TV

"The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret': He's Still Clueless

Jesse Hicks

If cringe comedy fails in an airless context, Todd Margaret's illogical universe can still be entertaining.


The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret

Airtime: Fridays, 10:30pm ET
Cast: David Cross, Blake Harrison, Sharon Horgan, Will Arnett, Jon Hamm, Russ Tamblyn
Subtitle: Season Two Premiere
Network: IFC
Director: Ben Gregor
Air date: 2012-01-06
Website
Trailer
Amazon

The second season of IFC's The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret covers familiar territory, both in form and content. As before, each episode opens with the bald, clueless Todd Margaret (David Cross) held captive by authorities -- this time it's the Chinese military rather than the British police -- and each time, the scene flashes back to recount how he got himself into this fine mess. The show's pleasures remain occasional (in its daring flights of absurdity), as do its letdowns (a repeated unwillingness to play out such absurdity). Inhabiting an awkward position between “cringe comedy” and full-blown weirdness, it's always enjoyable, but often disappointing.

The show picks up where last season's cliffhanger concluded: Todd Margaret's poorly woven web of lies has been torn apart. His would-be girlfriend, Alice (Sharon Horgan), has discovered him with a blood-smeared cardboard box labeled “Alice's Rape Kit.” His boss (Will Arnett) has realized the hard-charging, take-no-prisoners salesman sent to conquer England is only an exceptionally bad liar. And the subject of one of those lies, Todd Margaret's father (Russ Tamblyn), supposedly British-born and recently deceased, has turned up alive and well, with a jovial American accent.

“How will Todd Margaret get out of this one?” might seem a reasonable question to ask. But we know he won't, as we've have already seen him in a bunker, flanked by Chinese soldiers and pressing an ominous red button, perhaps the last of his increasingly poor decisions. Part of the fun lies in seeing the plot spool out; unfortunately, while the show's creators have numerous plotlines in play, few of them are engrossing. Worse, they're not very funny.

Take Todd's persistent attempts to woo Alice, the ambitious waitress he met on his first day in London. Kind, ambitious, and attractive, she's tolerated Todd Margaret seemingly out of bottomless patience. She's obviously too good for him. That's not so say he's not fundamentally good. But he's also weak. Like most of us, he lies when he needs to restore a sense of control. But he always feels that need and so, he is always lying.

Todd Margaret does come clean with Alice. In another sort of show, the moment when he says, “Alice, I promise I will only tell you the truth from now on,” would be accompanied by stirring music, a blazing sign of redemption. But there's no such romance in Todd Margaret. Instead, Todd proceeds to dissemble about his age, pointing to his bald head while saying, “My hair is starting to thin out.” He adds that his penis is small, then sums up: “My dad's not dead. I'm not from Leeds. And I wish your breasts were bigger.”

Flatfooted as it is, the scene misses the opportunity to deflate a romantic comedy trope. But it also feels slapdash, like a first draft or early-morning improv. (Is there any easier “cringe” button to push than confessing a small penis?) More troubling, we know that within the show's hermetically sealed world, Todd's words will have little consequence. He'll continue pursuing Alice and she'll continue to tolerate him because that's the show's structure. Because there's nothing at stake, the story lacks even the illusion of movement. The jokes fail for the same reason. No one grimaces at his mistakes or sets Todd straight. No one, including the audience, imagines he's capable of adult behavior.

Without such capacity, without some possibility of seriousness, the punch-lines are asphyxiating. Todd's repeated use of the word “rape” in this scene might be shocking, but you wouldn't know it by Alice's non-reaction. She asks him to stop using it, but it doesn't matter either way. We might understand intellectually that his language is offensive, but it comes across as formulaic, another than an attempt to push the audience's buttons.

If this kind of comedy fails in its airless context, Todd Margaret's illogical universe can still be entertaining, at least for brief moments. Todd Margaret imagines himself cunning, but the real mastermind is the shadowy Mr. Malford (Blake Harrison), who pulls Todd's strings and, forces Jon Hamm, playing himself, through a series of humiliating errands over the course of the season. Malford is the show's capricious, malevolent deus absconditus, and his schemes offer greater comedy than those of the one-note Todd Margaret.

5

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image