The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret
Since the heyday of Arrested Development, we’ve all known it’s hard to go wrong with David Cross. In the past, he has usually lit up the small screen as a supporting or character actor, systematically stealing scenes from leading men and women. Now he is the star and creator of his own new IFC series with the gaudy and awkward title, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret. You don’t have to do too much digging to figure out what the show is about, but you should otherwise pay close attention because Todd Margaret’s humor is not nearly as obvious as its title. While the tone is not as understated and the jokes not as dry as we got used to in Arrested Development, it’s important to keep in mind that Cross’s comedic style has never been especially subtle. He's more of a showman than a straight man, and brings that same energy to his portrayal of Margaret, a simple working guy with a surfeit of poor judgment.
The show opens on Margaret sitting in a British courtroom, wearing a half-bemused, half- ashamed expression, while a list of charges against him is read aloud. Among those enumerated are “funding a terrorist organization” and “possession of child pornography with the intent to distribute.” This gives us an idea of where Margaret’s “poor decisions” will lead him, presumably by the end of the season. Meanwhile, we’re taken back a mere 14 days earlier, when Margaret is a lowly salesman at a company that has just been absorbed into a major conglomerate run by Brent Wilts, played with perfectly practiced arrogance by Will Arnett. Wilts struts through the halls of his new acquisition, demanding to talk to an employee who can help him secure the UK market in energy drinks— “preferably not a woman,” he specifies, but “somebody with some balls.” Cue the diffident, none-too-bright Margaret, who is clearly a low-end employee and definitely not the caliber of worker Wilts seeks. However, a series of truly hilarious misunderstandings convince his new foul-mouthed boss that he is the man for the job.
He hops on a plane for England, but the problem is that Margaret knows nothing about UK culture nor sales, so when he tries to sell individual cans of his company’s energy drink, Thunder Muscle, to lonesome customers at a local pub after receiving a delivery of 16,000 cases of the toxic stuff, antics ensue. In the space of a half-hour pilot, he manages to suffer injuries on multiple occasions, offend several people with his American brashness, get his luggage confiscated and blown up by authorities, and engage in a very public meltdown at the diner of the only person he’s managed to befriend, who also happens to be an attractive woman (Sharon Horgan). We can see how his misadventures might tend to get ahead of him.
On the whole the show is both fun and funny. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it even manages to make physical comedy pleasurable to watch. Cross frequently resorts to this type of humor, which is far from highbrow and usually disappointing. In Todd Margaret, however, he manages to pull it off because he’s just so damned earnest, throwing himself (literally) into physical comedy where others make it seem contrived. Cross is skilled at seeking out laughs rather than waiting for them.
The supporting cast is the major area of the show that could do with improving. In their defense, they would probably be better if they didn’t have to live up to Cross. Arnett brings all his usual range to the role of Margaret’s new boss, but seems somewhat typecast. Horgan’s performance is totally unremarkable and tiresomely adequate. The weakest link is undoubtedly Dave (Blake Harrison), the British assistant who is assigned to Margaret’s “branch” (a dilapidated warehouse and a couple of phones) and the closest thing to a “mate” Margaret’s got. Dave’s character isn’t fleshed out enough to reveal a real personality or even to provide a comedic foil to Margaret; instead he just sets up scenarios that ensure the bumbling American will embarrass himself while Cross does all the heavy lifting. The whole time, he sits there with an smug grin on his face contributing nothing to the show’s development or comedy. Cross may find that he requires a more endearing straight man if he wants his new comedy to survive, but otherwise nothing should stand in the way of him cultivating a devoted following with this gut-busting series.