The Ted TV show should have been a catastrophe, but the amount of heart poured into it has resulted in one of the most likeable sitcoms we’ve seen in years.
Few ideas have ever inspired as much fear in me as a Ted prequel show in 2024. In a time where studios are seemingly trying everything successful into the next mega-franchise, I figured that, at the very least, we weren’t going to be subjected to anymore Ted. Surely, that boat had long since floated away. Well, it turns out that I didn’t give Seth MacFarlane enough credit, and I actually should have trusted him all along. Lo and behold, we did need more of 2012’s favourite talking teddy bear (Seth MacFarlane), and the brand new Ted TV show is proof that sometimes all an idea needs to become fresh again is a pretty big shake-up and a little bit of care. Hopefully, this will one day become mandatory viewing at all future studio executive meetings where the word “prequel” is whispered.
Ted could have gone so wrong. The original film, also called Ted (2012), which is not at all confusing and is just great for any sucker trying to write a review talking about the two, gave us a simple premise: what if a kid’s teddy bear actually came to life? What would he be like in 30 years time? Just how bad would his drug problem be? It was a brilliant idea for a comedy, but the film itself just never managed to deliver jokes as fresh as its premise, not to mention the fact that watching it in 2024 exposes just how dated it’s become. Ted 2 (2015) takes everything the first film did right and, well, does it all so, so much worse. There are still some great bits, MacFarlane’s almost overwhelming comedic writing style almost guarantees that at least some of his attempts will land, but they’re let down by a flimsy narrative and a lot of misses.
What’s different this time, then? Well, the setting helps. Now, instead of giving Ted the freedom of the adult world to explore, he’s stuck in the confines of family life and high school. Whilst on paper, freedom might seem like a good thing, the kind of stories it was creating for the talking bear just weren’t up to par. They lacked strong and compelling foundations, which is exactly what a good sitcom set-up gives you. By shifting to episode-by-episode stories restricted by a set of rules, whilst the stories may feel slightly less ambitious and a bit more familiar, this allows for less time to be spent telling the story and more time spent making sure that every beat it hits, both comedic and dramatic, are better than ever.
Luckily, it turns out this approach is exactly what the Ted franchise desperately needed. Ted as a character is funny, but often only when he feels like the exception. He should almost always be the weird one in the room, and in the previous movies there was almost too much strangeness surrounding him. Here, the juxtaposition between Ted and both the tender sitcom storylines as well as the familiar high school scenarios works brilliantly, to the point where almost every cut to the foul-mouthed bear is laugh-worthy. For so much of its runtime, this is just a bog-standard sitcom, but that’s why it works so well. It needs that stable, familiar foundation, essentially just so Ted can riff on it.
Of course, it helps that the rest of the cast are almost as likeable as Ted himself. Max Burkholder does a remarkable job playing a younger version of Mark Wahlberg’s John Bennett. Whilst his accent initially gave me the impression that he was just trying to do an imitation, he quickly settled into the character and managed to carve out a personality of his own, beyond just being his best friend’s sidekick. His parents, Susan (Alanna Ubach) and Matty Bennett (Scott Grimes) are just as great, portraying a stereotypical, over-the-top marriage for sure, but one that by the end of the season, you understand and somewhat respect. With a lot of sitcom couples it can be hard to determine why exactly they got together in the first place, but here, you get their love for each other. It’s a small touch, but again, it helps build that foundation.
They also both lend massively to the other thing that makes the Ted TV show so great: its constant battle with itself. The original Ted film is one that, as mentioned before, has not aged particularly well. It’s very much a product of its time, one filled with ignorant characters whose jokes can be about as offensive as you can imagine. It’s a formula that can work, sure, but across a whole season of a television show, you can imagine it would start to get stale incredibly fast. So, 2024’s Ted takes a different approach, and instead of taking the route that most comedians have taken and looking out to things that offend them, MacFarlane decides to look inside, examining why his characters make these jokes and the people on the other side of them.
At first, when I was introduced to John’s cousin Blaire (Giorgia Whigham), I expected her to be little more than the irritating, “woke” character who Ted would often lay into about how much of a snowflake she is, but she winded up being one of the most compelling characters that the show had on offer. She’s not just a collection of progressive beliefs draped in a rainbow flag for Ted to shoot at for 40 minutes, she’s a fully-formed character who, at times, represents the show. Her childhood wasn’t easy, and as moral as she is now, these aren’t necessarily the beliefs she was born with. Like so many people, she had to learn, and what separates her from so many of the show’s cast initially is that she did. When she’s confronted about the fact that she used to favour her white dolls, it isn’t a “gotcha” moment, it’s an example of the kind of change that a person can make. That a franchise can make. That Ted makes.
Ted isn’t perfect. No sitcom needs to have episodes longer than 40 minutes, it feels like there are far too little episodes in the season, and MacFarlane’s obsession with one-off, absurdist gags sometimes results in scenes that completely miss the mark, but when he falls back onto his surprisingly stable foundation and lets Ted run amok on it, it’s glaringly obvious that what he’s created here is something rather special. More than anything, it’s a show that wears its hearts on its sleeve. Whether it’s the overly detailed but hilarious way that Ted navigates his way up a flight of stairs, or a handful of gorgeous, sincere moments, Ted is the kind of show that knows how to win over its audience. I still can’t believe it.
The Ted show is now available to watch on Peacock.