We live in an age of reboots, reimaginings and resurrections. The proliferating platforms, the appetite and expectation for entertainment of all possible kinds on demand, means that the disinterment of old intellectual property with any kind of pedigree or former success attached to it becomes more frenzied by the day. Sometimes, it results in Cobra Kai (five – soon to be six – brilliant, award-winning seasons of a return to the characters from the Karate Kid films); season three of Twin Peaks (a 2017 hit) and, more recently, Donald Glover’s much-improved small-screen take on the Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt vehicle Mr & Mrs Smith.

And sometimes it results in Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (a return to Stars Hollow 25 years on that fans still cannot talk about without crying tears of enraged betrayal); Gossip Girl (which so entirely missed the insanity and magic of the original you could only watch in horrified fascination); and now Ted.

Ted, which perhaps doesn’t quite carry the same brand recognition as most of the above, was the eponymous hero of the box office record-smashing (for R-rated comedies) 2012 film written by and starring (as the voice of Ted) Seth MacFarlane. In it, Mark Wahlberg played John Bennett, the 35-year-old owner of a childhood teddy bear he had accidentally brought to life by wishing on a shooting star when he was eight. Ted had enjoyed a life of celebrity since then, and John had enjoyed being in the slipstream. Now it was time to put away childish things – by finding Ted a job and moving out of their long-shared apartment – in the face of foul-mouthed, cantankerous Ted’s dedicated resistance. It was very funny. Ted 2, not so much, but we forgive a misstep and forget.

But now MacFarlane, also the creator of the divisive (I’m pro) but immaculately done Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show has given us a six-part television prequel to the film, also called Ted, in which he seems to have disapplied just about every (customarily unerring) comedy instinct he has and any lessons he might have learned over the 24 years since Family Guy first began.

No tired trope left untouched … the cast of Ted. Photograph: Peacock

The new series is set in 1993. John Bennett (Max Burkholder) is 16, relatively innocent but keen to overcome it. He and Ted are partners in crime, securing pot and porn, teaching high school bullies a lesson, learning to talk to girls and – no tired trope left untouched here – trying to get laid. His father, Matty, (Scott Grimes) is a tiresomely politically incorrect ranter (there is none of Family Guy’s razor-edged work here). His wife, Susan, (Alanna Ubach) is his polar opposite: sweet, tremulous, a stay-at-home mom whose naivete almost tips into rank stupidity but which Ubach’s ever-so-slight performative spin makes compellingly bonkers enough that she actually becomes the most interesting and watchable thing in it. Living with them so that she can afford to go to college is John’s cousin Blaire (Giorgia Whigham), a shouty, one-note character who seems to be there merely so she can yell liberal beliefs back at Matty. Classic MacFarlane would have Matty or Ted demolishing those in their turn, but for the most part this iteration can’t be bothered.

And then there’s Ted. He’s the same. He gets all the best lines – thinly scattered though they are – and has the best timing. It occasionally raises a smile, though there isn’t a single joke that sticks in the memory after the credits roll. Maybe this is partly because Ted the series suffers from a terrible case of bloat. The whole thing is set up like a (90s) sitcom but each episode generally runs to about twice the 22-minute length you expect, which is more than the format itself – especially one as joke-free as this – can (if you’ll pardon the pun) bear.

In addition, three of the five characters are the same. Ted, Matty and John are all to varying degrees, and with different amounts of wit and intelligence, piggish. Unlike Wahlberg’s older John – who wanted to move forward but was tempted back into his old ways by hedonistic Ted – they both now have the same goals. And Matty’s selfishness and arrested development put him in roughly the same camp, too. MacFarlane is not one for allowing his characters much growth or learning – although he does let in a few odd moments of schmaltz which just weaken the whole thing further. Along with the underbaked writing, it just adds to the suspicion that fear of criticism is at last occasionally getting the better of him – so we go round in puerile circles, with ever-diminishing satisfaction. A great disappointment.

skip past newsletter promotion

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here