The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret
They say that Americans don’t get British humor, that the subtleties of sarcasm and irony are too intellectual for their slapstick-centric senses of humour. Now of course this is a generalisation, there are plenty of Americans who love british fare and a whole host of amazing American comics beside, but that of course doesn’t stop the stereotype from being true on some level. So when David Cross, my first favourite stand-up and analrapist extraordinaire, announced that he would be both writing and staring in an English set and styled comedy my interest was piqued and my expectations as high as my concerns.
When it was revealed in the first few minutes that the show, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, would be Cross’ take on Gervais’ patented comedy of awkwardness, a distinctly British genre, waves of the latter breached my brain, quenching any sense of expectation that still stood. After slogging through the long remaining moments of the twenty minute episode my mind’s instinctual reaction appeared to be validated; American’s may get comedy but they certainly don’t get this kind of it. The authentic naivety of your David Brent was replaced by a complete and utter idiocy in Todd Margaret; he didn’t simply say the wrong thing, he said it in the wrong language. The scenes of social anxiety, the ones where we wince with every laugh, absolutely entertained but also afraid to watch, were replaced with shots of the protagonist either prat-falling, peeing his pants – no, not just the once but multiple times – or having a seizure. Subtle, this was not.
I can’t rightly say why, given just how much I loathed those first two episodes, but I recently went back and caught up with the final four half-hours of the first season so as I could be up to date for this year’s return – the show is also structured on the british six episode model – and I must say that this is now one of the most fascinating shows that I have ever seen. During those early episodes my focus, and seemingly that of the show itself, had been on the ‘Poor Decisions’ part of the title but as it progressed it quickly became clear that Cross’ passion for this project stemmed from the ‘Increasingly’, and so ours should too. See, the show opens in media res: we see a courtroom and hear a disgusted panel of bewigged British judges as they read out a lengthy list of Todd Margaret’s crimes while the man sits sadly in front of an audience of angry Anglo’s, we then jump back fourteen days and follow the man to see just how he got there. It’s a pretty lifeless gimmick at this stage really, not one that should redeem any of what the show had been dishing out thus far and yet it does just that and more.
The continuous cold-opens themselves aren’t all that fascinating, each episode is just another section of his court transcript, but the serialisation that will allow the story to lead him there is. What starts out as a simple excuse for a fish out of water story quickly becomes a cleanly muddled mess of machinations, with each and every element of the show adding up to form a much greater whole. To go into specifics would be both unkind and unfair because all of the fun with this show is seeing where it will go next and how it will get there and a lot of the time the answers to both are genuinely surprising; not since 24 has television had so many brilliant twists.
The sheer audacity of the ongoing narrative at this point is admirable enough to redeem all of the coarse comedy and flat character work, though both are unfortunately still present, they now just sit alongside the laughs gotten from the chaotically unravelling life of this utterly unlikable man. The show made an incredibly poor decision by opening under the guise of puerile comedy because it is increasingly proving to those watching that it has the potential to be so much more than that. So if you tried to watch the show and stopped, or simply thought that it looked too horrible to take a chance on then you were right to do so but are now missing out on what is seriously some of the bravest storytelling that the medium has ever seen, and I don’t say that lightly. So grab the DVD or Netflix it and catch up with this second and final season of this stellar, stupid show on IFC.
Also, if all that hyperbole didn’t convince you then this may; it has John Hamm in it.