Thursday, July 18, 2013

Film Friday: Ted (2012)

Ted sucks. I could stop the review right there and that would sum up Seth McFarlane’s film pretty well. But I watched this turd and I want my pound of flesh. So I’m doing a full review to tell you exactly where Mr. McFarlane went wrong.
Plot
Ted is a “fairy tale gone crooked” about a boy who wishes that his teddy bear was real and gets his wish. Instead of being a touching story about a little boy who finds a special friend who teaches him some lesson, the story focuses on what happens after the boy and the bear both grow up and become typical Boston racist potheads. That’s the joke... all two hours of it. The plot, which is filler in this case, centers around the “difficult” choice the boy (Mark Wahlberg) must make between becoming something less than a total ass so he can keep his girlfriend (Mila Kunis) or sticking with his dope smoking, trouble causing bear. You can figure out the rest – boy loses girl, boy gets girl back with a “one last chance” proviso, boy loses girl when he abandons her at a business function so he can attend cocaine party with bear, contrived kidnapping-of-bear subplot brings boy and girl back together. Pathetic.
Why This Film Sucked Haard
This film stunk. Essentially, it was a vehicle for McFarlane to remind you repeatedly of the concept of the film and to relive his childhood. None of it worked. Observe:

Seth McFarlane Director: McFarlane wrote, produced and directed this film himself. That’s usually a sign of trouble, as proven here again. As a director, McFarlane simply isn’t any good and producer McFarlane should have canned him. He had no sense of how to convey the story with the camera. Outside of maybe two scenes where Ted acts lewdly, there is nothing in the visuals of this film to tell you what is going on; it’s just a collection of shots of people standing around. And in many shots, the actors were too far beyond the field of vision to pull you in to give the scene much meaning. They were lost in the shot. Moreover, every... single... gag ran twice as long as it should have. Thus, you keep finding yourself saying, “Yes, I get it, now move on.”

Seth McFarlane Writer: The writing was horrible too. Putting aside the jokes for the moment, what I’m talking about is the characters, the plot and the dialog. The plot, what little there is of it, is pathetically weak. It’s “below formula” in its sophistication, and it exists mainly to set up the comedic situations we’re supposed to laugh at. The characters are deeply unlikable and totally cardboard. You can’t feel for them. If they were all suddenly mowed down by a garbage truck, your response would have been to feel hopeful that we would now follow the intrinsically more likable garbage truck. Wahlberg’s Boston-trash pothead tries to get around being a genuine ass by constantly telling the audience he wants to be better than he is and by acting cute about his misbehavior. It doesn’t wash. Kunis is wallpaper. I don’t even recall if she speaks. The relationship scenes between them were written at the fifth grade level: “Ha ha, you’re hot, which is why I like you. I just farted.” I kid you not. Ted himself is interesting, because he does unexpected things, but he’s not likable. He’s a racist, a misogynist and a waster. And the only reason he seems likeable is because he’s been designed to look harmless and because all the other characters claim to like him. Cast Biff from Back to the Future instead of a CGI bear and audiences would have hated him. Seth McFarlane the producer should have fired McFarlane the writer too.
Seth McFarlane Joke Maker: All of the above could be forgiven if this movie had you rolling in the aisles. But it doesn’t. You laugh for the intro, then the laughing stops. Sure, there are some individual jokes that make you laugh, but the frequency is very low. What McFarlane is doing is basically writing the dialog using the following pattern: fart joke / racist joke / fart joke / dope joke / gay joke / creepy guy moment. He then mixes these with a constant stream of references to things McFarlane watched on television growing up and celebrity cameos. And he separates all lines with swearing. That’s his formula. And it’s tiring.
Even worse, as has become the norm among so many modern comedians, it’s all mean-spirited. All the jokes are aimed at other people and then the punch line is them acting helpless to respond to the insult. At one point, Ted even pretends to be mentally retarded after a life threatening injury just to watch Walhberg look on with horror. Very funny. There’s a manager who bizarrely thinks that being insulted is grounds for promotion – that’s nonsense. There are a number of characters who are too dumb to realize they’ve been insulted. There’s a businessman who nonsensically screams in a restaurant about his dinner being ruined because “[he’s] a businessman” and “someone farted!” And so on.

Moreover, if you’re going to make controversial jokes (e.g. jokes involving racism, religious bigotry, gays, the disabled), you better make sure you make good ones. McFarlane doesn’t. “Thank you for 9/11,” said to an Hispanic woman Ted has wrongly called a Muslim is not funny. A Chinese man with a duck screaming gibberish is not funny. Making a Brandon Routh was a gay Superman joke is not funny seven years after the film ended. The problem is McFarlane lacks courage -- his targets throughout the film are Hollywood has-beens and long-dead controversies. If you want to tell a racist joke, you need to accept the fact someone will get upset. That means you pick a side and you tell it; you either make fun of the racists, as Blazing Saddles does, or you speak some truth that is normally off limits, as many stand-ups do (Chris Rock: “Books is like Kryptonite to n*ggas.”). What you cannot do is what McFarlane does, which is suggest a racist joke, but then make it clear that he doesn’t really mean anything by it. That just makes people wonder why you brought it up in the first place.
The perfect example of this is when Ted suggests they will one day open an Italian restaurant but insists they allow Jews to dine there. This seems like the beginning of an anti-Semitic joke of some sort. . . but it’s not. Instead, Wahlberg responds, “Of course we would, why wouldn’t we?” and Ted then acts embarrassed for bringing it up. The joke stops cold. So what is the joke? It sounds like a joke about Italian anti-Semitism, but it’s not. We know this because Wahlberg responds in a shocked way, which suggests Ted is the one being racist. But Ted is trying to be anti-racist, so that doesn’t work either. In the end, what you get is “Ted wrongly thinks Wahlberg is anti-Semitic because he’s Italian.” That’s not funny, nor does it make a lot of sense. Perhaps if Ted had been openly anti-Semitic, then it would have made sense. Or if it exposed some truth about Italians or Jews or both, then it would have made sense. But it doesn’t. It ultimately makes no point at all. In fact, the only reason I can see for this joke is that McFarlane wants to trick the audience into thinking he’s being “edgy” by suggesting anti-Semitic jokes. All of his “edgy” jokes are like this: aimed at the wrong people, never actually insulting, and only suggestive of some bigotry. It’s symptomatic of a man who lacks the courage to say anything daring.

Indeed, just as Dennis Miller makes himself seem erudite by referencing things everyone knows but rarely discuss in daily conversations (rather than referencing things average people might not know), McFarlane makes himself seem edgy by suggesting that he’s telling racist, sexist, etc.-ist jokes, but doing so in a way that never actually lands a punch.

This is the problem with this film. You have a funny concept that McFarlane doesn’t know how to exploit. Rather than making a story involving Ted or the relationship between Ted and Wahlberg, he makes a stoner comedy with mean-spirited, cowardly jokes, unlikable characters, and a worthless plot. And he wraps all of this in enough fart/scat jokes to make you wonder if a twelve year old didn’t write the thing.

Totally... wasted... idea.

53 comments:

tryanmax said...

Basically, this is a live action Family Guy starring McFarlane characters that you've never met but are familiar with as they are typical McFarlane tropes. The titular Ted is voiced by McFarlane and, like Brian in Family Guy, seems to be a quasi-autobiographical character--if you excuse the bit about being a magical teddy bear. Take that interpretation however you will.

Apparently, what amuses McFarlane is a character who is constantly trying to guess and conform to other people's thoughts, feelings, and prejudices but constantly gets it wrong. While I can certainly appreciate the potential for comedy in that, it's much, much more likely to go into discomfort, which is where it lands in Ted.

That said, I actually liked the ridiculousness of the boss who thought being insulted was cause for promotion. It was just so outlandish! I think the reason why McFarlane's animated ventures still sit somewhat well with me while Ted left me cold is because his cartoons are ventures in almost pure absurdism, while Ted was just a juvenile rom-com with some mild fantasy. Go big or go home.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, You make some interesting points and I think you are correct.

First, let me say that I've never been a fan of Family Guy, and the reason is that IMO it offers little in the way of actual humor. It again relies on you laughing at the concept of the characters -- a brilliant baby! ha ha! a talking dog! ha ha! a living teddy bear! ha ha. Then it fills in with referential "humor"... look, he mentioned Star Wars! ha ha. And then it tries to make you think there's a joke there by ending the scene with something unexpected... Ha ha ha, he cut off Darth Vader's head!

I don't find that funny. To the contrary, I find it insulting because he's basically implying the existence of a joke and telling you that if you don't get it, then you just don't get humor. It's very Emperor's New Clothes-ish.

His jokes in Ted felt very similar. The girlfriend not recognizing the ringtone from Empire Strikes Back is the perfect example of this. There is no joke there at all, there's just the characters acting like they are in the middle of a joke. The idea is to make you think something funny has happened related to that ringtone when nothing really has.

Interesting point about him seeing himself as a magical teddy bear.

Tennessee Jed said...

ah jeez, Andrew. I truly grant you your pound of flesh, and certainly, it is good to hear about the crappy with the good. I had actually heard some people who "liked" this. It didn't interest me, but now I know I will never ever see it. As bad as you have felt, you deserve to find a film that is actually good for a change. Life is too short. Fool me with the first joke, shame on him. Sitting still why he repeats the insult to one's intelligence and .... shame on, well I'll leave it at that.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I had some hopes this would be good, but it's one of those where they literally showed every good joke in the trailer.

In terms of good films, I've been a western junky all week and I'm enjoying that a lot. I've really become a fan of Gene Autry. It's impossible not to like him.

Tennessee Jed said...

particularly when you are back in the saddle again ;)

KRS said...

I have always thought of McFarlane as a one trick pony and his sense of absurdism belongs in animation where all the sets cost the same. But he typically seems uncomfortable when he leaves that medium.

Every now and then he can come across with something spectacular like his "We've seen your Boobs," song at the Oscars. It was in such poor taste and perfectly demonstrated why modern actresses may never achieve the stature and class of their predecessors. I turned it off after that skit, knowing the rest of it wouldn't measure up.

That's because McFarlane is like those old Saturday Night Live skits. When the original SNL was on, I thought it was the funniest thing ever. After my wife gave me the first season a few years back, I wondered what the hell I had been laughing at. I finally realized that SNL was putting up maybe two or three truly funny, completely irreverent skits per show. You had to wade through a lot of drek to get to Samurai Delicatessan or that wonderfully racist job interview between Richard Pryor and Chevy Chase (another comedian whose humor is, shall we say, inconsistent).

That's McFarlane. He can get the belly laugh out of me, but it's a long walk there and one I don't always have the energy to take.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, Yep!

AndrewPrice said...

KRS, That's really true about SNL. We remember maybe an hour of great skits out of 200 hours of totally worthless crap. And in a way, McFarlane reminds me of the newer SNL as well in that he can stumble upon something funny, but he never seems to know how to exploit it and what he tries evens up running way too long. You see that throughout Ted. So many of the good moments in the film lost their good will because they just kept going and going and going as if he didn't trust the audience enough to "get it."

A good example of this was the cocaine party. We're supposed to get that time is passing and he's way past his 5 minutes. But McFarlane shows us 3-4 minutes of montage-like scenes to get the point across. Halfway through that, you're thinking, "Holy crap, I get the point... move on." If he was a good director, he would have cut that off after 30 seconds. If he was a comedic genius, he would have found a way to convey that in a better way... like adding a ticking clock in some manner for ironic effect.

McFarlane to me, particularly in this film, feels like a guy who knows what comedy is supposed to look like, but doesn't get the substance.

tryanmax said...

I disagree. On the timing thing, I think McFarlane is doing exactly what he intends. I think he believes taking the gad too far or going for too long is funny. He does this too often across all his projects for me to believe otherwise.

Alternatively, "going too long" is what made the famous Peter Griffin scraped knee gag work and he erroneously assumes that works for everything. But I doubt it, because every time that gag is sent up directly, it is much shorter, demonstrating that McFarlane does have some sense of good timing--he just chooses to ignore it.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, That could well be. And in support of that, I do note that his characters always start to pretend like they are uncomfortable about the joke continuing as it progresses... like actors awkwardly waiting for a line. Maybe he does think that's funny? Perhaps, in his mind, the "uncomfortable" is the funny part.

If so, then he is different than the SNL cast who genuinely don't seem to realize when a joke has stopped being funny and just becomes tedious and annoying. But that doesn't really make me any happier with him.

Interestingly though, that does put him more firmly in this group of comedians like Seth Rogen and Judd Apatow who think that making people uncomfortable is funny -- something they completely misunderstand.

ScottDS said...

Not even a chuckle? :-)

I liked the movie enough but I don't need to see it again. And like tryanmax, I like the ridiculous boss who keeps promoting Ted despite his best interests.

As for the ringtone, I believe the joke is: a.) it's his personal ringtone for HER, and b.) she's okay when he tells her it's music from The Notebook, which the audience knows is not true.

Re: SNL - you're all correct. It also helps that the "best" sketches get re-aired, referenced, and re-packaged in compilations all the time. We all remember the "Cowbell" sketch but do we remember the sketch that came afterwards?

(On that note, it's a shame the SNL episodes that are available to stream are edited because there are some good sketches that will most likely never be seen again.)

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I know that is the implied joke from the ringtone, but why is that funny? It's not. You only think it's funny because it implies that he thinks she's a tyrant and she's too stupid to realize it. But ask yourself if that makes any sense (or if that's even funny).

Consider this, if she really is "the love of his life" as he keeps slobbering all the time, then why would he use a ringtone that signifies Darth Vader? Where is the joke in that? And how stupid does she need to be to (1) think this theme could come from a rom-com or (2) to be placated by his obvious lie, and (3) to either not understand his sense of humor (if that's what it is) or to not see him for the real shit he is. Again, where is the joke?

At best, this is basically a 1950s mother-in-law joke applied to a couple to whom it cannot apply and McFarlane just trusts that you aren't smart enough to see that it doesn't make any sense. It's no better than the jokes in Meet the Spartans where the Spartan start kicking reality TV stars into the pit. Is there a joke there? No. Does it have anything to do with the film or the characters in the film? No. But the director assumes you aren't smart enough to notice that he just dumped unrelated filler on your lap. Same thing here.

As for chuckling, there were a couple moments that were humorous, I note that above. But 95% of the movie was forgettable.

tryanmax said...

I think part of it can be chalked up to a shifting cultural sense of what is funny. Even if McFarlane doesn't exploit it as well as he could, there is something very prescient about focusing comedy on a basic uncertainty about where other people are coming from in an increasingly fractured culture. McFarlane only seems to exploit it so far as to allow audiences to laugh at people worse than themselves at navigating the confusing cultural landscape. Though I know Andrew doesn't care for the comedy stylings of the Apatow gang, I think in general their films do a better job of confronting the same situation in a humorous way without being constantly nasty. (Which is not to say they are never nasty.) I think the answer to the riddle that is Seth Rogan is that he looks and acts as awkward as his audience feels.

tryanmax said...

Good gravy! How narcissistic was that last post?
"I think...I think...I think." Sorry about that.

Backthrow said...

Looks like I can give TED a miss... though, since FAMILY GUY has never impressed me, the chances I'd go out of my way to see TED prior to this review were slim, at best. Of course, the movie made over half a billion dollars theatrically worldwide, over 200 million of that in the U.S.

I've probably said this before, but there's been a sharp divide between what I've found satisfyingly funny in modern movies and what the general public does, which seems to have started in the early-1990s. From the late-1970s up to that point, most of the big comedies that the public embraced, I embraced, and I still enjoy them today.

Since then, virtually every big comedy film (THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, DUMB AND DUMBER, BORAT, THE HANGOVER, MEET THE PARENTS, the legion of Rom-Coms), director (Apatow, Farrelly Bros) or comedy star (Mike Meyers, Carrey, Sandler, Ferrell, Carell, Jack Black, Sacha Baron Cohen) has done nothing for me. Some of this could be that Hollywood caters more and more to 14-year-olds as their core audience, but I've encountered enough people in their 30s/40s/50s, both online and in everyday life, to believe that the teen crowd can't be the sole explanation for this split.

Meanwhile, most the talents I did enjoy in the salad days (John Candy, Bill Murray, Eddie Murphy, Steve Martin, John Landis, John Hughes, Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker, Harold Ramis, the Pythons) subsequently either completely lost their comic spark, went slumming in dumb 'family comedies' and voice-over work for easy money, focused on drama, retired and/or died.

The rare times I've hit comedy paydirt these days have invariably come from either niche items (MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: THE MOVIE, THE BIG LEBOWSKI, ELECTION, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU, AMELIE, A MIGHTY WIND, SCOTT PILGRIM SAVES THE WORLD), genre spoofs (GALAXY QUEST, SHAUN OF THE DEAD, KUNG FU HUSTLE, ZOMBIELAND, TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL), action-comedy hyphenates (HOT FUZZ, CRANK, RED), a small handful of animated family films (THE INCREDIBLES, RATAOUILLE, WALL-E) or indies (SINCE YOU'VE BEEN GONE, THE DISH, GHOST WORLD, NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, YOU KILL ME).

I can count the mass-appeal mainstream comedy hits I've fully enjoyed in the last 20 years (post-GROUNDHOG DAY) on one hand: ABOUT A BOY, INTOLERABLE CRUELTY, MEAN GIRLS, THE TERMINAL and WEDDING CRASHERS.

I don't know what this all says about my tastes or the tastes of the majority of general public, but it's now been bleeding over into action films. While I'll probably check out IRON MAN 3, PACIFIC RIM, MAN OF STEEL and WORLD WAR Z when they hit video rental, there's been absolutely nothing big that was announced for this release this Summer that has gotten me excited. Kind of depressing (though TV dramas like DEXTER, BREAKING BAD, GAME OF THRONES, JUSTIFIED, BOARDWALK EMPIRE, SONS OF ANARCHY, TERRIERS and THE TUDORS have filled the void)...

One the bright side, the last three films I've watched (streaming and DVD) I liked quite a bit:

TROLLHUNTER (2010)
THE ESCAPE ARTIST (1982)
SOLOMON KANE (2009, but shelved in the U.S, until now)

Backthrow said...

"Some of this could be that Hollywood caters more and more to 14-year-olds as their core audience, but I've encountered enough people in their 30s/40s/50s, both online and in everyday life, to believe that the teen crowd can't be the sole explanation for this split."

Oops, I meant that to say:

"Some of this could be that Hollywood caters more and more to 14-year-olds as their core audience, but I've encountered enough people in their 30s/40s/50s --both online and in everyday life-- who've enjoyed this stuff, to believe that the teen crowd can be the sole explanation for this split."

AndrewPrice said...

LOL! That's not narcissism... not in this day and age!

I think you are correct that the current comedic culture involves making fun of people who are awkward. BUT...

I think that has always been the case. Comedy has always been about the awkward and unexpected. It's about the guy expecting a guest and instead getting hit in the face with a pie. It's about the parents being put on the spot by the unexpected question from a child. It's about getting caught in the unexplainable situation or in a situation that is not what it appears. That is human comedy -- laughing at a moment that terrifies us if it happens in real life.

The difference between the past and today is focus. In the past, the butt of the joke was either a bad guy who everyone agreed deserved it, the person misbehaving, or the comedian himself. That's changed. The joke these days is on people who don't deserve it. Rogen is the first guy to really expose this to me -- his jokes are aimed at those who are unable to fight back... a boss making an employee uncomfortable, a parent putting a child on the spot. He's a comedic bully. And even worse, he wants us to see the bully as the hero.

Apatow is a little different. His jokes are equally childish and weak, but they don't feel as nasty because they are basically aimed at slackers -- his films are packed with slackers, so there's little in the way of a power dynamic in his films and you just end up with slackers looking uncomfortable for two hours.

McFarlane is a mix of the two. He aims his jokes at innocents and he expects you to see his comedic bullies as heroes. But he gets around the abusive feel Rogen runs into by making the victims "deserving" of abuse by making them weird. Basically, McFarlane thinks its funny that slackers are abusing nerds.

The guy who really doesn't do any of this is Ben Stiller. I don't always like his films, but he really does understand that humor is not funny when it's aimed at the wrong people. He also understands the need for a punchline, something Apatow and McFarlane simply don't comprehend... though Rogen does.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, I agree. I've felt the same since the 1990s -- what passes as funny in Hollywood just isn't funny these days. I also suspect that few (none) of the films you mention from that period will survive into the future because there's nothing funny in them. Honestly, the Scary Movie franchise has a better chance of longevity than anything written by Apatow or Rogen.

ScottDS said...

Backthrow -

I totally sympathize. Ultimately, if a comedy makes me laugh, then it's a success. But too many comedies in recent years have disappointed me.

Many, like Hall Pass, The Other Guys, and Hot Tub Time Machine were just forgettable.

Others, like Bad Teacher, 30 Minutes or Less, and Your Highness, I just want to burn the negatives to the ground!

And still others like Friends with Benefits and Bridesmaids were pleasant diversions but nothing that needs to be seen again.

I do have to say I enjoyed Bachelorette, Wanderlust, Take Me Home Tonight, and a couple others.

ScottDS said...

Andrew, et al -

There seems to be a serious lack of sincerity in comedies today. I'm NOT saying every comedy needs to have redeemable characters who learn an important lesson but you should never do something in the movie just for the sake of doing it.

Too many characters aren't sympathetic at all, too many filmmakers think pop culture references - IN AND OF THEMSELVES - are funny, and while I'm no prude at all, "f---" isn't funny the 40th time Seth Rogen says it.

And too many comedies (mainly Apatow's stuff) are a little too inside baseball. Sure, guys like Murray and Aykroyd worked together all the time but they weren't playing versions of themselves, or washed-up actors, or anything close to the vest.

Seth Rogen said in an interview that his favorite movie was Ghostbusters, yet nowhere in his work is his love for that movie evident.

Backthrow said...

This is funny, though (the video, not the movie).

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Well said and I agree completely.

Interestingly, Ghostbusters has been on my mind throughout this discussion. Comparing that to modern films really shows how hollow modern comedies have become. Ghostbusters had a variety of characters, each of which was well-drawn. You liked them (or hated some). It had a plot that kept your interest. Then it also had a plethora of jokes that fit the moment. It had great one-liners. It had some situational set ups. And ultimately, it had the idea itself, which was really funny. That's depth.

Most modern comedies don't have any of that. Each of their characters is the same -- generic slacker with or without job. The plot is always "slacker must fix relationship with woman." There are no one-liners, no jokes, and no depth. There is just insults and body fluid jokes. And they fill that in with a bunch of self-pity and references to the 1980s.

tryanmax said...

Hmm, the only Rogen film I've seen where he is not routinely the butt of the joke is The Green Hornet and virtually everyone agreed that he was an unfunny ass.

But my observation is a bit more specific than simply laughing at people who are awkward. It's less about the ones who don't fit in and more about the notion that you can't fit in--because no one can--and how do you deal with that?

Obviously, crawling in a hole has limited comedic potential. Any other approach is necessarily experimental, and I think that's very much reflected in the tone of current comedy. Thus, you get single characters who are at times acerbic and at other times self-deprecating. I think it's what you're bound to get when it's not okay to make fun of anything but you attempt to anyway.

Another response of current comedy to that atmosphere is that the jokes attempt to poke fun at the fact that it's not okay to poke fun at anything. That's a little meta for there to be any hope of landing a solid laugh line.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying McFarlane or any others are comedic geniuses telling jokes far above our heads. Quite the opposite, I think they are floundering in a harsh comedic environment. The only thing they have to lean back on is this strange idea that it is also funny for someone to say nasty things they don't really mean...and we know they don't mean them because something, something, charity benefit, something, black girlfriend, something, something, AIDS orphans.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Let me add, one of McFarlane's biggest sins (as seen in Family Guy) is the belief that simply referencing something is a joke. It's not.

"Hey, I have a Knight Rider ringtone" is not a completed joke. This has been driving me nuts for some time now because you see so much of this from modern comedians:

"Dude, Star Wars and Teen Wolf...
...Molly Ringwald?
...I'll be baaack?

...What? Why isn't everyone laughing? That's my best stuff"

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

I've heard that a lot about older films (and specifically 80s movies)... that, even if the movie was bad, there was always a memorable supporting character or someone who'd come in with one great line.

Nowadays, most characters sound the same and the supporting characters/day players are there just to make life shit for the main characters.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, Your later point is exactly where I think Ted truly goes wrong. The film is full of "jokes" about how you can't make fun of certain things. The Italian restaurant is that. Ted makes a statement that you can't be anti-Semitic. This gets Wahlberg to agree. Then they both look awkwardly like they aren't sure if someone said something wrong. Obviously, McFarlane wants you to think he's edgy because he "told" an anti-Semitic joke, but he didn't actually tell one... he tried to make a joke out of not telling one. It's his lack of courage that undermined his whole concept.

In terms of it being a tough comedic environment, I'm not sure I agree with that actually. Consider these things.

1. None of the great comedies of the past (except probably Blazing Saddles) couldn't be made today. It's hard to say that it's impossible to do great comedy when you could in theory repeat any of the great comedies today without running into a PC-problem.

2. All the low-brow stuff is still allowed as well -- bodily fluid, fart jokes, gross out, road trips, party films.

3. Insult comedy is still allowed. Look at the continuing popularity of Howard Stern. Look at the stand up circuit where anything goes (except insulting Obama).

Are there some jokes you can't tell today? Sure. But we're talking an insignificant number. Moreover, you can tell those jokes if you are willing to face the controversy or if you are really clever about it... or you get the right guy to tell it.

I think the problem isn't one of lack of availability of options, it's one of lack of ability to exploit the options. Basically, these guys think they know what works and that is what they keep doing.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, I like the Half in the Bag stuff.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Exactly. All the main characters are identical in today's films -- slackers. And the minor characters are there to cause problems. The one exception is usually the girl who is too normal to be dating the slacker yet seems bizarrely attached to this slug.

I think this is because these guys have never been out in the real world. So in their world, everyone is just like them and their clone-friends and their boss is a jerk. Oh, and they get the hot girl because "this is my fantasy!"

Again, a key exception is Stiller, whose films are still packed with unique characters.

EricP said...

Excellent points, AP, but I love Ted. I could stop my agree-to-disagree counter-point there, but I'll at least say I don't care for Family Guy (South Park, thanks again for your manatee-assisted take-down of that show), so go figure why I own and re-watch Ted on a semi-regular basis. Must be I dig Mark Wahlberg in damn near anything ... and Sam Jones.

Oh, the alleged Hispanic woman, Norah Jones, corrected Ted she's actually Indian, but that's just nitpicking, innit? ;-)

AndrewPrice said...

Eric, It's no crime to disagree... not until we pass the Blogger Word Is Law Act. :)

I like Wahlberg a lot as well and he does his thing well enough. Sam Jones was awesome. LOL!

I thought the South Park takedown of Family Guy summed up my view of the show surprisingly well: LINK.

tryanmax said...

I would only counter that I'm not really saying it's harder to do great comedy today. But it is harder to do mediocre comedy today. McFarlane doesn't strike me as even trying to make great comedy, so he's uneven at best. But who knows, in a different era he could've been a total crack-up. In fact, I get the sense that he might agree. His humor somewhat evokes a sense of nostalgia for the open bigotry of the past. But that's okay because something, something, retarded nephew, something, voted for Obama, something, something 9/11 victims.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

It's a shame that, while Sam Jones appeared, they couldn't get Brian Blessed for a cameo.

"Ted's aliiiive!!"

Anonymous said...

I liked Ted, I laughed. It's far from a classic and I doubt it will have a very high rewatch factor but I liked it.

I used to love Family Guy, but it just got old. Doing the same old thing again and again, that South Park take on it was great.

Scott.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Sorry, you're wrong. Now please wait quietly by your computer, someone will come take you away in a few moments. :P

I like that South Park take a lot.

AndrewPrice said...

ScottDS, That would have been pretty funny.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, True. I suspect he's pretty cynical about what he's doing.

As for your last line... have you considered becoming a Hollywood writer? You have the lingo down. ;P

tryanmax said...

Honestly, I believe one could make a successful comic bit out of that "something something" trail off. Obviously, it would have some pretty strict limits, but it could be pulled out occasionally as a running gag. I could see it coming from some pompous character who has so much disdain for the things he supposedly supports that he can't even think of things to say about them.

"And now, a few words from our newest recipient of the Humanitarian of the Year award, Mr. Chaz Snottington..."

loud applause

"Thank you. Thank you, so much." applause quiets "You know, it's always been my firmest belief that...something, something...a brighter future...something, something, the children. (applause) That's why I...something, something...and we...invest something...uh, free speech! (applause) In conclusion, the only way to...something, something...is to...something educate, something...er, the environment? and uh...something...something...justice! (raucous applause) Thank you. God bless America. Good night."

AndrewPrice said...

It certainly adds a blowhard factor to a know-it-all character. I like the idea.

Patriot said...

Andrew......I still think some of the funniest sketches are short and totally unexpected.

Mel Brooks History of the World -
Moses: The Lord, the Lord Jehovah has given unto you these fifteen...[drops one of the tablets]
Moses: Oy! Ten! Ten commandments for all to obey!

Or, nails a factual, boring reality:

Dr. Ray Stantz: Personally, I liked the University; they gave us money and facilities, we didn't have to produce anything. You've never been out of college. You don't know what it's like out there. I've worked in the private sector--they expect results.

Or visuals with nothing said:

3 Magi walking out of the wrong manger after misidentifying the Baby Jesus, and then seeing the real manger bathed in holy light from a huge star right over the real Jesus's birth manger.

Anyway, with that stated, Ted did nothing for me and your guy's takedown of it and Seth Rogen's (lack of) sense of humor are spot on. That's one of the reason's why I like coming to this site.

Koshcat said...

Thanks for saving me 2 hours of my life.

My wife and watch Bruno and The Dictator. Definitely plenty of uncomfortable moments but at least Cohan gets into the rolls to make people feel uncomfortable instead of standing around telling lame "jokes". How he didn't get beaten up or shot while making Bruno is a mystery. That said Cohan was great in Les Mis so I think he has more talent than most comedians today.

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, Thanks! Short moments like that are the heart of comedy, and good comedies are full of them -- but they always relate to the story in some way. The problem with a lot of McFarlane's jokes is that he's simply got an idea for a joke and he wedges it into whatever he's doing whether it fits or not. That's why the parody the "Do you remember when I..." line from Family Guy, because it's a way to do something completely unrelated and pretend that it's actually related.

P.S. That is a great line from Ghostbusters!

AndrewPrice said...

Koshcat, I think that Cohan does have talent and what he does he does well. I personally find it too uncomfortable to enjoy, but I can't deny the appeal. He's like Howard Stern to me -- I can see why people really like him, but I personally don't.

On Bruno, I'm not so sure that the whole thing is real. I know a couple people threatened to sue him, but I still have my doubts that most people weren't in on it. If not, then yeah... how did he not get killed?

PikeBishop said...

Andrew:

1) On SNL, people do look back on the "Golden Age" of that show with misty eyes, but in point of fact, it always was hit or miss in terms of quality. I always said you could safely turn off SNL at 12:10 EST. You saw the three funny sketches, the musical guest played their hit and the newscast. That was it. Some of the mind numbing idiocy that went on the air from 12:15 - 1Am was just as disjointed, undecipherable or wretched as anything that show has put on in the last few years.

Walther Matheau, in an interview about 78-79 (the zenith of the original cast) said it thus: "90% of what they do DOESN'T WORK, but the ten percent that does is pure genius." I agree with that.

2. Notice also that fondly remembered sketches (Coneheads, Czech Brothers, Samurai ____) were not driven into the ground with repetition. There were only about airings of those characters total. By the late 90s it was like "My God, the God Damned cheerleaders AGAIN!"

3. Your comment on political correctness killing creativity is so accurate. (Try and get Blazing Saddles green lit today) I also think its part of the reason that so much left leaning media is just boring and bad. Quick, thanks to political correctness, what are the only two things liberals haven't taken off of their hit list.

Duh, conservatives and Christians, That's it! The whole of liberal comedy, where we can't mock gays, blacks, Asians, what have you. Which is why I think Conservative media constantly clobbers the left, especially in talk radio. Without the filer of PC, Limbaugh and his brethren have so many targets to pick from, while the left is in a creative strait jacket.

Back when Air America debuted I checked it out in a sense of fairness. It was awful. It came down to this "Bush Sucks........................uh yeah..............Bush, what a retard..............Bush is evil."

And that was it. They literally shot their wad within the first week, sometimes in the first hour. "Coming up next is Al Franken talking about what a jerk Bush is. Tune it tomorrow to hear Jeneanne Garafollo say what a jerk Bush is."

And as far as making fun of the competition, Limbaugh himself does a better job of self-mocking that any of those clowns, especially the idiot senator from Minnesota, ever could.

PikeBishop said...

Andrew: I firmly believe that all of Cohen's stuff is staged. Case in point, look at Borat, where he literally assaults Pamela Anderson in a scene that goes on for about 40s seconds! Come on, in real life that celebrity would have a security detail that would be on him in about two seconds.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, I remember that, there was always a point right after the news where you knew you could turn off the show.

I agree completely about them not beating their successes into the ground. That's one of the biggest problems with the current show -- if they get something people like, you are going to see it and see it and see it.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, The celebrity stuff I'm sure was staged. But even the rest of it struck me as having to be staged, at least to a degree.

Rustbelt said...

Andrew, I have no expectations for anything with Seth McFarlane's name on it. Honestly, this thing looked juvenile from the trailers. Oh, wow...drug jokes. Hey, 47 swears in a row! How inventive! Men acting like children. Hey, that's...okay, I'll stop there with the sarcasm.

Before now, the nastiest review I'd found was at Red Letter Media, where they focused mainly on the movie's mean-spiritedness and the inappropriate pop culture references. Really, is that all McFarlane has? Well, that and jokes that take eons to play out? (The infamous Peter scraping his knee)

But instead of rehashing everyone else's points, I'm just going to point out something about McFarlane. He must be one of the angriest men of all time. All of his 'jokes' seem to be little more than him venting steam. It's one of the reasons I stopped watching 'Family Guy' what, a decade ago?
Okay, Seth, I get it, you don't like conservatives. I get it, you don't any U.S. region that isn't as liberal as the northeast. I get it, you're rebelling against your parents' religion. I get it, you have a perverse love from p****** people off and watching their anger and hurt feelings.
McFarlane's comedy isn't so much comedy as it's his own psychotherapy sessions. we get to see how angry this person is. Personally, I think this style of filmmaking should be reserved for the horror genre. When comedy is designed so that the comedian is doing all of the laughing- at the displeasure of the audience- is ceases to become comedy and is just another good excuse to change the channel.

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, I think there is definitely something to that -- McFarlane is a very angry man and his comedy is just him venting at people he doesn't like. What's interesting though is how cowardly his comedy is as well. Notice that he only picks targets who can't fight back -- Hollywood has-beens/never-was's, generic strawmen people and long-dead controversies, and even then his humor is more often than not passive-aggressive... "I'm not calling you fat."

Koshcat said...

I came back in to relook at some comments and wham I posted again. I don't know what happened. I think some of Cohan s staged and others weren't but he does a decent job mixing that it is hard to tell. That was all I had. Good night.

Patriot said...

Andrew....I meant McFarlane, not Rogen of course in my earlier comments.

As I get older (and wiser?) I find my appreciation for humor has become much more subtle. For example, I like the subtle humor(?) of Joss Whedon, much more than the overt attempts by the slapstick purveyors. His humor come through in his characters comments about other characters traits and habits. It fits in with the character as written, not totally off base. I don't think he tries to attack conserves, libs, etc. From what I've seen, apolitical humor in his movies.

Good example:
Kaylee Frye: Goin' on a year now I ain't had nothin' twixt my nethers weren't run on batteries!
Capt. Malcolm Reynolds: Oh, God! I can't *know* that!
Jayne Cobb: I could stand to hear a little more.

Whedon's "humor" / writing, has memorable lines, both humorous and not. I can't think of one McFarlane line that I recall like I do Whedon's numerous ones.

Anyway, I guess there is an audience that thinks McFarlane's humor rocks. Witness how much money "TED" made. It would be interesting to see which director, Whedon or McFarlane has made more money (definition of movie success?) over the last 10 years.

AndrewPrice said...

Patriot, Same here. The older I get, the more I appreciate difficult/skilful humor and the less I laugh at the low-hanging fruit. Whedon is a good example of that because you really have to process what his characters are saying to get it.

And I agree, Whedon's stuff is memorable -- the skilful stuff usually is... the low-hanging fruit stuff rarely is.

As for why Ted made money, the film had a great idea and brilliant marketing. It just wasn't very good and I doubt it will have legs.

PikeBishop said...

Just saw this on an insomniac Sunday morning, last day of a three day free HBO weekend. Tuned it in, remembering this review and was absolutely transfixed at how horrible it was. Watched over half of it, before mercifully falling asleep. This movie SUCKED, BIT, BLEW, INHALED and ninteen other oral sex metaphors I am too tired to reach for. Amazingly stupid, poorly written, not funny, incoherant. I did like the idea that briefly Ted's incredible story was big news and he became a minor celebrity, but they really went nowhere with that. Ted's being a living toy ceased being relevant to the plot. We could have been watching Damon and Afleck running around Southey. Even the prologue and Patrick Stewart's narration falls completely flat. It sounded as if it was written by an 8th grader. "And then they grew up....heh heh....and things became shitty.....heh heh. It makes me feel sad for the future of humanity that people who are able to operate motor vehicles and vote, think this film is funny.

AndrewPrice said...

PikeBishop, That was my experience exactly. This film just stunk and kept getting worse and worse. The one or two good ideas were basically tossed away in favor of sheer stupidity.

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