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Non-Review Review: Ted 2

Ted 2 is a Seth McFarlane movie that ends with an extended sequence set at New York Comic Con, that hub of nerd culture populated by people dressed like any number of iconic pop culture characters.

As such, it seems perfectly reasonable to describe Ted 2 as the quintessential McFarlane movie, for better or for worse.

Unbearable?

Unbearable?

The first Ted was a delightful oddity, a buddy comedy set in Boston pairing Mark Wahlberg with a sentient foul-mouthed teddy bear. The movie worked well enough, meshing all of the calling cards of Seth McFarlane’s humour into a delightfully surreal piece of work that masked a heart of gold with heapings of toilet humour and gross-out gags. The movie was Seth McFarlane’s first big-screen vehicle as lead actor and director, and paved the way for A Million Ways to Die in the West. A sequel was inevitable.

Ted 2 comes with a lot of the problems that one associates with sequels, particularly comedy sequels. Most of the best gags and jokes were used in the first film, and some are dutifully recycled here. In particular, the climax of Ted 2 is functionally indistinguishable for the climax of Ted, albeit with certain character dynamics reversed. There is also a sense that Ted 2 subscribed to the philosophy that “more is more”, sporting a grossly inflated runtime that leads the movie to pad itself out with filler as light as the title character’s stuffing.

Teddy bear's picnic...?

Teddy bear’s picnic…?

McFarlane’s style of humour lends itself to this sort of indulgent storytelling. One of the staples of McFarlane’s approach to comedy is to take a gag that is a little funny, and then repeat it so often that the joke itself becomes a larger self-aware gag – circling around through “kinda funny” to “kinda boring” to “why are they still doing this?” to “this is freakin’ hilarious.” More than that, McFarlane’s gags have an extended disconnectedness to them, a stream of consciousness style.

So there are lots of extended sequences in Ted 2 that might have been trimmed to make a leaner and tighter movie. Most obviously, the third act features an entire extended road trip sequence that is largely disconnected from the primary plot, something that could have been relegated to a montage or a scene transition. Instead, it becomes an inflated lead balloon that drags down the movie around it – an excuse to make lots of jokes about weed and awkwardly-shaped bongs.

Dive in...

Dive in…

Similarly, Ted 2 makes a much great use of McFarlane’s patented cut-away gags than the original film, perhaps the most obvious demonstration that McFarlane isn’t willing to focus the film and instead is looking to extend out the runtime. These gags are occasionally funny, but occasionally fall into the trap of serving as pop culture references for the sake of pop culture references. This is a film which has great fun having characters played by Patrick Warburton and Michael Dorn cosplay as The Tick and Worf respectively.

Appropriately enough, the movie’s central plot is also drawn from popular culture, as Ted is put on trial to prove his personhood. It is an interesting attempt at topicality, but one that owes a significant debt to Star Trek: The Next Generation. In particular, McFarlane is riffing on The Measure of a Man, the memorable second season instalment of the show that put the character of Data through a similiar process as the show asked viewers to decide whether he was a person or he was property.

A law unto themselves...

A law unto themselves…

Ted 2 borrows quite a bit from its inspiration, including a sequence where the state reinforces the character’s status as an object by demonstrating their technical limitations – in particular, by pressing a button and generating a response. (Never mind the three-step guide to personhood.) It seems highly unlikely that the similarity is coincidental. After all, McFarlane was an informed and insightful talking head on the Next Generation blu rays and populates Ted 2 with veteran Star Trek performers like Patrick Stewart, Michael Dorn, Nana Visitor and even an insert featuring LeVar Burton.

(Of course, Ted 2 is dutifully irreverent when it comes to the civil rights subtext of its central plot. On one hand, the film cites legal precedent like Dread Scott and Brown, but also features scenes of Ted watching Roots and unironically comparing it to his own middle-class existence to the miniseries’ depiction of slavery and brutality. In fact, it marks one of the rare occasions where McFarlane actually point out the irony in his writing, having another character point out that it is “a little different.”)

Married to a particular style of comedy...

Married to a particular style of comedy…

The script’s unfocused nature can arguably be demonstrated in the newest addition to the ensemble, with McFarlane casting Amanda Seyfried as Ted’s pot-smoking pro bono lawyer. The character isn’t really a character so much as a paradoxical joke-delivery mechanism. She smokes a lot of weed, but is apparently blissfully unaware of popular culture so she can be the butt of various nerd jokes. Depending on what a particular scene needs, the character can be blissfully unaware of the existence of Gollum or able to take part in a loving homage to The Breakfast Club.

There are moments when Ted 2 works, but the film’s extended runtime means they are spaced too far apart to have the necessary impact. It’s not a disaster, by any means. Just a disappointment.

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