The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret: Season 1
by Jared Scott Stroup
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David Cross has very few blemishes on his record. With a very successful—and formidable—stand-up comedy career as his primary position, he managed to be involved in some of television’s most innovative comedy shows. He was a writer for The Ben Stiller Show, a writer and star of HBO’s Mr. Show, and a co-star in FOX’s much-beloved Arrested Development. He’s a social critic on and off the stage, with a keen observational eye that frequently targets ignorance and American hypocrisy. And his publicized feud with Larry the Cable Guy only cemented his position as a spokesperson for the counter culture. All these perfectly lead up to his new show The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, which Cross co-created with Shaun Pye and stars as the title character.
In what could be dubbed “An American Idiot in London”, Todd Margaret is a fish out of water story wherein the fish splashes around obnoxiously, yet proudly. Todd Margaret is sent to the United Kingdom to be in charge of outsourcing his company’s latest energy drink called Thunder Muscle. Upon arrival, Margaret treats the locals with misplaced authority; assuming they’re going to be impressed that he’s American, he pompously thrusts his presence into the community. This makes for interesting satire, as Margaret is the disreputable foreigner in this situation, and the rest of the characters mostly play as foils to his follies.
Like many intelligent comedy shows since the arrival of Ricky Gervais & Stephen Merchant’s original The Office, the influence of said show is evident in Todd Margaret. In keeping with the current wave of auteur sitcoms: the season is brief, has a narrative arc, and no laughtrack. The titles of the episodes are in a literary tradition, resembling chapters from novels. For instance, the first episode is titled “In Which Claims Are Made and a Journey Ensues”. Each episode begins with Margaret being prosecuted for a series of endless crimes—a new set with each episode—and the season basically works as a backstory to the list of charges. The supporting cast is almost entirely actors from the U.K., aside from a noteworthy performance by American actor Will Arnett, whose character is relentlessly chauvanistic, whilst demanding his hedonistic lifestyle be aided by those around him.
Todd Margaret is a character who’s hard to label with a single adjective, but to be “Todd Margaret-like” is to specifically be the worst kind of “American”. He’s arrogant, naive, territorial, and impulsive. He’s also capitalistic to a fault, turning any subversive thought he has into a way to better market the energy drink, instead of applying it to something more useful. Thus, there are traces of a conscientious part of his brain, but it’s not allowed to cultivate due to his corporate ties, which is a sound criticism of the psychological pathology that comes with incorporating capitalism as the primary part of a thought process. This seems very deliberate on the part of Cross and company.
Cross dives headfirst into the performance as Margaret, selflessly making himself the fool at every turn. Margaret is an anomaly—a lightly defined caricature in a world of regular people. It’s hard to sympathize with him, but it’s possible to empathize with him. His behavior is lampoonish, not grounded in realism, but the motivations behind his behavior are oddly human. The “poor decisions” come from his compulsive lying. The “increasingly” is due to the veritable Russian doll of lies that Margaret tells. The knowing responses to his lies result in Margaret having his naivety turned against him, and he’s exploited by the other characters either playing along or compounding his verbal follies with “just missed it” corrections, forcing Margaret to keep guessing his way to a plausible lie. He is also a perpetually isolated character, having no real friends other than a cafe owner (played by Sharon Horgan) who’s only nice to him out of pity. At one point she apologizes for him, saying “he’s an American…who hasn’t been here very long”. The pause is telling about the reactions the locals have to him, and the completion of the thought explains why she is apologizing for him.
The threads of the season arc are a bit scattered, and they don’t quite coalesce into a piece, but there’s plenty of unpredictable hilarity along the way. It’s undoubtedly a reaction to “George Bush’s America”, functioning as a direct illustration of Cross’s views on the Iraq War—how ignorance, lies, and impulses can snowball into epic disasters. It plays as a bag of ideas, so it’s hit-and-miss throughout, but it has plenty of potential to develop into a more solid series. It’s different and memorable enough to endorse; The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret is a flawed, funny, original satire that’s worth your time.
The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret: Season One is now available on DVD from MPI Home Video. You can catch Season 2 starting January 6th, 2012 on IFC.
Jared Scott Stroup is a Film Studies Major at Eastern Michigan University. He lives, works, and studies in the Detroit area, where he’s involved in theatre and stand-up comedy.
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