Seth MacFarlane’s sense of humor is provocative, at the very least. Most of the time, he doesn’t even claim the mantle of “satire”, though occasionally there are layers to his bits that get swallowed up by the outraged responses. But he’s not merely a provocateur, like Adam Sandler or the Farrelly brothers; MacFarlane carries an encyclopedic love of popular culture — both past and present — and a razor-sharp wit into his work. And so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that he kicks off the often-lowbrow Ted 2 with a grand, ornate Busby Berkeley dance sequence during the opening credits.
Even more than last time, the movie is structured like a really long episode of Family Guy, or The Simpsons, for that matter. There’s a core story, but it’s largely a skeleton to hang various bits on, and they take their time even getting to the story in the first place. We first set up that John (Mark Wahlberg) has gotten divorced, while Ted (voiced by MacFarlane) and Tami-Lynn (Jessica Barth) have married, but a year later the honeymoon is over. So they decide to have a baby to save the marriage.
Yes, it’s a stupid decision, but these are people whose idea of fun is going up on the roof and throwing apples at joggers. Which is to say, they’re awful. But the idea gives a good half-hour of material until they settle on adoption, which is where the real problems begin. See, filing the application paperwork reveals that Ted is not considered a person of any sort. And while he was largely ignored by the system before, now everything from his marriage to his job to his bank account to his Papa Gino’s rewards card is summarily annulled. So they enlist the aid of untested lawyer Samantha L. Jackson (Amanda Seyfried) to get Ted’s civil rights back.
Oh yeah, and Donny (Giovanni Ribisi) from the first movie is back with a new scheme to get a Ted of his very own.
As I said, MacFarlane loves his pop culture, so many of the bits hang in some way or another on a reference. The more of them you get, the funnier they are, but he manages to spread them out pretty well. Most of the audience will be left scratching their heads over a team of dancers in top and tails, but a swing through New York Comic Con opens up a lot more geek-friendly material. It may go over younger heads when “Mess Around” comes on a car’s radio, but that segment is quickly followed by a swelling John Williams theme that pretty much everyone should recognize.
But the best of the material is the stuff that works on more than one level, which also goes for the story as a whole. Halfway through the movie we are told — in the warmest, gentlest, most reassuring voice possible — that being a person comes from making a contribution to society; that civil rights are earned by good behavior. Ted is mean and awful and selfish and generally makes as little contribution to the world outside himself as possible. But the movie also makes it clear that John, Tami-Lynn, and even Samantha are mean and awful, and that they’re far from alone in this.
Under all the lowbrow, scatological, and foul-mouthed gags, Ted 2 stands as a rebuke against respectability politics. Civil rights are not earned by being a wonderful person; the meanest and most awful people deserve them just as much as the greatest pillars of the community. The humor is often gross, and maybe even offensive, but the sickest joke here has nothing to do with bodily functions; it’s that lots of people are going to find it easier to sympathize with an drunk and stoned teddy bear than with the next black kid who gets shot by a cop, only for Fox News to dig up evidence that “he was no angel”, as if that means he doesn’t deserve the same dignity as anyone else.
Worth It: yes.
Bechdel Test: fail.