David Cross (“Mr. Show,” “Arrested Development”) created this half-hour situation comedy set and filmed in the UK, where it first aired. “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,” which soon begins a second season on IFC, features Cross as a white-collar loser who’s been faking it in order to get by . . . until the big boss (“Arrested Development” co-star Will Arnett) overhears him shouting at someone over the phone, thinks he’s the go-getter he’s been looking for, and promotes him. The job? Be the one guy to go overseas and start up a market in the UK for a new product. Trouble is, Todd wasn’t really chewing out someone on the phone. No one was on the line. He simply was practicing an exercise for a self-help audio book on How to Stop Being a Pussy.
Basically, the show illustrates the Peter Principle, which argues that in every “hierarchy every employee tends to rise to the level of his incompetence.” Eventually, they get promoted to a job that finally exposes them as the incompetents they’ve always been. For Todd Margaret, this promotion is the one that will “out” him. In fact, each episode begins with him sitting in a British court of law, hearing a string of outrageous charges read against him . . . with a subtitle telling us how many days ago it was.
In just two weeks, Todd manages to screw up so sublimely that he completely self-destructs. But it’s not only Todd. He has two nemeses: Thunder Muscle energy drink (which, imported from Korea, apparently hasn’t been approved for distribution by any responsible food and drug commission), and the only employee he inherits when he goes to London. Dave (Blake Harrison) sees right through Todd from the very beginning, and exercises his dry British wit by subtly questioning every specious statement Todd makes and by offering him advice that’s guaranteed to produce disastrous results. It may be sabotage, but for Dave its also amusement . . . which seems to be his driving motivation. He enjoys watching this BS-ing Yank make a fool of himself.
But let’s go back in time a big, as the series does with every episode. When Todd arrives in London, he finds that his boss meant quite literally that he was to start a sales division in the UK from the ground up. The office is a broken-down shell that looks abandoned. All Todd has are cases and cases of Thunder Muscle and that single, smirking employee. Todd’s boss is no better. Brent Wilts (Arnett) seems to do little else besides satisfy his own carnal cravings and expects his no-nonsense salesman to create an instant market for Thunder Muscle in the UK to support his bad habits.
This first season (called Series One) seems to have been a trial, as only six episodes were produced:
- “In Which Claims Are Made and a Journey Ensues.”
- “A Plan Is Hatched and a Date Is Not a Date.”
- “The Snooker Player, the Black Canadian, the Turkish Terrorist, and the Peanut.”
- “In Which Brent Wilts Arrives and Things Take a Turn for the Worse.”
- “Where Todd and Brent Misjudge the Mood of a Solemn Day.”
- “What Can Only Be Considered a Dreadful Day for Todd.”
Cross co-wrote all of the episodes with Shaun Pye (“Friday Night with Jonathan Ross” and “You Only Live Once” TV series), while Alex Hardcastle (“Lead Balloon”) handled the direction. Since this season has a dominoes structure I won’t spoil anything by going into detail, but suffice it to say that the dominoes fall as a result of Todd’s actions. He’s like a clueless Larry David whose misadventures result not from his attitudes but from his poor decisions, almost all of which involve the kind of fakery and bluffing that Todd had used successfully almost all of his adult life–that is, until the Peter Principle caught up with him.
The humor is dry and awfully British, but there are manic moments—as when Dave goads Todd into trying to sell Thunder Muscle at the cafe run by a woman (Sharon Horgan) he has an interest in . . . then goads him into drinking bottle after bottle to demonstrate its effectiveness. Not surprisingly, this modern-day Snake Oil Show ends up with Todd OD-ing and making a literal mess of things. It gets pretty crazy too when Mostly, though, the comedy is low-key and subtle, so if British humor isn’t your thing and you weren’t a big “Arrested Development” fan, it might not be enough for you. Be warned, too, that Arnett’s character uses the F-word in just about every sentence.
The jokes are more infrequent and the lines themselves not as witty as I’d have hoped for a show that relies on absurdities as much as this one does, which is to say that “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” isn’t as funny it could have been.
“The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” is presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the quality is pretty standard for a DVD. The edges are a little fuzzy and there’s not as much detail as we get in HD offerings, but the colors and skin-tones seem accurate.
Same with the audio, which is a pedestrian English Dolby Digital 2.0, with subtitles in English SDH. There’s really not much to say about the audio except it’s there. It doesn’t offend, and it doesn’t impress. The timbre is just a little flat, but at least there isn’t a lot of distortion.
Surprisingly there are a couple of good bonus features. “An Act of Todd” features Cross, Arnett, Pye and other cast/crew on camera talking about the show, with behind-the-scenes footage interspersed–a substantial amount of behind-the-scenes footage, actually. A “Q&A with Cast and Crew” is culled from some of the same interview material and covers slightly different ground. Same with “In Remembrance of the Late David Cross,” but they’re all average to slightly better than average. Rounding out the extras are a short blooper reel and deleted scenes which, unfortunately, aren’t indexed.
The actors are fun to watch, but while this sitcom features two “Arrested Development” alums, “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” is long on title but surprisingly short on the rapid-fire humor we saw in “A.D.” It’s entertaining, but I could have walked away without seeing all the episodes.