David Cross is the unluckiest man alive in this overlooked “comedy.” Helen gives it another look.
Going largely unnoticed in the UK TV schedules, American-British black comedy The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret premiered on More 4 with hilarity from start to finish. It seems criminal that this series didn’t get a wider audience as it was so well-written, with a great cast so perfectly implemented that, in the same way as The Office, you watch it through your fingers cringing at the sheer incompetence of the titular character.
Shakespeare wrote in Twelfth Night that “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” For Todd Margaret, entirely the opposite is true. Todd was born to lose; the only greatness he achieves is great stupidity, but to be fair, he does have stupidity thrust upon him by the other characters. In short, Todd Margaret is someone for whom luck is always fleeting.
Played by the brilliant David Cross, American Todd is a victim of the Peter Principle (employees rising to the level of their incompetence), as he is overheard speaking plainly to a customer on the phone by his boss Brent Wilts (the equally-amazing Will Arnett). What Brent doesn’t know is that Todd was actually listening and responding to a self-help CD, and before Todd knows it, he is being promoted to a role in the UK based on a misunderstanding and his claim to have family in England.
Once there, Todd has to shift a new product called Thundermuscle, an energy drink of dubious composition, and the office he expected to be managing comprises of one employee, Dave (The Inbetweeners‘ Blake Harrison) and a large amount of the aforementioned liquid. With little staff, no real expertise and frankly no clue, Todd decides to make do with his lot and get stuck in, but he hasn’t reckoned on Dave’s pranks, the pitfalls of unrequited love and his knowledge of British culture being so woefully limited.
Each show in the first season begins with Todd stood in a court dock, hanging his head as various charges are read against him. Each episode unfolds to slowly reveal the calamitous circumstance spurred on by the increasingly poor decisions alluded to in the title, leading to his fate literally hanging in the balance.
As the pandemonium that is Todd’s life unfurls, we meet Alice Bell (Sharon Horgan) whose love Todd is desperate to gain, and this crush leads him into a spiral of pathological lies and boasts that further complicate his pathetic situation. Alice is the owner of a cafè near Todd’s flat with a love of molecular gastronomy and high hopes for her future, and she often takes pity on the lovesick Todd, trying desperately to help him out of whatever rut he has found himself in.
Other characters include Pam (Sara Pascoe) who, despite being heavily pregnant, is also incredibly promiscuous, and Hudson (Colin Salmon) who is Alice’s Canadian ex-boyfriend for whom she has great affection. Naturally, Todd dislikes him for that reason. Mark Heap and Jon Hamm join the cast and Steve Davis plays himself in a wonderful scenario where he is cast as the star in a Thundermuscle advert that goes hideously wrong.
Todd tries everything he can to shift the energy drink that no-one seems to actually want, finding himself in escalating danger as Brent travels over from America demanding results and the money from the sales, leaving Todd in desperate need of help. Arnett is outstanding as the foul-mouthed, over-excited and aggressive Brent Wilts, and he terrifies Todd with his incessant demands. Little does he know that Todd’s former boss, Doug Whitney (played by film legend Spike Jonze), has started investigating the unstable Brent, finding things decidedly odd as he gets to the bottom of it all.
Todd’s life spirals out of control as his lies come undone and he ends up in progressively more dire scenarios. These involve Todd desecrating a beloved British landmark on a sombre day, his father turning up when he had claimed that he was dead, providing a fake liquor license to Alice who then has to flee, and being sued by a supermarket giant for millions of dollars.
The language in the show is often strong and coarse, particularly from Arnett’s character, and it is a black comedy so there are some uncomfortably dark moments here and there. It’s not for the faint of heart, but The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret is a sitcom well worth a look just to see how bad one man’s life can get when he is trying way too hard to please everyone around him, as well as his own selfish needs.
David Cross plays each excruciatingly awkward scene with great aplomb, never being embarrassed to look foolish, and his true commitment to the character is what makes the show so funny. Todd Margaret is a pitiful human being, way out of his depth and surrounded by people who want to bring him down, and it is up to him to fight back, stand up and be a man. Whether or not he does… well, you’ll just have to watch and find out.
- David Cross mentioned on WTF with Marc Maron that he put his own money into financing the show.
- The pilot was aired in the UK as an episode of the Channel 4 series Comedy Showcase. Scenes from the first episode were re-shot after the Channel 4 airing when the part of Margaret’s assistant, Dave, was recast with Blake Harrison. Russell Tovey, who played the character in the original pilot, was no longer available when the series went into production.
- The show reunites Cross with Arrested Development co-star Will Arnett; the two also appear together on the Fox sitcom Running Wilde, which premiered before but was produced after Todd Margaret.