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DVD review: ‘The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret: Season 1’

Dennis King Published: February 16, 2012

Any rogue’s gallery of cable TV misanthropes has to be headed by Larry David (HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). But giving “Seinfeld” co-creator David a good run for his money when it comes to hapless, cringe-worthy crankiness is the schlubby, chrome-domed David Cross in IFC’s “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.”

This smart, low-budget, American-British series occupies the envious spot on the IFC schedule behind the brilliant hipster spoof “Portlandia” and certainly benefits from the pop-culture cognizance of that show’s devoted audience.

“Todd Margaret: Season 1,” whose six half-hour episodes are now out on DVD, showcases Cross’s peculiar brand of absurdist nerdiness in the role of pathological liar Margaret, a bland cubicle drone who is randomly plucked by his high-rolling, rage-aholic boss Brent (Will Arnett) to head up the London sales office for a new energy drink, Thundermuscle, that’s not only illegal but possibly toxic.

Utterly clueless about everything – sales, standard business practices, energy drinks, British customs, London topography, social cues, common sense – Margaret blusters his way through every conceivable situation, with the bemused aid of his mischievous Brit assistant Dave (Blake Harrison) and the curiously sympathetic encouragement of the lovely chef-restaurateur Alice (an appealing Sharon Horgan).

Whenever Margaret is faced with a dilemma or is backed into a corner, his natural instinct is to lie. Much of the hilarity of the series arises from Margaret getting caught in a lie and then boldly upping the ante – building lie atop lie atop lie, with increasingly chaotic results.

Cross, who shares writing credit with Shaun Pye (“Extras”) and Mark Chappell, is a former stand-up comic who first came to fame on HBO’s sketch comedy series “Mr. Show” and appeared along with Arnett in the popular Fox sitcom “Arrested Development.” His stand-up origins seem to invest his work with a kind of surfing-on-the-edge dedication to milking every situation for maximum absurdity.

As the “Todd Margaret’s” creator, Cross has smartly surrounded himself with a top-shelf cast of supporting players and cool cameo actors. Along with very busy Arnett (also currently on NBC’s “Up All Night), a master of comic snarkiness, the series features periodic appearances by game “Mad Men” hunk John Hamm, iconic “West Side Story” gangbanger Russ Tamblyn and cutting-edge film director Spike Jonze (“Being John Malkovich”).

Besides the six original episodes, DVD release includes a bundle of extras, including commentaries by Cross and other cast members, an extended cut of the first episode, several featurettes (in-depth interviews with key players, behind the scenes footage), a reel of bloopers, deleted scenes and a profile of the show’s star and creator titled, “In Remembrance of the Late David Cross.”

- Dennis King