing, who his audience is, and how to cater to them. It’s abundantly clear he grew up in the very same decade, knows a lot about life in Boston, and has experience in the sitcom space through his long-running hits like Family Guy and American Dad! You’ll get the same antics of a wholesome sitcom but with vulgarity, raunchiness, and inappropriate language. Would you expect anything less from MacFarlane?
Is ted Worth Watching?
ted won’t be for everyone. If you watched the movie, or even saw the trailer, and turned up your nose at the immature “frat boy” humor, don’t bother with ted the series – it’s much of the same. But if you can appreciate the occasional bromance stoner comedy, ted will be right up your alley.
If you’re indifferent, I’d say to give ted a try. With the fabulous supporting cast, there’s more meat beyond just a cute teddy bear prancing around talking about genitals. Ted has legs, even if they’re just tiny, furry ones.
Ted is streaming on Peacock in the U.S. and will presumably be available via NBC in Canada.