‘Wilfred,’ ‘Ted,’ and ‘Harvey’: Fictional Friends and the Evolution of the Slacker Dude Movie

I was watching the fairly funny trailer for Ted, in which Mark Wahlberg plays a grown man who lives with a crude and belligerent teddy bear he’s had since he was eight:

And I realized it reminded me of FX’s show Wilfred, and not just because both the movie and the show feature adult men who take bong hits with their imaginary friends:

Both Ted and Wilfred are squarely in the tradition of Harvey, the 1950 classic about Elwood Dowd (Jimmy Stewart) a likable potential alcoholic who insists that his best fried is an invisible rabbit of that name (a remake was in the work three years ago but seems to have foundered). In that movie, Elwood’s family considers having him institutionalized or receive medical treatment that will make him stop seeing Harvey, but ultimately decide that they would rather have his kind, imaginative self than a normalized shell of a man. But they have a sharper edge than Harvey does—Ted and Wilfred both cause genuine problems in their human friends’ lives other than making them appear odd, and the show and movie appear more willing to treat these lingering attachments as a sign of real pathology. In that sense, they’re also a somewhat way of moving beyond the valorization of manchildren that’s been something of a staple of pop culture for the last five or six years. These men haven’t just coasted charmingly along. There’s something specific holding them back, and it’ll require a difficult, unpleasant decision to reckon with it.