Slate's Culture Blog

Jan. 29 2015 4:58 PM

In the Ted 2 Trailer, Seth MacFarlane Fights for the Right to “Bear Marriage”

At this point, excoriating Seth MacFarlane for cheap jokesmithing is about as hackneyed as Family Guy (Seasons 4–12) itself.  But, to give the guy credit, he continues to come up with creative new ways to squeeze clunky jokes from easy mockery of such diverse groups as women, minorities, the handicapped, and stuffed animals.

In Ted 2, Ted is now married to a blonde reproductive device played by Jessica Barth. However, Ted learns (after getting semen-donating best friend Mark Wahlberg soaked in other men’s genetic material at the fertility clinic) that he must legally prove he’s a person in order for the state to condone his in-vitro fertilization of his sentient womb, er, wife. So Ted 2 seems bent on being the hottest skewering of America’s Gay Marriage Debate since the razor-sharp satire of 2007’s I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry.

But Ted 2 seems more like MacFarlane, via his teddy-bear avatar, trying to play out a fantasy of cultural victimization under the guise of lowbrow comedy. He’s created a character that utterly embraces every traditional straight-guy fantasy while being entirely freed from responsibility (a rude, drunk, playboy who’s also an adorable teddy bear). And now Ted is also legally disenfranchised, just because of how he was born! And in the process of proving that everyone deserves equal justice under the law, even bro-y Masshole teddy bears, he’ll earn the respect of wise older black men and be soundtracked by Public Enemy’s “Fight The Power." And Amanda Seyfried will laugh at his jokes.

It’s not that MacFarlane has any responsibility to position himself on the vanguard of social justice. There’s honestly a place for comedy that aims no higher than dumping semen on its leads while they yell at each other in cartoonish Bostonian accents. But one of America’s preeminent straight-white-guy comedians making comedy out of casting himself as a target of legal discrimination doesn’t quite come off as empathetic satire. It comes off as “hey, me too!”. It’s not that it’s offensive; it’s just pretty lazy. Comedy’s No. 1 sin.

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Jan. 29 2015 4:21 PM

With Better Call Saul, Bob Odenkirk Steps Into the Spotlight

This article originally appeared in Vulture.

Near the end of 2013, Bob Odenkirk went to Bryan Cranston for advice. The two became friends as cast members on Breaking Bad, which had just wrapped up its final season on AMC, but they weren’t exactly peers. Cranston’s starring role as, of course, Walter White, the cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who reconstructs his timid self into a murderous meth kingpin, was intrinsic to the show’s appeal and won him, among other honors, four lead-actor Emmys. Odenkirk, on the other hand, was a mere character actor. He played Saul Goodman, a shady lawyer who knew his ship wasn’t coming in, a comic role contrapuntal to the dark-hearted show. Now the series creator, Vince Gilligan, was offering Odenkirk his own star turn in a spinoff, Better Call Saul. He drove from his house in the Hollywood Hills to a coffee shop in the San Fernando Valley, near where Cranston keeps an office, to pose one big question.

“How do you do it?” Odenkirk asked.

Cranston thought he was being asked for a pep talk. “He looked at me at first like, Well, a human being can do it. It’s not impossible,” Odenkirk told me over lunch in L.A. in mid-December. “I literally had to say to him, ‘No, no, no. How does a day go?’ I wasn’t asking for some theoretical acting bullshit about whether or not it’s in me.” Despite having worked in show business for three decades, Odenkirk, who is 52, had never held the lead in a major production and found himself intimidated by the logistics. Eventually, Cranston told him what he wanted to know. “He said, ‘You wake up, you go to set, you do the job. You bring home the food they give you because you’re too tired to get yourself dinner, and you study your lines for the next day.”

On Breaking Bad, the very casting of Odenkirk, whose acting career had been occupied mostly with sketch comedy and cameos—along with David Cross, he starred in HBO’s mid-’90s cult absurdist revue Mr. Show With Bob and David, and he also wrote for Saturday Night Live, The Ben Stiller Show, and Late Night With Conan O’Brien—came across as a sly signal that Gilligan had a highly pitched sense of humor, even if the show mostly didn’t. The role had been a huge career boost, the opposite of what Saul might refer to as having “a little shit-creek action going.”

Jan. 29 2015 3:58 PM

The Cast of Don Verdean on Working With the Creators of Napoleon Dynamite

Check out all Slate’s interviews from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

One of the very best casts at this year’s Sundance Film Festival belongs to Don Verdean, the new movie from the creators of Napoleon Dynamite (husband-and-wife team Jared and Jerusha Hess), which stars Sam Rockwell, Amy Ryan, Danny McBride, Jemaine Clement, and Leslie Bibb.

We sat down with the group of actors to discuss the inspirations for their characters (Rockwell describes his title character as “If Andy Dick and Indiana Jones had a baby”), the experience of making a movie with Mormons (the movie was shot in Utah), and what it was like to do comedy without relying on going blue. The resulting conversation was a little less family-friendly than the movie.

Jan. 29 2015 2:57 PM

Watch the Trailer for the Next Three Episodes of Beloved Stoner Web Series High Maintenance

High Maintenance isn’t just the most universally-acclaimed current Web series; it’s one of the most universally-acclaimed current TV series, period. The acclaim is well-deserved: As Slate’s Willa Paskin wrote when Episodes 14, 15, and 16 were released in November, High Maintenance does “in minutes what most sitcoms can’t do in hours: make guest stars full-bodied, familiar, funny, and heartbreaking.” (And since the only constant from episode to episode is the Brooklyn-based weed dealer known as “The Guy,” played brilliantly by Ben Sinclair, there are a lot of guest stars.)

Now, Vimeo has given us an exclusive peek at the episodes that will be released on Feb. 5, which are, in the series’ tradition of cryptic one-name titles, called “Esme,” “Sufjan,” and “Sabrina.” The trailer promises more gorgeous cinematography, intimate character studies, and dialogue that continues to pack dense meaning into few words. (Man: “We live in an apartment, not a mansion.” Woman: “Well, it’s really nice, though.”) Plus, Yael Stone, best known as Lorna from Orange Is the New Black, guest stars as a member of an “all-female collective, the Cannabitches.”

Best of all, if you’ve already paid for the most recent batch of episodes in bulk, you’ll get the new batch for free next week. (And if you haven’t already paid for the most recent batch of episodes, well, you’re in for a treat.)

Jan. 29 2015 2:05 PM

Why the Parenthood Finale Won’t Give Us Any Closure

No matter what happens on tonight’s Parenthood series finale, there will definitely be crying. If Braverman patriarch Zeek (Craig T. Nelson) survives his surgery, there will be tears of happiness—plus a signature shot of the hospital room with the entire cast cozily snuggled in and some mellow Bob Dylan tune wafting in the background as everyone looks at each other affectionately. If he dies—as many are speculating—there will be tears of sadness, but, in true Parenthood fashion, these will also somehow be tears of happiness. That’s because nothing truly bad ever happens on Parenthood— and this has been the show’s most frustrating flaw.

Jan. 29 2015 1:30 PM

A Dog Movie Star Demonstrates the Art of Canine Acting

Check out all Slate’s interviews from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

In the upcoming movie White God, which won the Un Certain Regard award at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival, canine actor Bodie plays Hagen, a mutt that—after he is separated from his owner—leads an uprising of hundreds of dogs against the men who mistreat and abuse them.

The film is made with virtually no CGI, and Bodie’s naturalistic performance (this is no Uggie) takes his character from sadness to ferocious anger to, ultimately, triumph. We asked Bodie and trainer Teresa Ann Miller to show us how Bodie gets into character.

Jan. 29 2015 12:16 PM

Lily Tomlin and Director Paul Weitz on Grandma’s Frank Approach to Women’s Issues

Check out all Slate’s interviews from the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.

In Paul Weitz’s Grandma, Elle (Lily Tomlin) bonds with her teenaged granddaughter Sage (Julia Garner) when she comes to her seeking financial assistance for an abortion. Like last year’s indie hit Obvious Child, the film, which recently premiered at Sundance, deals honestly with this once-taboo subject and sensitively unpacks the way it affects many women today.

We spoke to Tomlin and Weitz about Grandma’s approach to women’s issues and how the cinematic conversations around abortion have changed.

Jan. 29 2015 11:39 AM

North West Stars in the Touching Video for Kanye West’s “Only One”

Kanye West is a family man. He always envisioned that future for himself, most notably on the song “New Day,” alongside Jay Z. With his wife, Kim Kardashian, and daughter, North, that future is now, to a certain extent, fully realized. And, yet, there’s still something missing: his late mother, Donda West. For Kanye’s first collaboration with Paul McCartney, “Only One,” he breaks down about the pain of not being able to share his newfound happiness with the most important woman in his life. For its video, premiered on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, he visualizes those conflicting feelings of heartache and euphoria.

Jan. 29 2015 11:22 AM

How the Oscars Work, Explained in Under Three Minutes

It’s no secret that the Oscars, while a glamorous Hollywood schmoozefest, are also a complex business of awarding the year’s best in film. Who the academy decides to nominate and later pick to win is often controversial, disagreeable, and, on rare occasion, right on the nose. But how does the voting process work? AJ+ have come up with a concise video explainer that’s both fun and knowledgeable—just in time for this year’s ceremony.

Jan. 29 2015 9:35 AM

In Praise of the Original Wet Hot American Summer Trailer

The new teaser for the Wet Hot American Summer eight-episode miniseries, the movie reboot that will hit Netflix this summer, is pretty straightforward.  It’s a laundry list of the series’ bold-faced names—the likes of Elizabeth Banks and Bradley Cooper and Janeane Garofalo and Amy Poehler—projected over footage of little red cabins and sunny camp lawns. The camera cruises slowly toward one of the bunks, zooming in on a wall where the words “Camp Firewood ’81” are scrawled in chalk. The teaser has the same faded, summery tint that longtime WHAS fans will recognize from the original, and it makes sense that Netflix would focus squarely on the star power of the cast. After all, part of what makes this small film seem immortal a decade and a half later is that so many of these cast members have since skyrocketed to fame. The reboot, also directed by David Wain, will most likely be great. But this teaser should make us nostalgic, too, for an unheralded cultural gem: the original Wet Hot American Summer trailer.