When IFC announced that David Cross would return for a third season of The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret, it seemed the show would have to go back in time—or possibly sideways, to some kind of parallel universe—to move forward with another round of escalating deception and bad decision-making. How else could it account for all the living people following the nuclear annihilation (that Todd was both directly and indirectly responsible for) at the end of season two? The solution, from creator Cross and his co-writer Shaun Pye, is both a retelling and a new story. But while the show may have a new title and an improved protagonist, the same fate awaits him—and the viewer. Which is to say that if you liked the free-associating storytelling of the first two seasons, you’ll enjoy this latest offering.
Each episode of the show, now simply titled Todd Margaret, opens with a cloaked man reading from The Book Of The Prophecies Of The Premonitions to an all-male, sweatsuit-clad congregation. It all sounds and looks very ominous, although it’s not quite as visually striking a setup as having your main character begin the series on trial for crimes against humanity. But the cryptic passages, which riff on the revered introductions given Todd by the North Korean soldier in previous seasons, are effective teases for the episodes ahead and the lead character’s increasing sense of déjà vu. (Another nice touch is the return of Johnny Marr’s theme, “Life Is Sweet,” in the opening credits, albeit in cover form.)
We now have a savvier version of the Portland businessman who unwittingly set off a chain of catastrophic events in his earlier outings. Well, perhaps “businessman” is too generous—in his previous incarnation, Todd was a corporate drone whose self-directed pep talk got him promoted by Brent Wilts (Will Arnett) and shipped to the U.K. to market the North Korean energy drink, Thunder Muscle. But this time around, Todd is the type of competent go-getter who knowingly (yet grudgingly) flies to London clean up Wilts’ mess.
Season-three Todd leads the life the old Todd could only dream of (and lie about): He has a great apartment and a loving girlfriend named Steph (Amber Tamblyn). But these trappings of relative success aren’t the only signifiers of the improved Todd. Cross’ performance in the first half of the new season is also markedly different; his flatter affect, squared shoulders, and even toupee combine to give us a lead character who looks and sounds far more capable than before. It won’t be enough to save him or anyone else, but the rendition helps put a new twist on the same old disasters.
Todd disregards a dream he has that encompasses all of the events of the previous seasons, and heads to London to save the Thunder Muscle (née Lightning Strike, in this iteration) account. He initially appears to be quite good at his job, but things take their inevitable turn for the worse as he repeats his old mistakes, i.e., poor decisions. He meets and falls for Alice (Sharon Horgan) again, though she’s in an elevated position this time around. He’s also again assisted by Dave (Blake Harrison), whose seemingly earnest desire to help Todd might not just be a ruse.
This brasher, flashier Todd seems better-equipped to handle calamity, but he’s still just a cog in the destiny machine. In the first two seasons, Todd was having his leg pulled and life slowly destroyed by a petulant English noble (Harrison) hell-bent on meting out convoluted, perverted justice for a perceived slight. And we learned that while Todd was certainly a disturbed, deceitful person, he was never going to make the right decisions because the outcome was completely out of his control.
But once it dawns on Todd that he has a blueprint for the apocalypse, he actively tries to prevent it. As he goes through all the motions again, the callbacks are called out in rapid succession. Although it’s kind of fun to see Alice’s ex-boyfriend Hudson reimagined as a cartoon bear, or learn that some smells are still “visible from outer space,” there’s also something undeniably grim about the exercise. Watching Todd dig a deeper hole for himself with every lie in his previous life was frequently uncomfortable, and led to some questionable moments. But the show earned the benefit of the doubt early on by providing its provocative ending at the outset, and working back in time to cast a harsh new light on life’s little foibles. This latest entry swaps a mounting sense of dread for discomfort, which can grow tedious after a while. But if you enjoyed watching his antics in his previous form, the new Todd Margaret is still worth (re)visiting.