Just Finished The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret Series 1

I haven’t done any reviews here on UnitedMonkee, but I think Arrested Development is one of the greatest pieces of anything ever. As such, I try to give everything and anything that the people involved in that show make a shot. Sometimes that’s great like Parenthood and sometimes it’s not so great like Will Arnett’s short-lived Running Wilde. It also introduced me to the genius of David Cross who I had seen here and there before but between AD and my much more stand-up savvy friends, I have developed a huge respect for Cross that has gone back to Mr. Show which I’m slowly making my way through on DVD.

Anyway, I had heard about IFC’s The Increasingly Poor Decisions Of Todd Margaret here and there and was excited when it popped up on the NetBox (that’s Netflix Instant on the Xbox, if you’re a newbie). Here’s the deal with the show, David Cross plays Todd Margaret a kind of useless wimp who works for a big company. His boss Will Arnett sends him to England to figure out how to sell Thunder Muscle, an energy drink. He shows up at a huge office that’s empty except for one young man named Dave who likes messing with the slightly pompous Todd. He also happens upon a restaurant run by the lovely Sharon Horgan who he falls for and tries to woo with less success each time. The title of the show, while long and a bit unwieldy, is completely spot on because all the trouble that Cross gets into falls solely on his own shoulders and his inability to tell the truth when backed into a corner.

There’s a really clever device at the beginning of each episode where a beat-up looking Todd sits in an English court with a judge reading off a laundry list of accusations–most of which spawn from the upcoming episode–and a group of lawyers or judges just yelling at him. We then cut back to whatever day we’re dealing with out of 12. It’s a great bit of business because it lets the viewer know that all these wacky events are actually leading up to something relatively big and serious.

If I had to compare Increasingly to any shows, I’d say it’s kind of a mix of the awkwardness of the UK Office or Extras and Louis CK’s Louie with a good dose of fish-out-of-water/arrogant-American-ness mixed in. I don’t compare it to Louie‘s honesty or autobiographic nature, but to the feeling I get that Cross is basically running this show exactly how he wants to.

At the end of the day it’s a fun show steeped in awkwardness that had me laughing and cringing at the same time. Those are jokes that can be hilarious or awful, but Cross and company do a good job of tempering them. I also appreciate that, while the show is a comedy first and foremost, there are also a good deal of mysteries that make me want to see the second series and not just the big one of what happens to Todd. What’s the deal with Dave? He’s clearly more than he seems to be. Also, how did Arnett get swindled? What’s the deal with all that? I’m jazzed to see how the series wraps up and hope to see the last six episodes on NetBox.

Just Finished Portlandia Season 1

Unlike The League, I found myself watching IFC’s Portlandia for a trio of very simple reasons: the show’s been all over the place recently because the second season just started or is starting soon, I like Fred Armisen from Saturday Night Live and the first season is on Netflix Instant. I had no idea what the show was really about and was a bit surprised to discover it’s actually a sketch show with some recurring characters from episode to episode all set in Portland, Oregon which is apparently a pretty hipster-filled place which makes sense, but I guess I hadn’t realized all that was still around.

Armisen’s fellow star is Carrie Brownstein of the band Sleater-Kinney, which I’ve never listened to but know is well respected. Their characters included a couple named Fred and Carrie, a pair of women working in a women’s book store, a reverse gender role couple and plenty of others that pop up including a personal favorite bit where they’re in a hide and seek league. The skits are generally pretty short and are more in the absurd world of comedy, but still real world based enough to not lose site of the kernel of reality they’re trying to send up, most of which revolve around the unintended hypocrisy or ridiculousness of the hipster lifestyle.

In addition to Armisen and Brownstein, there are a good deal of special guest spots like Kyle MacLachlan as Portland’s rad mayor who keeps asking Fred and Carrie to help him do things like start a baseball team and write a city theme song. Aubrey Plaza, Selma Blair, Steve Buscemi and Jason Sudeikis also pop up and had me laughing pretty hard. There’s also a bunch of musicians who appear, many of which I admit I’m mostly ignorant of, but the best of the bunch involve Aimee Mann who is now a cleaning lady after the music industry tanked. She’s working for Fred and Carrie who alternate between geeking out around her and chastising her for her poor cleaning abilities. The sketch also involves Sarah McLachlan doing yard work. Really funny stuff.

The sketches come pretty fast and furious, so I’m being reminded of a ton of guests and skits just by looking at the Wikipedia page right now. I watched the first episode two nights ago before going to bed and then the other five episodes yesterday morning. There’s a lot going on on the show and I think I’d need another viewing or two to really absorb it all. As you’ll find with anything like this, some jokes really landed with me and others didn’t, but overall, I think I’m pretty much always on board for anything that skewers hipsters. Why is that? I actually agree with a lot of hipster ideological, but I think making such a big deal about those ideas gets on my nerves. Just do it and shut up, you know? The dumpster diving sketch really nails that aspect.

So, I definitely recommend giving the show a shot. There’s only six episodes and they’re not very long, so you can burn through them pretty quickly if you’re interested.