"England and America: two countries separated by a common language", to paraphrase George Bernard Shaw. I've always been fascinated by the so-called "special relationship" that exists between Britain and its former colony, particularly in how each country perceives the other. There's great potential for fish-out-of-water comedy and culture clash hijinks by dumping a hapless Yank in London, to watch him struggle with the people, customs and British attitude. So why does this comedy fail to hit the mark? The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret started life as an installment of Channel 4's "Comedy Showcase" in November 2009, later picked up for a six-part series (recently broadcast on IFC in the US) and making its UK debut on More4 last night. This first episode, "In Which Claims Are Made And A Journey Ensues", is nearly identical to the original pilot, with a few cuts (goodbye Matt King's cabbie), new scenes (hello bowl of tuna), and the recasting of Russell Tovey with Blake Harrison from The Inbetweeners. But for all the alterations, it's essentially the same half-hour, retelling the story in a tighter manner. Todd Margaret (David Cross) is an unexceptional American office drone working for a coarse boss (Will Arnett), who overhears him using self-help audio-tapes and mistakes Todd's assertiveness as his real temperament. Todd is consequently given a highly paid job overseas, managing the company's satellite office in London, where he's to sell the UK a new Korean energy drink called "Thunder Muscle". Arriving in England, Todd meets sweet Irish café owner Alice (Sharon Horgan) after burning his hand on a jam jar, has his luggage blown up by a bomb disposal expert (Kayvan Novak), and realizes his office is an empty husk with only one employee: cheery but ineffectual Dave (Harrison). This show is clearly aiming for the "cringe comedy" that The Office has popularized in the past decade, while relishing the opportunity to mix American and British comedy styles. The series is co-written by Cross (an admitted Anglophile) and Shaun Pye (a prolific English comedy writer), but somehow their talents don't blend very well. It's a very blotchy episode, with "set-pieces" that underwhelm (hot jam jar), appear out of nowhere (the ridiculous bomb disposal), or don't work and quickly become irritating (Todd's mental breakdown after gulping down three cans of his Far East soda). The format's the most interesting thing about this show (even if it's not so clear what the format is here); but, each episode opens a few weeks in the future, with Todd in court charged with various crimes, before the action jumps back in time, steadily explaining how Todd arrives at that point. It's a fun way to keep you engaged with the story, as every installment tightens the noose on Todd's fate. But for me, there's an unshakeable feeling Todd Margaret's a very run of the mill comedy, belying its impressive cast and international DNA. David Cross is likeable as Todd, but hardly a compelling or hilarious figure, as he just stumbles around from one awkward situation to the next. Blake Harrison is a definite improvement over Tovey, simply because he has a less abrasive presence and infuses Dave with the puppy dog likeability he employs with Neil in The Inbetweeners. The role is hardly a stretch for Harrison, but he hits the right notes, and the best moment of this episode is undoubtedly a simple scene where Dave questions Todd's lies about spending the summers of his childhood in Leeds. Overall, The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret is as ungainly as its title, offering no real insight into the modern-day Anglo-American relationship, and contentedly delivering limp comedy moments that could only elicit wry smiles (at best). I giggled once or twice, but nothing about the characters grabbed my deeper interest, the premise doesn't feel worth investing time in, and it just felt rather choppy and dull.
WRITER: Shaun Pye & David Cross DIRECTOR: Alex Hardcastle CAST: David Cross, Blake Harrison, Sharon Horgan, Will Arnett & Spike Jonze TRANSMISSION: 14 November 2010, More4, 10.40PMBlog: Dan's Media DigestTwitter: @danowen79