Such “parodies” are undoubtedly the result of MacFarlane fancying himself another Mel Brooks, an influence made all too clear by last year’s Blazing Saddles-style Western comedy A Million Ways to Die in the West (which, full disclosure, this viewer kind of liked). But Saddles — written, lest we forget, not only by Brooks but by a crew of great comedy writers, including Richard Pryor — is a master class in how to do hot-topic social satire, full of lessons that MacFarlane clearly, painfully hasn’t learned. Take, for example, Sheriff Bart’s first stroll through town, in which he tips his hat at a sweet-looking elderly woman and purrs, “Mornin’, ma’am. Ain’t it a lovely mornin’?” And, without skipping a beat, she barks back, “Up yours, nigger!” But later, after Bart saves the day, the woman returns with an apple pie as an apology and a thank you, prompting a warm reconciliation. And after she leaves, she knocks on his door again, to ensure that “you’ll have the good taste not to mention that I spoke to you,” to which he immediately replies, “Of course.”
It’s a three-part joke, pushing past the incongruity of that word coming out of a sweet old lady’s mouth and into a stinging little commentary on the verrrry slow speed with which cultural attitudes and public acceptance shift. And in a MacFarlane movie, the joke would end with the “up yours” line. In one scene of Ted 2, Wahlberg and Ted get their kicks by going to an improv theater and shouting out “sad suggestions” for improvisations (they include 9/11, Bill Cosby, Ferguson, and Charlie Hebdo). It’s one of the few funny scenes in the movie, but also a fairly efficient summary of MacFarlane’s comic ethos: shouting out offensive topics in the dark, as though their mere utterance qualifies as the joke.
Ted 2 is out Friday.