As the Autostraddle TV Team’s resident (former) Masshole, I felt obligated to be the one to take on the task of watching the new Ted series on Peacock when we heard it had a queer character. I became more excited about this task when I watched and learned that said queer character is played by Giorgia Whigham, who also played queer on Legacies.
Growing up as a New Englander, I’ve been familiar with Seth MacFarlane and his very New England characters since I was young. I was 12 when Family Guy came out, the perfect age for that kind of rude humor, complete with the comforting terrible accents the people I was closest to all sported. As I grew up and Family Guy didn’t, I stopped watching, because while there were still some good jokes sprinkled throughout, it didn’t feel worth it to wade through the minefield of jokes I found too offensive to be funny.
The Ted movies are similar. It’s Mark Wahlberg’s John and his best friend being rude slackers, and his best friend happens to be a walking, talking teddy bear. The movies have some funny jokes — among the homophobic, racist, fatphobic, and otherwise non-PC jokes, presented in such a way that you can tell the writers know they’re not PC and that’s why they want to tell them. That said, if you can push past the worst of those jokes, there’s a surprisingly heartwarming story under it all centering John and Ted’s friendship. (Personally I don’t think it’s worth all the wincing you have to do to get to the good stuff, but maybe that’s the SJW in me.)
The TV show follows suit, but with a notable improvement. Now instead of the politically incorrect jokes being said unchecked, there is a character who pushes back. Giorgia Whigham plays Blaire, John’s cousin who lives with him and his parents (and Ted), who is an open-minded, progressive, queer woman in college who doesn’t let her uncle, cousin, or her cousin’s teddy bear get away with not being called out. (Also Giorgia Whigham is stunning and incredibly talented; I know I might be biased because she plays the queer character but I genuinely think she’s the stand-out star in this show.)
On one hand, it feels like a cop out — an excuse to make the same offensive jokes because they’re couching it in criticism. On the other hand, I felt very represented by Blaire. I saw my teen and college-aged self in the scenarios where her uncle says something racist or sexist or homophobic in a thick Boston accent and Blaire calls him out, only to be yelled at for accusing him of being racist/sexist/homophobic. There used to be a running joke in my family when I was a teenager that you couldn’t say anything around me without me accusing them of being racist. (A joke I did not find amusing.) I had an uncle that used to start conversations with me like “I don’t want to fight with you but” then bring up a hot-button topic about which he knew we disagreed. My cousin’s boyfriend would specifically target me because I was “so easy to rile up.” It didn’t stop me from calling them out, but good lord was it exhausting. And I see that in Blaire. Blaire is living a similar experience, surrounded by Bostonians who are mostly harmless but every once in a while say the most out of pocket thing because they heard it on Fox News. Blaire is doing her best to drag them all into the future with her, despite the fact that her uncle is digging his heels in about it. Some people can’t be helped, but some people can be, and Blaire isn’t about to give up on her family.
Blaire is a great character, often being the only voice of reason in the room. She almost feels like an audience insert at times, or at least, me as an audience. It would have been easy to make her into an Angry Feminist Lesbian stereotype, but she’s much more nuanced than that. She has a casual air about her, a comfortable confidence. She stands her ground but rarely loses her temper.
We learn she’s queer after she reveals she’s dating her friend Sarah. (Sarah is Indian, a fact pointed out by Blaire’s aunt every time she introduces her, because Aunt Susan is basically Kirstin Wiig SNL character and is often saying ridiculous things in her strangely affected voice.) Blaire describes her sexuality confidently as fluid, explaining that she’s attracted to people regardless of their gender. Even in the face of her uncle’s initial outburst, she stands her ground and chooses to stay by her girlfriend’s side. To John and Ted’s credit, they do not care that she’s queer.
Overall the TV show is much better than the movies in terms of insensitive jokes. It’s much clearer in the POV of the show that the things the uncle is saying are not okay. The characters seem able to grow and learn as the show goes on. It’s kind of weird when you have a prequel that seems to be more evolved than the movies that are set in the characters’ futures, but it’s a story about a talking teddy bear who loves to get high and spends one entire episode trying to figure out if he’s Jesus reincarnate, so I’m okay throwing logic out the window.
Almost all of the off-color jokes come from John’s father, who sounds like most Boston Republicans in the 90s…and also probably today. (I’ll admit, I don’t spend a lot of time around Boston Republicans anymore.) While not all of the Boston accents were on point, Max Burkholder did a great job of mimicking Mark Wahlberg just enough that he was a believable teenage version of him. And a lot of the show felt familiar to me, as someone who grew up in a suburb of Boston in the 90s. There are some city-specific jokes sprinkled throughout, and John’s mom is even reading VC Andrews. I don’t know if that’s a boomer mom thing or a Boston mom thing, but my mother almost exclusively reads VC Andrews to this day.
The Blaire storyline was surprisingly well done, and even though I don’t think queer people are the target audience of this show, representation in shows where we are NOT the target audience is important too. It might hold a mirror up to someone who was still holding onto some backwards beliefs. Or it will, at least, let them hear some pushback on some things they might say without feeling personally attacked.
I can’t, in good faith, recommend that you watch this show if you’ve never seen or don’t like the Ted movies. I definitely wouldn’t have if I hadn’t heard there was a queer character, and I don’t think my life would have been worse for never having seen it. That said, going in knowing the type of humor that would be prevalent, I did have a pretty okay time, due largely in part to how much I enjoy Giorgia Whigham. It’s not like the whole show is crude humor; there are a lot of running bits where John and Ted will spontaneously go into an improv scene that makes me laugh. There were some funny callbacks to the movies, like John loving Flash Gordon, or the names of weed strains being hilariously aggressive. And the CGI for Ted is very well done and added to a lot of physical comedy.
It’s a buddy comedy at its core, and even though it’s not exactly my scene, it’s nice to be invited to the party.
Ted is now streaming on Peacock.