I'm definitely guilty of embellishing stories on occasion, to add humor or because time has worn down my memory's accuracy; but it's rarely about things that truly matter. (Big feet/penis correlation? Malarkey.) Todd Margaret (David Cross) does not allow himself such distanced self-assessment. Offered an impressive-sounding job in England, Todd immediately lies about a childhood in Leeds, inspired by The Who’s Live at Leeds album, to incidentally link himself to the country in the eyes of his boss. Considering this boss is Brent Wilts, Will Arnett’s umpteenth hilarious man/child character, it really doesn’t matter. But Todd later expounds upon this to his lone employee, Dave (Blake Harrison), finding it necessary and plausible to claim he watched The Who play Leeds every weekend, something that needs minimal effort to disprove. Todd cannot limit himself to lies that are actually worth the trouble. That was just one of Todd’s poor decisions, and David Cross sells every single uncomfortable moment. Much better than Todd sells Thunder Muscle.
The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret is a pretty fantastic British-American sitcom, written by David Cross and Shaun Pye for IFC, taking many cues from its overseas influences. It was originally conceived as two six-part seasons telling one streamlined story. No “Very Special Episodes” to worry about. Granted, each episode follows a similar path to storytelling that likens it to sitcoms of yore, albeit with more references to vaginas. These plotlines happen as such: Todd is presented with an opportunity that eventually becomes an interwoven string of ludicrous fables and raucous misinterpretations, usually ending with someone being completely alienated. It’s like Curb Your Enthusiasm, if Larry David was a naïve imbecile instead of stubbornly opinionated.
Todd moves to England to run the overseas division of the circularly named Global National, selling Thunder Muscle, a sketchy energy drink made from Korean vitamins. (It gives you the strength of twenty ponies!) His workplace doesn’t amount to much more than Dave’s desk and a multitude of drink pallets. His apartment is a dilapidated shithole often frequented by the glorious vileness that is Pam (Sara Pascoe), his chain-smoking pregnant neighbor. His romantic longing for diner-owning molecular gastronomist Alice (Sharon Horgan) is destined for failure, as she’s currently dating Canadian Hudson (British Colin Salmon). The only person he thinks is waiting for him in America is a girl who regrettably gave him pity sex. His cat, left with thirty cans of tuna upon Todd’s departure, meets an increasingly awful demise. From almost every angle, Todd’s life is shit. Yet he remains optimistic.
Viewers know this optimism will lead nowhere, as this first season’s conceit is that Todd has been charged with a laundry list of offensive crimes, and we’re witnessing the two weeks leading up to his court date. The opening’s courtroom charges usually pertain to what is to follow in the episode, and scripts are written with set-ups in early episodes don't pay off until later. It’s a show meant for fans of television as an art form rather than frivolous entertainment. Of course, I’m speaking purely of Form in that regard, as many will find artlessness in Todd’s acted-out assumption that deaf people are also mentally deficient. As for me, hearty laughs were stifled by a cringed-tight mouth. He is truly a detestable character, but Cross somehow draws out a misguided sympathy for Todd. I think it’s the voice.
Admittedly, many of the subtler details went right over my head on first viewing, and a second go-through, accompanied by each episode’s commentary track, was highly rewarding. It’s always enjoyable hearing Cross explain the process of creating a project, especially when it isn’t drowned in negativity. The flip side here is that everything is told with an air of self-importance. Whatever, the show is worth it. Cross is joined on different tracks by Arnett, Pye, producer Michael Livingstone, and director Alex Hardcastle. One episode has two commentaries! The pilot has an extended version! You might as well just put the thing on repeat and cancel the rest of your life.
There are more extras to fill your scheduled life-void. “An Act of Todd” is a half-hour featurette that takes viewers from Idea to Screen. Quite a bit of this, and other features, share stories contained in the commentaries, but it all holds interest. Meet the stars and crew. Tour the locations, some of which are quite impressive. Find out what it was like working with kids, and how they got David Cross’ face pasty.
The Cast and Crew Q&A is taken from moments on the set and in interviews. A question is offered, such as, “What character would you like to play?” (popular answer: Brent) or “What’s your favorite scene?” Differences between American and British comedy are discussed. Cross is good about suggesting British comedy shows that Americans might not be familiar with. “In Remembrance of David Cross” is filled with everyone talking about how great Cross is and how much fun it is to work with him. “DVD Extra Extras” are random silly bits that don’t fit anywhere else. And of course there is a Bloopers extra, which is just okay, and ten minutes of deleted scenes, most of which are just extended riffs on current scenes. Particularly a bit where Todd erroneously guesses who appears on the English pound. “The person who wrote Winnie the Pooh? Winnie the Pooh?”
All in all, a highly gratifying set for a gratifying show. I didn’t get into the extremes of Brent Wilts’ abrasive megalomania, tipped off by the pilot’s opening lines, when he tells an employee, “Hey guy, if I wanted to see you wear jeans, I’d go to your shitty house.” Arnett always delivers. I also glossed over soft-spoken director/genius Spike Jonze, who plays Doug “You’ve just been Whitney’d” Whitney, Brent’s fired assistant-turned-sleuth who shakes up the already flimsy foundation of Global National. Because yeah, this show even tackles corporate shenanigans. But it’s all better experienced than explained out. I imagine a two-season collection will come out after the show finishes airing, but for now, owning this set is definitely a non-increasing, non-poor decision.
Length: 255 min.
Distributor: MPI Home Video
Release Date: 12/27/11
Starring: David Cross, Sharon Horgan, Will Arnett, John Fortune
Directed by: Alex Hardcastle
Produced by: David Cross, Michael Livingstone, Christine Lubrano
Written by: David Cross, Shaun Pye