Say this for The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret (Fridays at 10 pm on IFC), David Cross's new show for Channel 4 in England and IFC here: the title is apt. Cross is Todd, a man self-destructing through a series of events arising from a combination of bad luck and his own poor judgment. And though I suspect these six episodes will leave open the possibility of a second series, I don't foresee things ending well for our hero.
Each episode I've seen (IFC sent the first three) opens in medias res, with Todd on trial in England for a series of crimes that include terrorism. We then flash back to see how he's gone from working as an office drone in Portland, Oregon, to his present predicament. It all starts when Todd's abrasive, vulgar boss, Brent Wilts (Will Arnett, who previously worked with Cross on the all-time classic Arrested Development and this fall's disappointing Running Wilde), invests in Thunder Muscle, a toxic Korean energy drink, because he believes (mistakenly) that the English are nuts for the stuff. He taps Todd as his man to send across the pond to head up his UK sales department after overhearing our hero chew someone out in filthy, rude terms.
In reality, Todd is a temp with no sales experience who's probably never been outside of Portland. His profanity-laced tirade was actually being fed to him by a self-help tape; it wasn't targeted at anybody. But Todd, sensing an opportunity, awkwardly perpetuates his own myth by claiming his father was from Leeds (inspiration provided by a stray copy of the Who's landmark Live at Leeds). Brent doesn't question any of this, and soon Todd is bidding farewell to his "girlfriend" (Cross's real-life girlfriend, Amber Tamblyn) — who in fact slept with him once, when she was drunk, and has no recollection of the event — and leaving out two weeks' worth of food for his cat. Once in London, Todd discovers a ludicrous amount of inventory and a sales staff consisting of one guy (Blake Harrison) whose chief function seems to be goading Todd into making an ass of himself. He finds a friendly face in a local barista named Alice (Sharon Horgan), but her kindness is limited (though her obsession with molecular cuisine makes for some amusing references).
In other words, Todd Margaret is a squirmy comedy in the tradition of The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm, where the protagonists have to get out of jams largely of their own devising. As when Todd's English co-worker begins to poke holes in his backstory of spending summers in Leeds. Todd Margaret isn't as funny as either of those shows — we get more chuckles than belly laughs. But it does tweak conventional television set-up-punchline formula by stretching its jokes across multiple episodes. You know that if Todd pretends to have a nut allergy in one episode, there will be a payoff in another.
Cross, who has more range as an actor than he's usually allowed to show on screen (he was an effective Allen Ginsberg in the gonzo Dylan bio-pic I'm Not There), does well with Todd's legitimately sweet moments; he may bring a lot of his troubles on himself, but he's still a good guy. On the other hand, when he's asked to do broader physical comedy — something he was so good at back when he was on Arrested Development and Mr. Show — it doesn't land as well as it might. The slapstick feels out of place in the deadpan setting Cross has created with co-writer Shaun Pye. I'm just hoping Todd gets the ending he deserves.