Even my not-quite-millennial-not-quite-Zillenial self can find the humorous irony in the ’90s-obsessed Seth MacFarlane blowing the dust off the prequel-series trend and letting his famous Bostonian foul-mouthed CG talking teddy bear, Ted, take a fuzzy stab at a “Wonder Years”-styled series set years before his breakthrough comedy movie. As if MacFarlane’s unbridled love for late 20th-century pop culture wasn’t apparent through “Family Guy'”s earlier seasons or both “Ted” movies, the seven-episode Peacock miniseries is the ultimate “Now That’s What I Call MacFarlane” mixtape cassette of all his familiar sitcom-styled bits recycled in another ’90s nostalgia fest package of wavering quality.
Utilizing the same setup as the original film (but this time exchanging Patrick Stewart for Ian McKellen to provide recap narration), “Ted” opens in 1985, when a young, lonely John Bennett (Max Burkholder) made a wish that his teddy bear came to life, and it did. Ted became a national sensation but fizzled out like many trends. Now it’s 1993, and Ted (Seth MacFarlane) has moved back home to Framingham, Massachusetts, with his 16-year-old thunder buddy John and his family—abrasive, conservative war vet patriarch Matty (Scott Grimes), his eccentric non-confrontational wife Susan (Alanna Ubach), and their passionate niece Blair (Giorgia Whigham), attending a nearby college.
After an incident at home, Matty forces Ted to attend high school with John instead of wasting time at home watching game shows all the time. In the pilot episode “Just Say Yes,” Ted tries his darndest to get expelled, so he tries buying weed, evidently illustrating the origins of how Ted and John became the stoners as depicted in the film.
That is just one of the many edgy shenanigans the 12-inch party animal gets into. In one episode, John and Ted try to rent a porno VHS; in the other, he tries to become Blair’s designated driver for a college Halloween party but gets faded himself; and in another, he tries to be a marriage counselor for Matty and Susan.
“Ted’s” concept’s sole fundamental strength remains: Ted and John are thunder buddies for life, and their dynamic is entertaining across ages. Max Burkholder, taking up the mantle of a mini-Wahlberg, evokes the same charisma of the character’s elder counterpart while retaining a childlike innocence and nailing the thick Bostonian accent. Bennett and Ted’s endless brotherly banter is the most charming component of the show. The plots expand their reach outside of ‘Ted Goes to High School,’ but it’s there where some solid jokes and plots are mined, mainly due to their shared Bill-and-Ted-esque idiocy getting them in and out of trouble.
As the return for MacFarlane’s comedic roots post “The Orville,” his inconsistency as a humorist remains. Given “Ted”‘s transformation to the family sitcom model, the ‘it’s just Family Guy but in live-action, feature form, and uncensored’ criticism has now advanced to ‘here’s a bunch of Seth MacFarlane archetypes, put it through a processor and throw Ted in there.’ Outside the Peter Griffin-sounding CG bear being best friends with a Bostonian-sounding and accurately aged Chris Griffin, the family consists of a Haley Smith clone, a patriarch with Joe Swanson-leveled rage issues, and it’s hard not to hear Steve Smith of “American Dad” whenever Scott Grimes has his outbursts. Alanna Ubach’s naive, selfless-minded Susan is one of the few characters that feels fresh.
Recycled components aside, the live-action format works against the familiar comical timing. It often relies on either ’80s-’90s references or edgy, cynical humor. When physical comedy is at play, the show comes off as awkward, if not sometimes mean-spirited, even more so than the films. Stripping other staples from the movie, such as nonsensical musical moments and cutaway jokes—also borrowed from “Family Guy”—strains the comedy and the pacing.
“Ted” is an uneven middle ground for the writing staff, composed of half MacFarlane vets and half “Modern Family” alums, who can’t decide whether to play the series as a farce or sincere. The environment and format change restrict the writers even further as MacFarlane and his X-er colleagues wistfully drool over a bygone era that only appeals to them.
Whole season screened for review. Premieres on Peacock on January 11th.