Monday Morning Critic – Seth MacFarlane, Ted 2 And The Inherent Difficulties of the Comedy Sequel – Orange is the New Black Season 3 Reviewed

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In yet another year of sequels, franchise reboots and the ever changing landscape that makes up Modern Hollywood a number of things have happened this year of note. George Clooney’s star power translated to one of the biggest flops in modern box office history, for starters, and as of right now a sequel to a film about organized nerd singing stands as the fifth best grossing film of 2015. The film I’ve been most excited about for 2015 when I sat down and looked at the release schedule was one coming out this weekend: Ted 2

Ted 2

I adored the first film, as it became the one most quoted among my friend group for a couple months, and when they announced a sequel I was genuinely excited for it to come out. McFarlane was already at work on this film when A Million Ways To Die In The West was busy flopping, of course, so it’s not like he went back to the well following his second film failing to find the same mark as his first. A lot of directors wind up back in franchises, or potential franchises, after something original fails. A lot of actors, as well, and it’s not the worst thing in the world either.

Familiarity may breed contempt but it’s also a way to stay relevant. Look at the Fast & Furious cast; no one cares about anything they do (outside of Dwayne Johnson) unless they’re part of a mechanic turned Black Ops crew. The easy narrative going in, and in a lot of reviews this Friday, will be that MacFarlane has found that being a voice, and not a star, is his way of being successful. There’s a reason why MacFarlane’s biggest successes have come from animated fare so far; he hasn’t proven himself capable of being a comedic force on screen in the way he needs to be to be able to write/direct as well as star in a big project.

It’s why Ted was such an ingenious way of trying to make the leap from showrunner and creative force de jour on television to the movies. MacFarlane’s strengths, of being creative and contributing funny voices as needed, worked so well. Reacting to a well written character that had to be animated was difficult, one imagines, but having MacFarlane off screen and able to focus on the film creatively without also needing to be on screen produced one of the best films of 2012. It’s one thing to write and direct … but it’s incredibly rare to see someone take those two demanding activities and then add main star with tremendous results.

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That’s also the reason why his second film as writer/director/star failed. Trying to do one job in film well is difficult, two jobs well is very difficult and one imagines that attempting to do three with any degree of effectiveness has to be near impossible to do. It’s one thing to prep lines on camera; MacFarlane can be on the set and not have to worry about his lines because he can have the script with him as a cheat. Mark Wahlberg, et al, had a much more difficult task of acting opposite of whatever was the stand in for Ted. They reacted to a voice and a stuffed bear while on set while MacFarlane was able to focus significantly more on directing than acting.

Ted 2 comes and now comes the interesting part of MacFarlane’s directorial career: How do you follow up a buddy comedy about two friends finding a new place as grown ups?

The one thing that drove the film was that the conceit, of a talking teddy bear that was a dumb 30 something degenerate, was put into a brilliantly written comedy. Now comes a much more difficult task in that the we’ve already posited that Ted’s a talking teddy bear who does hilarious but mean things. The gimmick doesn’t have a shelf life … as long as there’s a good story to back it we can be amused by the shenanigans of Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and a talking teddy bear. But there’s only so much novelty it has and in a sequel it’s the ability to step up that’ll be interesting to see for the man who made the Fox Sunday Animation Domination possible.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

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This week’s Netflix Viewing – Orange is the New Black (Season 3)

If there ever was a point where Piper the human being and Piper the star of OitNB diverge it begins in season 3 of arguably Netflix’s best original series. One imagines that in real life Piper Kerman didn’t become a de facto prison gang leader within six months of being in a women’s federal prison … but the perk of being able to make an extended television series out of “Orange is the New Black” novel is that you can turn it into something closely resembling Oz over time.

The season’s main story arc was Piper getting out of the “babe in the woods” type of character in prison and into a veritable hardass prison type. This season she’s getting a group of ladies together to sell their underwear online to perverts everywhere and becoming the sort of badass prison bitch she only saw in the movies. The big to do about this season on a macro level is the prison itself going from public to private management under new prison head Caputo (Nick Sandow), and the changes that come therein. Throw in the craziness of Piper’s romance with Alex (Laura Prepon) and a potential new love interest (Ruby Rose) into the mix and you’ve got another wild season of what’s essentially become the female equivalent of Oz … except less rapey.

Throw in looks back into the back stories of a lot of the characters, which gives you an insight into why they got into prison in the first place, and the show is an ever deepening look at the OitNB universe. The curious thing is that the show winds up dropping of most of Piper’s life outside of prison as Jason Biggs and his predilections towards pastry sexual relations don’t return as well as most of Piper’s friends and family are confined to a handful of cameos for the most part. The further we get into the show the more we get Piper in the joint and less of what is happening in the world around her.

It’s interesting because a lot of ex-cons have spoken about being disconnected from everything eventually when they’re doing time and we’re seeing it with Piper. There’s also a lot of self discovery in the show as we see Piper start to realize that her doing bad things and still saying she’s a good person doesn’t really work anymore. It’s interesting to see the universe point this out to her directly … and her figure out that sometimes you have to become something you never thought you’d have to be is the only way to mentally survive it all.

The show itself is humming along at this point as a fourth season is apparently being filmed right now and it’s interesting to see where it winds up going. There’s only so much longer that it can go, as eventually Piper’s year in prison has to end, but right now it’s humming along as one of the best shows to binge.

Highly recommended.

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 tall boys of Red Fox and community college co-eds with low standards at the Fox and Hound

Max (2015) – A tale about a boy and his magical war dog.

Skip it – This looks fairly unoriginal and dull.

Ted 2 – A teddy bear that came to life wants to have a baby. Court battles ensue.

See it – For the first time in a long time I’m getting a group of friends together to see this.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @ScottSawitz .

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