The first season of Todd Margaret made me cringe worse than almost any other television show I’ve ever seen. It got me worse than the original series of The Office. David Brent may be a complete buffoon without a clue, but the other plots involving the other members of Wernham-Hogg reliably lifted my spirits. Todd Margaret has been one long, slow, downward spiral — until tonight, which was a lot of half-opportunities for public shame and a lot of setup for future catastrophes. “How The Liver and The Salad Conspired to Ruin Todd’s Good Deed” is the first episode that I watched all the way through without actually feeling awkward. The elements were there, but none of the situations really turned the screws to get to a place where an incredibly hard-to-watch setup earned some gruesome laughs.
After getting trampled during a rugby match, Todd wakes up from a three-day coma in the hospital. Not just any hospital, as Dave is quick to point out, but the very hospital Todd lied about spending his childhood in. I really like the way Dave eggs Todd into more elaborate lies even as Todd is trying to finally come clean about his past. Dave Mountford is a complete misanthrope. Over the course of this season it has become increasingly clear that he gets his rocks off by using the wealth afforded to him by chance because of his lineage to mess with Todd and Brent, chosen seemingly at random, perhaps for their sad sack, pathetic ways. As if the elaborate plans aren’t enough for Davie, Jon Hamm’s manservant gets more subservient degrading tasks — last week he was responsible for making some boxers feel authentically “slept in” and soaking a pair of shoes in beer. This week, all he does is ask for a chance to go home, which Dave meets with cruel disdain and a threat to chase him while he retrieves a cell phone charger.
In the first season, Dave’s constant pushing got Todd into highly visible amoral situations, but so far this season the incredibly embarrassing scenarios have played out only for Dave’s personal satisfaction. Sure, Todd pulls out a human liver intended for a transplant and juggles it, eventually throwing it in a trash bin, but only Dave is around to see it. Most of the best scenes in season one — Todd’s initial ThunderMuscle pitch in Alice’s café and the Remembrance Day fiasco come to find — have an element of willful public humiliation that heightens the comedy and also makes the scene difficult to watch (for me anyway). If the doctors that Todd happens upon searching for the liver had been there to see him destroy the organ, it might have worked for me, but as-is, it felt half-baked. He did manage to accidentally swipe a vial of “lethal spores” as he made his exit from the quarantine area, another tiny cog in the vast machine that will cause Todd’s epic demise.
That same half-baked sentiment applies to what I thought was the central plot-moving scene from last week, where Todd goes to molecular gastronomy restaurant La Molecule and secures a day of work for Alice under the guise of fatal retardation. Again, that scene was only between Todd and the chef, but this week Alice gets her dream tryout at the restaurant, believing Hudson called in a favor, and having no knowledge that Todd lied once again to get her the once-in-a-lifetime shot. I thought it was funny, if convenient, that Alice burns her mouth on the sauce, initially affecting her voice so that she gives the impression of an actual mental condition. The conversations between Alice and the chef, with several great comic misunderstandings that only the audience gets, are the funniest parts of the episode.
Once Alice finishes making a simple salad, she shows off one of her own creations in an Erlenmeyer flask. The chef is so impressed that she gives Alice a job, then promptly breaks down in front of Todd because she thinks Alice only has a few days to live. Alice is so happy that she celebrates with Hudson, who shows up to surprise her at the restaurant, and Todd weighs whether or not to reveal that he’s the one that got Alice her chance. I don’t really like the development that Todd is somehow growing a small conscience. He’s a terrible person, lying through his teeth all over the place, and the nicest thing he’s said about Alice was that he shouldn’t complain about the size of her breasts, and that was while on a morphine drip in the hospital. He’s not a likeable guy, so even the slight blip of positive character adjustment seems out of place.
That tiny crest upwards is incredibly short live, however, as a waiter grabs the spore vial from the hospital out of Todd’s hands, and it’s clear that he’s going to accidentally ruin the restaurant and Alice’s reputation, but we only get the setup. Everything that happens here, from the liver to the spores to the exchange of the truck full of ThunderMuscle with a bomb strapped to the bottom, the entire episode lacks a satisfactory payoff. This season has done a good job of slightly expanding the Todd Margaret universe with extra characters, more backstory, and a wider range of locations, but now everyone seems a bit too spread out. Part of what made the first season so entertaining was that all the characters were tightly contained so they had to keep bouncing off one another in increasingly ridiculous fashion. As it stands now, there are a lot of plates spinning, and nothing is settled. I can only hope that the last three episodes pick up the pace and raise the stakes to match the opening scenes of every episode this season. There’s a long way to go if Todd Margaret needs its protagonist to be pressing a red button for North Korea.
- Hey everyone, I’ll be taking over Todd Margaret as we head into the home stretch of the series. I can safely say I like season two more than Simon did so far, but I also find it much less enjoyable than season one. I probably would have given episodes one and two of this season a B+ and a B, respectively.
- I didn’t really mention Will Arnett or Spike Jonze in the body of the review. It doesn’t help that the Brent Wilts/Doug Whitney plot is so disparate from Todd and Alice. Arnett is back to his vulgar, condescending ways, drawing a penis on all the information Doug has gathered on the mysterious Mountford. Most of the comedy here is rooted in the fact that we already know Dave is pulling all the strings, and Wilts’ faux-machismo keeps screwing up any actual detective work. I find the arrogant bastard attitude funny, but I wonder if that’s just because it seems like a logical progression from GOB.
- All of the little jabs at molecular gastronomy crack me up. The chef’s descriptions of her dishes are totally insane. Frozen tiger prawn volute on an invisible spoon made of pure nitrogen? Absolutely ridiculous.
- I wonder whether Jon Hamm gets treated so badly because David Cross is subtly trying to get back at him for all the other not-incredibly-handsome men in the world at a disadvantage thanks to Don Draper.
- “This is like a reverse Othello”
- “What if it did? Think of the publicity coup!”