The problem with a lot of R-rated comedies in the last decade has been of three words, suffixes and prefixes in all. If you’re ‘anti,’ ‘ist’ or ‘phobic’ in some way people get offended to a much higher degree than ever before. Thus a lot of artists have toned comedy down significantly, even in the R-rated genre, for fear that someone’s going to be offended and potentially hurt box office grosses. Actors, writers and directors avoid any sort of controversy more and more because no one wants to be accused of something that begins or ends with any of these three words. Cinematic art has suffered because the country has become more sensitive over the years and those responsible for entertaining it don’t want to be forever branded as being insensitive.
Thank God for Seth MacFarlane and his ability to load up his comedy Gatling guns, opening fire on anything and everything in his path. And Ted 2 is all the better for it, an R-rated film that stretches that rating’s meaning to its absolute final point in one of the year’s best comedies and one of the best comedic sequels in some time.
Ted 2 picks up where Ted left off as Ted (voiced by MacFarlane), a sentient teddy bear, is about to marry Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) are about to get married by Flash Gordon star Sam Jones (playing himself). His best friend John (Mark Wahlberg) has long been divorced from Lori (Mila Kunis, who didn’t return for the film because of her pregnancy) and the two are still best friends. Ted and Tami-Lynn’s marriage implodes shortly thereafter and he has a brilliant idea: have a baby. With Ted being unable to conceive a child on his own, and Tami-Lynn unable to carry their child, he finds out that per the Commonwealth of Massachusetts he’s actually considered property and not a person. With a civil rights attorney (Amanda Seyfried) on his side, Ted winds up in the fight for his existence as he sues for his right to personhood.
The film is a return to form for MacFarlane as a writer/director as there’s something about a stuffed teddy bear that brings out the best of him in that regard. He’s best when allowed to use his best asset, his voice, as A Million Ways to Die in the West may have been a valuable lesson for him about overextending himself on a set as a writer/director/star of a film. MacFarlane the director knows how to rein MacFarlane the actor in and the film is better for it.
MacFarlane peppers the film with some incredibly tasteless and hilarious gags throughout, which has become his trademark, but he does two things in the film. He hits on a huge chunk of the jokes, to the point where some can be missed because you’re laughing so hard, as he has a feel for Ted the character that is just exceptional. He knows when to turn on Ted’s best and worst tendencies as a character, and when to pull back, and the film works because of it. The original worked because the conceit of Ted as a character worked so well because it was a wonderfully written character. The sequel works because he never forgot what people enjoyed about the character the first time around.
Undercut throughout the film is something interesting, too. It takes the manifestation of Morgan Freeman to hit home but there’s an interesting tone about making a contribution to society at large. It’s an interesting note from a creative mind like MacFarlane, who has usually managed to scrape the bottom of the barrel for comedy in both animated and live action fare, to contemplate making a difference for the better in the world. Ted has essentially been a figure who could’ve done something great with his life when he magically came into the world and has instead become a drug addled moron working a minimum wage job. It’s a rare admission for someone to make as an artist and is a subtle but powerful point throughout. One imagines that Seth MacFarlane has at many times looked back at his body of work and sees nothing magnificent and world changing, just a series of jokes wrapped themselves in blue humor.
MacFarlane also avoids the comedy sequel problem of not trying to recreate the original and instead finds a different path to work for with this film. This is a deeper look at the nature of the friendship between Ted and John, as well, as MacFarlane explores the nature of John and Ted’s friendship as they’re aging. MacFarlane has written a good friendship over two films between two good characters; if Ted had been a slacker friend instead of a teddy bear there wouldn’t be a huge difference in the finished product because this is a well scripted story that also has some incredibly funny (and vile) jokes scattered throughout.
In a year filled with sequels, reboots and remakes Ted 2 stands above them all as perhaps the best film of the summer and one of the best films of 2015.
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Writer: Seth MacFarlane & Alec Sulkin & Wellesley Wild
Notable Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Seth MacFarlane, Amanda Seyfried, Jessica Barth, Giovanni Ribisi