By Bob Grimm
I had a good time with Seth MacFarlane’s original Ted movie, a profane blast of comedy starring Mark Wahlberg as Johnny—and a wise-assed talking teddy bear voiced by MacFarlane.
Unfortunately, the sequel, Ted 2, showed the formula wasn’t strong enough to sustain a cinematic franchise. The laughs died out, and the premise got tired fast.
With that in mind, I wasn’t really looking forward to watching MacFarlane’s new Ted show on Peacock. It’s a prequel to the original film with Wahlberg’s character as a teen (now played by Max Burkholder) in the early ’90s. I figured there was no way the premise would keep my interest through a single episode. The talking-bear shtick was dead to me.
Well, I laughed my ass off watching all seven episodes of this thing—perhaps even more than I laughed at the original film. Ted is full of hilarious ’90s references, somehow funny-again pot jokes, and lots of riffs on pop culture. Oh, and there’s a lot of profanity. This is one nasty show, with the sort of no-holds-barred humor you don’t see a lot of these days. It’s as if MacFarlane (who still voices that nasty little bear) has been saving his best obscene jokes for 30 years and let them loose for this project.
Most of the show’s plots involve Johnny and Ted in high school. The setting provides all the usual setups—the bully, the attempts to lose one’s virginity, the prom, etc. MacFarlane and his writers (including Dana Gould for a hilarious episode involving the renting of porn) keep the humor far from standard or clichéd. Yes, it’s yet another high school comedy, but MacFarlane has a fresh take on the formula. The jokes are rapid-fire; the show doesn’t take a breath.
An episode that starts off with a welcome homage to the Jerky Boys (if you don’t know who they are, you are missing out) evolves into perhaps the funniest take on high school bullying I’ve ever seen. Johnny and Ted start with a prank phone call and proceed to construct an elaborate scheme—and then their consciences get the best out of them as they become emotionally invested in their bully’s life. It’s a thing of comedic beauty.
There’s a Christmas show involving a racist talking toy truck that is going to become a holiday staple for me. The episodes include a lot of stoner humor and seemingly endless jokes that go into pop-culture wormholes—yet don’t get tired.
Much credit goes to the amazing Alanna Ubach, playing Johnny’s mom, Susan. Ubach mashes up the sitcom moms who came before her to come up with a character who is, simply put, hilarious during every second she spends onscreen. She’s also a total sweetheart and a character to root for. While her mannerisms are a bit exaggerated for comic effect, what she does here is no caricature. Ubach, an actress you’ve seen many times before (she played the girl who had a crush on Marcia in the original Brady Bunch movie; that’s just one of her 170-plus acting credits on IMDb) has given us a great gift with this performance. I’m sure all the awards shows will ignore it.
Rounding out the Bennett family is Scott Grimes (who played Lt. Malloy on MacFarlane’s The Orville), who is hilarious as Johnny’s father, a Vietnam War vet who enjoyed the war so much that he cried when the helicopters showed up to take him home. (He’s also very afraid of spiders.) Giorgia Whigham provides the moral (sort of) compass for the clan, playing the cousin who lives above the garage in the Fonzie apartment.
There’s no word yet on whether or not this is a one-season-and-done show. I certainly hope not; I would love this show to take us right up to the Wahlberg years—so that gives MacFarlane another 20 years or so breathing room. The talking bear is funny again!
Ted is now streaming on Peacock.