Former Atlantan David Cross is a brutally honest comic who isn’t afraid to express his thoughts with equal doses of sarcasm, wit and vitriol.
So it seems ironic that his latest TV project features him starring as Todd Margaret, a nice enough guy who will lie his way into any predicament if he thinks it will make himself look good, without any thought of the consequences. In other words, he’s nothing like Cross.
The show, “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,” is IFC’s first foray into scripted series and debuts Friday at 10 p.m.
In one sense, the show wasn’t Cross’s idea. A British production company approached him in 2007 to star in a program for a U.K. audience but with the potential to “cross over” to the United States. They paired him up with a British writer and producer. He came up with the concept.
“I didn’t have any interest in a show that was simply comic situations around cultural ignorance,” Cross said in an phone interview Monday. “That was boring to all of us.”
The set up is this: Todd Margaret is a hapless temp who ends up getting a job in London to sell energy drinks for a big conglomerate owned by a profanity-spewing CEO played by Will Arnett. (Cross and Arnett were castmates on “Arrested Development” and are also on the same bill on Fox’s current series “Running Wilde.” How do they keep working together? “He owes me money,” Cross joked. “I have to keep a close watch on him.”)
Over the span of six episodes, Todd Margaret indeed follows the show title by making “increasingly poor decisions” that land him in jail. What Cross liked is how he could get away with more than in America content wise. Plus, he didn’t have to focus on “laughs per second.” “It was a matter of creating a story more interesting than simply doing an American sitcom,” he said.
Todd Margaret, for instance, lies to his one employee that he is from Leeds, though it’s obvious to said employee that Todd has never even been there. But Todd keeps the lie up. And he prevaricates to the boss about how well energy drink sales are going, something that will inevitably blow up in his face.
Does the character deserve any sympathy? “I have empathy for him,” Cross said. “I don’t have sympathy. He’s not a bad guy. He’s ignorantly well meaning.”
I made one observation he hadn’t heard before: the show title is a rare one because it includes an adverb. (Go ahead, try to think of another TV series in which an adverb pops up. I can’t!) “My mom was an English major,” Cross mused. “Maybe that’s where it came from. ‘Increasingly’ connotes movement, constant movement.” While removing adverbs seldom hurts a phrase, in this case, the title does in fact becomes inert without “increasingly.”
In Britain, it will air on Channel 4, a network that is sort of like HBO meets FX, he said, with no advertiser pressure. IFC, like a lot of cable networks, runs primarily recycled content such as old episodes of “Arrested Development.” A few years ago, it started dabbling in original content, mostly cheaper reality programs.
The Cross show is a modest initial entry into scripted fare. “It remains to be seen what IFC morphs into,” Cross said. “They’ve commissioned four or five different shows.”
I had a bunch more questions to ask Cross but only had 15 minutes. So this was my last question:
Me: You’re the only celebrity I’ve ever interviewed from Atlanta who has actively expressed dislike of Atlanta. [Check out my entry from October, 2009] I love you for your honesty. What would Todd say about Atlanta if he was from here?
Cross: He’d say he was glad to see all the cool, quirky characteristics of Atlanta get chopped down to make way for more Petcos and Bed, Baths and Beyonds. He’d be thrilled by that. He’d be excited that the city is losing its character to court more big business.
Me: Have you been back here lately?
Cross: I have family there. I get down there twice a year. I do like aspects of Atlanta. It’s heartbreaking some of the stuff that has happened though. The things I don’t like make me particularly sad.
You can watch the pilot on Hulu until Thursday. Here’s the trailer:
“The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,” IFC, debuting Friday at 10 p.m.