Margaret: Series One
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All photos © IFC
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
veryone’s told the occasional white lie in the interest of impressing someone, be it a love interest, a boss or a friend. “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” is a sitcom built around the premise, and one man’s inability to just, for once, tell the fucking truth. David Cross plays that man, whose name, as you may have guessed, is Todd Margaret, and the title of the show is as descriptively accurate as any I’ve seen in a while.
Todd’s story begins in America, where he works as a bumbling temp (are temps ever portrayed in a fair light?). A miscommunication on the part of foul-mouthed head honcho Brent Wilts (Will Arnett) leads him to believe that Todd would be the ideal man to spearhead a London office, out of which a new energy drink called Thunder Muscle will be peddled. And so Todd is off to Great Britain, a land he knows nothing about, except that once upon a time The Who recorded a live album in Leeds. Todd isn’t even smart enough to exchange dollars for pounds, and exchange rates turn out to be a baffling concept to him.
Upon arrival, he meets and falls for Alice (Sharon Horgan, “Pulling”), who owns a café. She does not fall for Todd in return, but somewhat inexplicably continues to put up with him as the series moves along. Also pivotal to the goings-on is Todd’s sole employee, Dave (Blake Harrison, “The Inbetweeners”), who’s clearly much smarter than Todd, and appears to be manipulating events from behind the scenes in a peculiar, shadowy manner. Every episode begins with the same scene of Todd on trial in a British courtroom, listening to a list of crimes that might make the Marquis de Sade blush, and each time the text counts down one day closer to that trial, thus meaning that each episode covers another day in Todd’s disaster of a life. Problem is, this is a six-episode season, so don’t expect to get to the bottom of all this until the end of Season Two (which is premiering shortly on IFC). And yes, Season One ends on a cliffhanger (well, as far as comedies can end on cliffhangers, anyway).
Due to this structure, “Todd Margaret” plays as more of a movie than it does a TV series, and if one has the patience, it’s probably best viewed in one sitting. I use the word patience because this show is dark, in a way that only the Brits are adept at executing. Don’t let the presence of Cross and Arnett fool you – this is a not necessarily heavy, but sometimes very ugly Britcom. The two Americans are just playing in this world, probably because they admire this brand of comedy, and likely tripped over themselves to do this sort of thing. And who can blame them when so much American TV comedy is watered down crap? (Look no further than Arnett’s half-season blunder “Running Wilde” for proof.) Nobody can accuse this series of being watered-down; it does what it wants to do and then some. But there’s a trade-off for going this bleak, and that’s that the jokes are all too often difficult to laugh with. If rude, uncomfortable humor is your thing, then this is the show for you. Everyone else would do well to steer clear.
Yet I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t at least interested in finding out what bizarre series of circumstances will eventually lead to Todd’s downfall, and if he has any chance at redemption, although this doesn’t seem like the kind of show that will deliver it. No, this is a show about kicking the puppy over and over again, until it’s well beaten and down. Cross writes the show along with Shaun Pye – who, if he’s at all known over here, it’s for playing Greg on “Extras” – and together they’ve created a drab hybrid of sensibilities where maybe not every joke works, and indeed, sometimes even leaves you wondering where the joke is.
Special Features: There’s no lack of extras here. Commentary tracks from most of the principals are on every episode; some episodes even have two tracks. There’s an extended version of the first episode, which is maybe five minutes longer. There are several featurettes, a Q & A with the cast and crew, a blooper reel and the obligatory deleted scenes, which altogether total close to 90 minutes. You’ll be Todd-ed out by the time you’re done sifting through everything.