I went to see Ted, Seth MacFarlane’s movie about a man, his talking teddy bear, and the long-suffering woman who usually loves them both, on Friday night, not quite sure what to expect. I’m not an enormous MacFarlane fan—he’s always been someone who doesn’t have a precise or necessarily interesting sense of the distinction between how his characters see themselves and their often-abhorrent behavior and how his shows see them. But I found Ted surprisingly thought-provoking, mostly because of how it illuminates what seems to be a significant and under-acknowledged factor in the slacker-dude movies of the last seven or eight years: class.
John Bennett, the mid-30s rental car slinger Mark Wahlberg plays in Ted is in many ways a stereotypical Bostonian, possessed of the exaggerated bray lots of filmmakers think is inherently hilarious and a wardrobe full of Red Sox garments in a proportion that would be unfathomable to people from outside the region. He’s also a man with what the movie suggests is a limited understanding of race and racial nuance—Ted begins with a made-up Boston tradition of Christian kids gathering to beat up neighborhood Jews on Christmas eve, and John is the kind of man who orders his girlfriend Lori (MacFarlane regular Mila Junis) Cristal at their anniversary dinner because “all those rich black people can’t be wrong.” These are the kinds of exaggerated traits that are a MacFarlane hallmark, whether in the person of Family Guy‘s blinkered patriarch Peter Griffin, or here. But John’s accent and his racial attitudes are class signifiers, as much as his job at a rental car company or the extent to which John feels threatened by Lori’s boss Rex (an unctuous Joel McHale), who thinks that he, not John, can care for Lori properly.
Ted never really has the guts (or the stuffing) to explore that tension. There are hints at it—after John tells Ted he has to move out, Ted works as a checkout clerk at a supermarket, where he meets a woman named Tami-Lynn, and take her on a deeply awkward double date with John and Lori, ruined by Tami’s breach of etiquette. But the movie abandons the question of whether John will be promoted into management at his rental car office or pursue a new, higher-status career in favor of a silly caper plot, and casts Rex as such a villain that there’s no sense that Lori is facing a real or difficult choice between the two men. It’s too bad, because Ted might have been a sharper (and not coincidentally more Bostonian) movie if it had the nerve or the attention span to explore the tension between working-class white communities and the highly educated professional, academic, and creative classes in the region.