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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
In 2012, Seth MacFarlane’s directorial debut Ted defied expectations and became one of the highest grossing R-rated films of all time. Universal immediately began planning a sequel, which would reunite stars Mark Wahlberg and Mila Kunis with the foul-mouthed, MacFarlane-voiced titular character for further antics and hijinks. In the meantime, MacFarlane, wrote, directed, and starred in the recently released A Million Ways to Die in the West, perhaps the most ill conceived follow-up to a major hit of all time. Upon release, A Million Ways to Die in the West grossed less than 17 million dollars in its first weekend and drew scathing reviews, accumulating a 34% on Rotten Tomatoes, or half of the 68% aggregate score Ted received. So, what exactly went wrong?
Seth MacFarlane has never been known for acting on-screen. His gifts lie in his talents as a voice-over artist, where he has given life to various characters from his many franchises like Peter and Brian Griffin, Glen Quagmire, and Stan and Roger Smith. Additionally, he has a wonderful singing voice, particularly for crooning and singing show tunes. But still, he is not known for acting in front of the camera as himself. So when it was announced that MacFarlane would playing the lead role in his directorial follow-up to Ted, it was seen by many as a transparent, ego-centric attempt to turn himself into a leading man by appearing in what could have been a softball-sized homerun for Universal (based on Ted’s gross, Universal had to believe this would be successful as well). I can’t blame him for trying, but he was cited in many reviews as being out of his element, especially against Hollywood heavyweights like Liam Neeson and Charlize Theron.
Additionally, Westerns as a film genre have never done particularly well at the box office. Every once in a while a film like Unforgiven breaks out, but that is very rare. The idea of a merging a Western with a comedy probably wasn’t a very good idea in the first place. A Million Ways to Die in the West is incredibly high concept, but its concept includes genres that don’t particularly go all that well together, much like fried chicken and ice cream sundaes. Again, I applaud MacFarlane for making the attempt, but it probably wasn’t going to work from the start. Of course, it didn’t help that many claimed the trailers showed the funniest parts, and judging from an extended clip of the film I watched on YouTube, this was true. Nothing I saw was particularly clever or inspired, relaying solely on racial humor and fake mustaches to sell jokes.
A Million Ways to Die in the West will probably serve as a lesson to MacFarlane. A mishmash of not-particularly-popular genres, a leading man unfamiliar to many in front of the camera, and a poor, unfunny script all collaborated to doom the film. While I don’t watch Family Guy anymore (the first two seasons remain funny), I still love American Dad, which is among the most underrated shows on television. I’m not anti-Seth MacFarlane at all, and I again applaud his efforts at doing something original and not just churning out franchise film after franchise film. A Million Ways, however, just didn’t turn out to be that good. Ted captured lightning in a bottle when it became a massive hit two years ago. It’s hard to do that twice in a row. The film will probably eventually become profitable once home video and ancillary sales are factored in, but it will in no way impact popular culture the way Ted did.