Over the course of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret’s first season, co-creators David Cross and Shaun Pye proved just how far they could drag out a cute but flimsy premise. Cross quickly overtaxed his natural charms, which are modest but sometimes good enough, in this seemingly totally improvised comedy series by putting the burden of the series’s humor almost entirely on his shoulders. If you don’t like Todd Margaret, a pathological liar and very desperate American in England struggling to sell illegal energy drinks, you probably won’t like the show very much. The show’s jokes are almost exclusively about Todd, and almost every other character is underdeveloped to the point where it feels like they only exist to indirectly implicate Todd as a wacky and painfully awkward guy.
Which is why it’s refreshing to see that the show’s world has expanded a little bit in tonight’s season premiere, “Todd’s Terrible Day Ends and His Next Terrible Day Begins.” It feels like we spent more time with the show’s supporting cast tonight than we have in the past and that’s a welcome relief. Because every third scene where Todd flops around like a fish on dry land is funny and even then the laughs are surrounded by a lot of dead air. It’s nice to be reminded that Poor Decisions’ does in fact have promise and isn’t always just a hideously prolonged shaggy dog joke at its viewers’ expense.
The ever-escalating ludicrousness of Poor Decisions’ painfully protracted narrative is ostensibly it’s biggest selling point. If there’s one thing that can be relied on in the show, it’s that Todd Margaret will always screw up in a new and bigger way. At the end of season one, Todd was about to be arrested (again) after convincing both Alice, the Brit he has a crush on, and the police officer that’s about to arrest him, to come back to his flat, where Todd promises he can explain everything.
Instead, when Todd brings them to his place, he finds Brent, the man who he still thinks is his boss, having sex with Pam, his slutty, welfare mommy of a next-door neighbor. He also finds that some of the blood from Pam’s afterbirth (she got pregnant in his apartment and didn’t clean up the blood and poop she left at his place) has rubbed off on the cardboard box marked “Alice’s Drapes Kit,” so that it now reads “Alice’s Rape Kit.” Oh and Chuck Margaret (Russ Tamblyn), Todd’s American father, the one whom Todd has told everybody was from Leeds and is actually dead, has now darkened Todd’s proverbial front steps. Hilarity sporadically ensues when Todd tries to get out of this fine mess.
The funniest part about the aforementioned mess is Chuck’s sudden appearance. Tamblyn’s character is the best sign that Cross, Pye and new episode co-writer Mark Chapell have started to expand the show’s repertoire of jokes. Chuck pretty much steals every scene he’s in, a dynamic that the show’s creators have thankfully accepted and used to their advantage. When asked why he came to visit Todd in England, he happily replies, “Saw you here on TV urinating on that soldier’s grave so I came here to lend you a hand!” It (hopefully?) looks like Chuck’s here to stay, too, since he’s now running around Todd’s neighborhood, taking care of Pam’s kids and, uh, pretending to be a ghost (“Also, you’re from Leeds so you’ve gotta be an English ghost.” “You got it, kiddo!”). Chuck’s hapless emergence on the show’s scene is a blessing. It shows that, more than the nonsensical teases opening segment of Todd being put on trial for a litany of serious charges, that the show’s creators have some idea of what they’re doing.
There are a number of gags in tonight’s episode that suggest that the show is finally trying to accentuate the people in Todd’s community that aren’t, y’know, Todd Margaret. They’re gradually becoming fully fleshed-out characters now instead of just stagnating as under-served foils. Dave, for instance, isn’t just a hatefully douchey guy that conveniently pops up to make Todd’s life even more hellish than he already is capable of making it for himself. As was hinted at at the end of season one, Dave comes from somewhere! He has a home and is in fact probably a really rich and important guy. (SPOILER) He’s even got Jon Hamm as his manservant and a date with Rihanna at the Monaco Grind Prix. But he blows all of these social perks off just to razz Todd some more. The character’s motivations haven’t changed after tonight but at least now there is a good reason not to groan whenever Dave comes onscreen: he’s slightly less one-dimensional!
That having been said, the worst parts of tonight’s episode suggest that Poor Decisions might still be as creatively tapped-out as it was last season, only now its writers are trying a little harder. Take the subplot with the Turkish terrorist that bought all of Todd’s inventory of hazardous energy drinks and paid for them using counterfeit money with Helen Mirren’s face printed on it. On the one hand, it’s great to see that plot moving ahead. The terrorists have now duped Todd into becoming a suicide bomber, tricking him into taking back a truck full of what he thinks is energy drinks but is in fact explosives and waiting for them outside a strip club. This is actually a semi-decent set-up.
On the other hand, it’s rather distracting and pretty unfunny to see this subplot kick off with one of the three terrorist proclaim how great an honor it would be to blow himself up. One of the other two terrorists looks askance at him and asks him incredulously if he seriously believes that if he dies for their cause that 70 virgins’ll greet him in heaven. Since Cross and company don’t take this discussion as far as it needs to go to reap laughs, the gag just sits there, half-formed.
That, realistically, is the show’s biggest obstacle: its creators just aren’t very inspired at the moment. The material suffers as a result, no matter what changes have been made. Still, baby step improvements are still improvements. I’m hoping we see a lot more of Chuck this season because boy, do we need him.