In a few months, when this second season of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret inevitably joins the first on Netflix Watch Instantly, sitting there with many other short-lived series in the expanding digital vault, I can’t imagine a lot of people are going to take notice. David Cross’ standup work isn’t just hilarious, it’s important, and I’d consider his first two albums landmarks (Shut Up, You Fucking Baby! and It’s Not Funny). His role as Tobias Fünke on Arrested Development is similarly iconic for being a bizarre and ridiculous performance, and Mr. Show is still one of the best sketch shows I’ve ever seen. Todd Margaret doesn’t come close to Cross’ career highlights, and while it’s nowhere near as bad as Cross’ literally effortless check-cashing appearances in the Chipmunk films, after a disappointing series finale, the mediocrity of this series feels like a huge letdown.
It bears noting that I like the first two-thirds of the finale. Hell, I think the courtroom scene is pretty fucking hilarious, with Will Arnett flailing around in his silly attempt to mimic the garb worn in British trials, stalling to listen to more Jon Hamm pep talk CDs, and completely misunderstanding how a trial works. Most of this series flies in the face of what normal human beings would sit in stunned silence and observe, but here, as in the Remembrance Day debacle from my favorite first season episode, I liked that nobody stopped it. Brent didn’t end up in contempt, nobody stopped Todd’s horribly embarrassing attempts at improv. It was cripplingly awkward, but I still laughed at it. Event the revelation that Todd is actually from Leeds was handled in a funny way, with him and Brent believing that since he didn’t lie about one fact he thought he was making up the whole time, suddenly all of his other perceived crimes would go away. Their ineptitude and stubbornness in the face of reason has provided consistent laughs, debasing themselves and suffering public humiliation, but the final turn in the courtroom struck me as too obvious. Todd makes a seemingly emotional realization about the one person who was decent to him, and then dials the number on the cell phone that somehow wasn’t taken away from him, and blows up the truck, which is then never addressed again. At this point, I had a really bad feeling about the end of the series, and the show managed to confirm my impending disappointment.
The last five minutes or ten minutes of the finale featured the worst Todd Margaret ever offered. Every reveal was disappointing, from Lord Mountford pulling strings to guarantee Todd avoids the quickly handed down death penalty to Alice lying dead on a gurney. Brent flees the courtroom and returns to his temp job, and everyone thinks he was on vacation. I always assumed that Todd Margaret would just spin out a last half hour of ridiculous situations before slapping some quick conclusion together, but I hadn’t anticipated feeling this dour about it. None of the other loose ends really mean anything if Todd just pushes a button and starts a war. Alice digging up information and never telling anyone, Doug dragging the loose neighbor from across the hall and trying to make her understand underwear, interrupting the Eyes Wide Shut-lite escapades of Dave’s father, Lord Mountford, all had little moments of hilarity, but even though I watched the finale a week ago and again tonight, the last third still overshadows my goodwill towards the higher points.
After all is said and done, this series did not in fact come down to Todd Margaret’s increasingly poor decisions. Sure, he put himself in some terrible situations, but as we found out more about the actual scheme, it became clear that Todd’s actions only made meetings and events orchestrated by David Mountford go over even worse. Dave is a bitter, drastically immature little boy, removed from normal society completely, and he’s the puppet master. Todd’s decisions mean very little, since Dave is always there to steer his revenge in a direction that pleases him. Todd’s final decision, to go to North Korea over a presumably cushier arrangement, is his big poor decision. How he goes from the plane to the room with a button, causing a nuclear holocaust, doesn’t really need an explanation. There are only a few minutes left, and once he pushes that button, there’s nowhere left to go in the series. Todd Margaret destroys its world, and I’m fine with never having to go back there.
If Will Arnett represents one of the worse American stereotypes in that courtroom scene, then the two Mountfords discussing how Dave’s bitter, vindictive, petty revenge could be swept under the rug due to their aristocratic status represented one of the worst British caricatures. It also undercuts the very premise of the series. In the pilot we could see that Dave knew more than he let on, but the show wasn’t about a massive conspiracy, it was about Todd continuing to lie, beg, borrow, steal, and do whatever he could to avoid getting revealed for the below-average Joe he really is. Instead, Mountford is a petulant child who holds a grudge over losing Amber Tamblyn’s attention at a bar to Todd because Brent causes drinks to spill. I guess this was the purposefully mundane “Aha!” moment, but while it fits with the characters, especially the spoiled Mountford, I just didn’t find it funny.
Todd Margaret lasted two seasons, twelve episodes, and about four hours of loosely connected comic scenarios tied together with a hare-brained plot. I know some devoted David Cross fans who don’t get IFC, and they’d be interested in catching up on Netflix, and maybe somebody who compulsively watches Will Arnett’s oeuvre should watch the entire series. I certainly had a fun time watching the first season and certain parts of the second, but I had a hard time shaking this slow downfall in quality, that the need to tie the whole overarching plot together worked against the manic comic tendencies of Cross and Arnett as performers and created a situation in which no explanation would make the problems of the structure go away. The first season ended on comedic escalation that led to uncertainty. Todd wasn’t arrested, his trial didn’t happen — how would this all end? The idea of a man continually lying to save his own skin gave Todd Margaret plenty of opportunities to put Cross, Arnett, and Jonze’s talents on display, but this wasn’t a sketch show. It was designed as a comedy with a predetermined narrative endpoint, and because of that Todd Margaret finishes out its run as a brief, easily digestible series that created some hilarious moments, but ultimately falls short of Cross’ best work.
- Lord Mountford wants to get in touch with four people to set Dave’s little ploys straight: Rupert Murdoch, Barack Obama, David Cameron, and Bruce Vilanch. Genius, even if was just a throwaway line.
- This episode lacks the overlong, complicated title of most of the series, which contributes to the idea that not a lot of effort went into this finale, just some quick funny scenes then a haphazard conclusion.
- Todd’s real name is Todd Moon, and he’s six years older than he thought he was, and he bemoans the loss of those years, questioning which ones are gone from his life.