In tonight’s episode of The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret, show writers Shaun Pye, David Cross and Mark Chappell pretty much prove that the series is, as I suggested last week, a very long shaggy dog joke. “Todd And His Valet Arrive In Leeds And What They Saw There” is as sure a sign as any that the show’s writers are making things up as they go. This is most apparent in the way that tonight’s episode lurchingly jumpstarts season two’s various subplots. By now, we know enough about most of the characters’ motives to understand basically how everyone behaves and what they want. But in tonight’s episode, the show’s plot is clearly moving forward for no apparent reason. And if you don’t think that’s hilarious, then maybe you’re watching the wrong show.
That’s pretty much the bratty attitude that tonight’s Poor Decisions’ major plot points reek of. Take for instance the way that the writers seem to have suddenly remembered that, oh yeah, Alice is a character on this show, too. She’s not with Todd or Dave in tonight’s episode. And yet, even though Todd’s a self-absorbed pathological liar, he sees a restaurant in his Leeds guidebook called La Molecule and spontaneously decides to go there. He doesn’t make an immediate connection between the restaurant and Alice’s interest in molecular gastronomy. At least, he doesn’t show signs that he’s made such a connection.
So Todd tells Dave that they have to make a stopover at La Molecule. But once there, he mysteriously remembers that Alice has always dreamed of working for the restaurant’s famous head chef. He then tries to get back in Alice’s good graces by getting her a job there and characteristically does an awful job of it (it’s especially funny when Todd flounders so hard that he tries to describe himself as an emissary of the “Death Wish Foundation,” an organization dedicated to, well, “We make dreams come true for dying retarded women!”).
While it stands to reason that Todd should try to help Alice realize her dreams, it doesn’t make sense that Todd thinks of this solution on the fly. It’s not the contrivance of La Molecule’s sudden appearance on Dave and Todd’s trip that’s tedious. It’s the jerky way with which the show’s writers plop this development into the show’s main narrative. There wasn’t any build-up to it, not even a hint that making up with Alice was on Todd’s mind, not even when he first reads about La Molecule in the guidebook.
Remember: Todd has an incredibly short attention span and is emotionally stunted, to say the least; that’s a big part of his charm. So the fact that Poor Decisions’ writers’ forgot this when they scripted this part of the episode just reeks of a lack of imagination on their parts. Todd sees La Molecule, decides to go there and then mysteriously remembers, for no reason whatsoever, that Alice wanted to work there. The comedy of Poor Decisions has always been based around awkward, spastic timing. But this seems like a textbook example of a show succumbing to the condition it tries to make fun of.
Another example of this episode’s deliberately but inexplicably shoddy story-telling can be seen in the way that Brent suddenly decides to team-up with Doug Whitney. Doug even points out that this doesn’t make any sense, alluding to a number of times when Brent cursed him out. But because Brent is spontaneous, I guess, he just asks Doug for his help. Because all of a sudden, Brent remembers that he thinks Dave is up to something and must be stopped. This revelation comes out of the blue and is presented as a part of Brent’s still murky backstory. We see this in an abrupt flashback to when Brent first arrived in London; Dave is shown to be screwing with Brent from the get-go. And just like how Todd conveniently remembers Alice’s love of molecular gastronomic cuisine, so too does Brent remember that Dave is in some way responsible for his current dire straits. There are no hints as to why this is, not even a teasing gag about why Brent just suddenly remembers this development. He just remembers. If we eventually find out that Dave had Brent’s memory erased somehow, I wouldn’t be surprised because that’s just how Poor Decisions’ writers seem to like to their show: pointedly incoherent for no apparent reason.
And yet, I’d say that Poor Decisions is still fitfully funny enough that I’m curious what’s going to happen next. I’m more convinced than ever that the show is being intentionally mishandled for rather stupid reasons. But there are certain comedic flourishes in the actors’ performances that are still charming in their own ways. While many of Cross’s jokes at his own expense fall flat, there are times when his mugging is actually more inspired than desperate. One such moment is when Todd’s wiggling his eyebrows to the head chef at La Molecule after he suggests that they could potentially reach a mutually beneficial agreement. And he keeps wiggling both eyebrows cluelessly. For a long time. A lot longer than he should be, at least. And it’s funny in spite of everything.
This is largely because Cross, like the rest of the show’s cast, is a funny comedic performer that’s stuck himself with the unenviable task of delivering a very awkward comedy about a very awkward man. Both Will Arnett and Spike Jonze also do as good of a job with lackluster material as they can. Arnett’s grimace, when he tells his hotel’s receptionist, “I’ve pooed my pants again,” is priceless. And Jonze is pretty winning when he yelps that “loose ends” are “the one thing Doug Whitney doesn’t like.”
So yeah, tonight’s episode has a couple of good laughs, like when Brent says that there’s, “Some stuff going on that makes less sense than Helen Keller and Tommy combined.” That’s unfortunately a bit of an understatement but hey, the show could be worse: Poor Decisions could be consistently unfunny and slapdash. Something to look forward to, right?