In 10 Words or Less
David Cross' funny yet cautionary tale of lies
Loves: David Cross, unique sitcoms
Hates: Cheering for losers, bullies, ham farts
Lying is such a unique part of human life, because it is so varied in its existence. You can lie for good reasons and you can lie for bad reasons. Some people can lie constantly without ever being found out, while others can barely get a fib out of their mouth before getting discovered. There are those who lie with purpose and those who can't help but lie. No matter the origin though, lying is intrinsically interesting because it's a work of fiction and it has a definite effect. That's why it's fascinating to observe a pathological liar like Todd Margaret (David Cross), the star/writer of this cross-Atlantic production, co-written with Shaun Pye (Extras) and directed by Alex Hardcastle (Parks and Recreation, The Office.) First met as a defendant in a British courtroom, accused of heinous crimes, Todd's path to this point is revealed over the course of six episodes.
A small-time loser plucked by his rage-aholic boss Brent (Will Arnett) and sent to London to head up foreign sales of the company's sure-to-fail energy drink, Todd seems unable to not lie, even if there's no benefit in telling the lie, and no chance his lie won't be detected. With the task in front of him though, lying is his only option, as the energy drink is basically illegal, not to mention repellent and toxic. While lying may be his only chance to succeed professionally, it's bound to ruin his personal life, as he'd like to get together with Alice (Sharon Horgan), the only person to show him any kindness (on either side of the pond) but he can't tell her the truth. The lies compound and he gets caught up in more and more trouble, occasionally through no fault of his own, but often from those increasingly poor decisions that give the show its name.
While some of the fiascoes he finds himself embroiled in are a tad ridiculous and overly convenient, including acts of international terrorism, interpersonal terrorism and simple domestic terrorism, after a while it becomes increasingly believable that perhaps some sort of instant karma might strike someone who just can't tell the truth. The joy of watching Todd get caught in a lie and try to lie his way out of it does suffer a bit from diminishing returns though, as there are only so many ways to stammer out of a situation. Thankfully, the hilarious chaos of the situations takes over from the lies over time, exploding when Arnett and Cross start sharing the screen, and the genuine appeal of the story becomes far more important.
Cross is great fun and quite good as Todd, a role that requires him to be both a complete loser and someone worthy of at least pity, if not some sympathy. As he's well-practiced at playing jerks, the loser part was covered but he's surprisingly convincing as a pathetic creature whose world is collapsing around him. Part of why it works so well might be Horgan's work as Alice, as it's hard to question why you would feel for this guy if this warm-hearted woman cares at all about him. Also having Arnett, owner of one of the best angry voices in entertainment, yelling at him is bound to engender some goodwill. The rest of the cast is tremendous as well, from Blake Harrison, as Todd's mischievous assistant Dave, and Colin Salmon (Alice's manly ex Hudson) to Sarah Pascoe, playing Todd's chav neighbor Pam, and Spike Jonze, who steals every scene he's in as weaselly Doug. It's marvelous to see even small roles get memorable performances, as anyone who didn't know Steve Davis before can attest to. (Also look for the tiniest, don't-blink, why-is-she-in-this? cameo by Kristen Schaal.)
One of the things that's most interesting about the series is the intriguing sub-storyline that slowly unfurls over the course of the season, beneath the surface tale of Todd's struggles, one that is told pretty impressively for a comedy show, dropping hints along the way instead of just making the plot obvious. It's appreciated that the story is paced the way it is, rewarding intelligence by not pointing to jokes or important elements with giant neon arrows. This is a bit of a problem though when a major hint is dropped late in the game and the season ends without a real payoff in terms of what exactly is going on, but with the show returning for a second season in January, there is hope for some satisfaction. Don't let that stop you from giving this series a look though.
The six episodes in the first season of Todd Margaret are presented on one DVD, which is packed in a standard keepcase. The disc has mildly animated menus with options to watch all the episodes, select shows, adjust languages and check out the extras. The best thing here is choosing each episode, as a hilarious sound clip from each one plays (though they aren't truly hilarious until you watch the episodes.) There are no audio options, but subtitles are available in English SDH.
This was a low-budget production, and the look of the anamorphic-widescreen episodes shows that. While the color is muted, though appropriate, the image is a touch soft, leaving the level of fine detail less than desirable. However, there are no issues with digital distractions. Oddly though, there's a flickering black line just below the top of the frame throughout the sixth episode that is hugely annoying once you notice it.
The episodes are presented with Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks that reproduce the sound of the show nicely, reflecting the show's lo-fi finances with basic mixes that are center-focused. There are no issues with the clarity of the dialogue, and the show sounds appropriate. It's certainly not going to turn any heads though.
The main extra is the group of seven commentaries, featuring Cross and two groups of participants, one with writer Shaun Pye and producer Michael Livingstone (Ep. 1, 3-5) and the other featuring Arnett and director Alex Hardcastle (Ep. 2, 5-6), with episode five getting two commentaries, one with each group. These are entertaining, with plenty of joking, especially between Cross and Arnett, but also a lot of detail about the show's production and story, including notes about the show's budget and hints about where the plot's going. Most interestingly, Cross is none-too-pleasant toward IFC at several points, making for one of the more candid commentaries to make it to disc.
A extended cut of the first episode is included, which has a few bits that should have been included in the show that aired, right from the top with a great voiceover gag. After that, there's a number of featurettes, starting with the 27-minute "An Act of Todd," which serves as a behind-the-scenes overview of the series, covering almost everything in the show. It's done with a real sense of humor, with lots of fun bits throughout. There more in-depth info from the cast and crew in the nearly 30-minute (and well-titled) "Q&A with Cast and Crew." It probably doesn't need to be said, but this shouldn't be viewed until after watching the series, as it is nothing but spoilers, as every major plot point and character element is discussed in detail in talking-head interviews with the folks behind the show. But make sure you watch it to catch the black pudding story, among other fun tales.
"In Remembrance of the Late David Cross" (10:26) focuses on the star of the show and what he brought to the series, with a litany of platitudes from his castmates and some of the crew. It's followed by the four-minute "DVD Extras Extra," a reel of bloopers from on the set and during the featurette interviews, while there's more goofiness in the nine-minute production bloopers reel, including a few screw-ups that made me laugh out loud and some fine improv by Pascoe.
The extras wrap with nearly 11 minutes of deleted scenes, though they are better labeled extended scenes, as they are just segments that aired with some additional gags included, seemingly pulling the added time from improv runs, which are actually pretty funny.
The Bottom Line
An excellent blend of American and British comedy styles, Todd Margaret mixes absurdity and awkwardness into a distinctly unique, funny and well-told story of what happens when one gets trapped in a web of lies. Though the level of quality isn't particularly inspiring, the extras are deep and enjoyable, making this a must-see for fans of Cross and Arnett's work on Arrested Development or anyone who enjoys a little dry British humor mixed with their absurdist comedy.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or his convention blog called Conning Fellow
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.