“The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” is, in addition to being absurdly and often wonderfully funny, probably a show that wouldn’t have seen the light of day in the United States five or 10 years ago.
The series, which begins its second and final season on IFC Friday (Jan. 6), is an intricately plotted comedy about an American (David Cross, who also created it) who lies his way into a job in London and finds his life spiraling out of control. It was designed from the start to run for only a handful of episodes. In short, it’s pretty much the antithesis of a show a traditional broadcaster would want to make.
“It’s a very explicit example of a marriage between British and American sensibilities, and I don’t just mean that from a creative standpoint, but from the idea of the show,” Cross tells Zap2it. “It’s finite — it’s got a beginning, a middle and an end — and I don’t think it could have existed had I tried to sell that idea to a network. I don’t think anyone would be interested in 12 episodes of a show that goes away. …
“And I don’t think it could have existed three years ago unless it had taken this exact route, which was we shot the pilot and it aired in the U.K. on Channel 4, and then IFC said, ‘Hey, we like this idea. We want to be a part of it and fund it.’ They knew what they were getting.”
Season 2 opens pretty much where Season 1 closed: With Todd, compulsive liar that he is, having to explain what he was doing at Parliament, why there’s a blood-stained box in his flat and why his supposedly dead father has just showed up. You’ll also see flash-forward scenes in which Todd is apparently a prisoner of the Chinese military and “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm in a recurring part as an employee of Todd’s devious assistant, Dave (Blake Harrison).
That’s a lot of plot to keep straight. Cross says he and co-writers Shaun Pye and Mark Chappell have to keep things very tightly scripted to make sure all those story beats are covered, but they also give the cast (which also includes Will Arnett and Sharon Horgan) room to ad-lib.
“There are certain things the actor has to say — he has to mention the briefcase, he has to mention this thing because we’re going to need it 48 hours from now,” Cross says. “… But the show was cast with an eye toward improvisation, and every single actor was encouraged to improvise once we got everything we needed. There’s quite a bit of riffing in there.”
“Todd Margaret” will end after this season, but Cross hopes he gets to work on similar projects in the future.
“It’s so satisfying to me creatively to tell a story,” he says. “I really don’t think there’s anything quite like it — I mean the format of a serialized story that has flashbacks and flash-forwards and things like that, that is a comedy. Or that is funny — I wouldn’t even call it a comedy as much as something else that happens to be pretty funny along the way. But the story is the paramount thing in it. I would love to be able to do this kind of thing again and not have to worry about what episode 47 is going to look like.”
“The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret” premieres at 10:30 p.m. ET Friday on IFC.