Someday when a diabolical alien species from a faraway galaxy has taken control of our planet, our evil bug-eyed rulers will occasionally find themselves pondering the oddities of early 21st century American civilization.

Why, for example, were so many earthlings infatuated with Charlie Sheen? How did a baseball team called the Chicago Cubs manage to lose so many games? And most puzzling of all, why were 21st century moviegoers so eager to see dozens upon dozens of comedies populated with vulgar, wise-cracking, weed-smoking, underachieving man-children whose entire lives seemed to revolve around a misty-eyed nostalgia for '80s TV shows, movies and big-haired rock bands?

If you went to the multiplex this week, you may have noticed the endless lines for "Ted," the latest comedy grounded in arrested male development. Co-written and directed by Seth MacFarlane, the comedy wizard behind the marvelously funny TV show "Family Guy," "Ted" opened with a dazzling $54.1 million last weekend, one of the best openings ever for an R-rated comedy. Universal Pictures, which is distributing "Ted," believes the film could end up earning as much as $200 million in the U.S. alone.

In case you haven't seen the film's ubiquitous trailer, "Ted" is the story of a 35-year-old guy (Mark Wahlberg) who is still such a child that his closest friend — in fact, his only friend — is a boorish, trash-talking teddy bear named Ted who makes Adam Sandler look like Dame Judi Dench.

"Ted" has lots of company: In recent years, the best-loved character in American comedy has been the man-child, the hero of a wide variety of comedy hits, including "Old School," "Wedding Crashers," "Knocked Up," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Dodgeball," "Step Brothers," "Role Models," "Sean of the Dead" and "21 Jump Street."

A host of actors, starting with Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill and Seann William Scott, have made entire careers out of playing grown-up guys who behave like horny junior high-schoolers. Wahlberg continues this de-evolution in American masculinity in "Ted." Even though he has a long-suffering girlfriend, played by Mila Kunis, Wahlberg's character is happiest when he's hanging out with Ted, taking hits off a bong and watching old episodes of "Flash Gordon," their favorite '80s sci-fi TV series.

Comment on this story

Like most of the women in man-child comedies, Kunis is basically a hood ornament. She is her boyfriend's second favorite toy, who, since she has a serious job, clearly contributes more than her fair share to the rent. Her main job is to give the film its dramatic conflict, since she is the one who forces the issue by delivering an ultimatum: It's me or the teddy bear.

Kunis' place in his universe is best exemplified by the fact that when she phones Wahlberg, we discover that he's given her a personalized ringtone: the Darth Vader theme.