On Friday, toward the end of my review of Seth MacFarlane's new comedy Ted, I wrote: "I don't think that Hollywood will exactly be beating down MacFarlane's door to get him to make another movie, but I hope he gives it another go nonetheless." Well, it seems that I was wrong. MacFarlane won't have to worry about getting a second crack at the big screen. Or a third. Or a fourth. As it turns out, Ted is a a big fat hit, setting a box office record for highest grossing R-rated comedy "with an original comedic storyline," (meaning: not a sequel) and shocking all box office prognosticators. So, Seth MacFarlane has indeed arrived as a filmmaker. Are we ready?
Well, as is said in the review, there is enough romantic-comedic showmanship in Ted to make me curious about what else MacFarlane can do as a filmmaker, particularly in that genre. But there's also plenty of tired, forced humor — dirty jokes! random references! — smeared throughout that suggest that a Judd Apatow-esque cinema empire run by MacFarlane would be something of a horror. Imagine all the pointless asides and out-of-nowhere pop culture allusions. Shudder. We don't want to read a blog, we want to watch a movie! And more importantly, we don't want to pay $12 to watch an episode of Family Guy.
Not that Ted was exactly like MacFarlane's show. The film had far more sincere sentiment to it and felt way less smug and showy than most episodes of Family Guy and MacFarlane's other sitcoms ever do. But our bet is that the reported A- grade the movie was given in audience exit polling had a lot more to do with fart noises and simulated facials (not the spa kind) than it did with anything emanating from the film's emotional core. Obviously that stuff helps round and shape the humor and better the overall experience, but yeah, it was probably mostly the farts that did it. So would that mean that we'd just get more jazz-handsing filth from Seth MacFarlane, Movie Director? It might! Which would be unfortunate. Not that there's anything wrong with filth — some of my best friends are filth — but MacFarlane traffics in such a show-offy, eyebrows-raised version of it that would get very boring very quickly, I'd imagine. (To some of us, anyway. After all, Family Guy keeps going and going and going...) Which would be a shame, because there is something there.
As was revealed in a fascinating, oddly overlooked recent New Yorker profile by Claire Hoffman, MacFarlane is an anxious soul — one who's made millions, if not a billion, off of Family Guy and other properties, but who does, in some quiet-ish center place in himself, long for something bigger and more elusive. Namely, respect. The profile recounts some embarrassing, human details about his personal betterment process, including hiring a spray tan lady to come to his office for regular appointments, but it also hints at a hungry artistic drive that would be interesting to see him work to satisfy in future movies. He likely wouldn't go full-on serious, but watching Judd Apatow yearn towards higher meaning over the years has been pretty fascinating, if not always rewarding, and it could be the same for MacFarlane. If that's what he's allowed to do. We're just not sure Ted's more serious parts resonated the same way the nice stuff in The 40-Year-Old Virgin or Knocked Up did. Those elements registered mainly because the humor in those movies, while certainly crass at times, was also more natural and organic. For all of its surprising heart, Ted spends a lot of time cheapening itself in the service of a few brittle jokes.
So we're not ready for an onslaught of that material, but if MacFarlane stays true to his deeper self — and really there's little evidence from his career history to suggest that he won't — we could have an intriguing new comedy auteur on our hands. Hopefully he'll keep in mind that just because Ted allowed this all to happen, that doesn't mean all future movies have to be just like it. As mentioned last week, there's a glimmering bit of the old-school running throughout Ted -- a kicky, throwback energy. That's the stuff it would be nice see MacFarlane mine, and a studio would be smart, creatively if not immediately financially, to let him dig away. Ted has opened several doors, we just hope MacFarlane walks through the right one.