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JAN
4
3 YEARS

TV Review: 'The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret' is a Gem

Exceptional performances from David Cross, Will Arnett.

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret -
IFC
Series creator David Cross

With television’s midseason roaring out of the gate in the early days of January (showing no signs of stopping any time soon) it might be easy to overlook The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret as it starts its second season on Friday.

Don’t.

One of the best but least watched comedies when it made its debut on IFC in late 2010, the series was created by and stars David Cross, who also co-writes the episodes. Both endearing and ridiculously funny, Todd Margaret is about Todd (Cross) who leaps at – and lies to get – a job selling an energy drink called Thunder Muscle to people in England.

Lying, in fact, is a Todd Margaret specialty. He’s compulsively and unbelievably lying to everybody about everything, which frequently means Cross is spinning out of control in situations that are cringe-worthy, embarrassing or just flat out sad. But also hilarious.

The series co-stars Will Arnett (Up All Night, Arrested Development) as Todd’s boss Brent; Sharon Horgan (Pulling) as Alice, a café owner who suffers the unwanted attention of Todd; and Blake Harrison (The Inbetweeners) as Dave, who joins Thunder Muscle as Todd’s local assistant but proves, in a clever twist this season, to be someone completely different, giving credence to his description as “mysteriously devious.” (Jon Hamm guest stars this year as someone who, um, works for Dave).

It’s easy to join this series late if you missed the six-episode first season (and Season 1 was just released on DVD). Everything you need to know is in the title. Todd really does make poor decisions -- terrible decisions, really -- based mostly on lying. But the real attraction is seeing some of the best work yet from Cross and Arnett, which is truly saying something given their resumes. Both actors are in a comfort zone here -- Cross able to be less manic and Arnett able to be insanely manic (with fantastic material). Horgan adds ballast as Alice and grounds the series when it gets too far into absurdist territory (which is really the hook, of course, it’s just that Todd Margaret ends up being much more than that and Horgan makes is credible). Harrison, so great in The Inbetweeners, was wonderful in the first season but really gets to show off in Season 2. The combination of effort from these actors (and co-writer Shaun Pye) gives Todd Margaret a creative surge missing on so many other stale sitcoms.

This is fine work from Cross (who, in the interest of transparency, is in the same fantasy baseball league as I am). Part of the allure to Todd Margaret is that it’s shot like a movie – on location and outside in England. There’s a nice balance between Todd’s ridiculous and spiraling lies and the way Cross gives him a sad-sack sweetness – which would seem forced if it was lit and shot like a traditional sitcom. And who needs another one of those?

Former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr provides the music.

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret premieres Friday at 10:30 p.m., preceded by Season 2 of Portlandia, another little-show-that-could and another you shouldn’t miss before the midseason onslaught engulfs you.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine