For most TV shows, cancellation is usually the equivalent of a guillotine separating its head from its neck. For David Cross, it’s the start of a ticking clock until, like Lazarus, his projects keep rising from the pit of cancellation to make us laugh all over again. Twenty years after it went off the air, Mr. Show with Bob and David was reborn as a four-episode limited series on Netflix. Likewise, Netflix revived Arrested Development for a fourth season, on which Cross plays Dr. Tobias Fünke, and reportedly has a fifth season in the works. Now, IFC has ordered a third season of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, in which Cross plays the eponymous character, a dimwitted salesman whose pathological lying lands him in, as the title would suggest, increasingly hot water.
To say that a third season of Todd Margaret is surprising is the understatement of the year. After all, the second season ended with Todd instigating a nuclear holocaust. Kind of difficult to raise the stakes much further after that without venturing into full-on Fallout or sci-fi territory. Familiar faces like Will Arnett and Sharon Horgan will return, joined by new ones like Jack McBrayer. But the question remains: how did Todd Margaret survive the apocalypse? To get the answers, I spoke with David Cross himself over the phone.
As it turns out, the person who was most surprised to see The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret return was Cross himself. “Well, I was quite happy with it,” he said. “I never thought about bringing it back.” But as was the case with shows like Arrested Development and Mr. Show, it found a cult audience through home video and streaming platforms. “It came out on IFC, and I don’t think it made much of an impression, but a lot of people discovered it [through Netflix] and told people to watch it,” he explained. Evidently it was enough for IFC to approach him several years later about doing a new series.
But Cross wasn’t about to make another season for the sake of making another season. When they first asked him, he was stunned. “No, how can I possibly do that?” he asked. After rejecting plans to set it in a “post-apocalyptic zombie world” and ideas of that ilk, he reached out to two of the London-based writers to see if they had any ideas. As it turns out, one of them — Mark Chappell — had an idea that was so crazy, it just might work. “[Chappell] came back pretty quickly with an idea that was so cool that I felt like I had to do it and put everything else on hold,” Cross said. “So I went and did it. And that’s what it is.”
The finale of season 2
This season will see a remarkably different version of the Todd Margaret that we’ve seen fumble and bumble his way through the business world, dating, and British culture over the past two seasons. First and foremost he has a bitchin’ new haircut. He’s also much more akin to alpha male businessman Brent Wilts (Will Arnett) than the milquetoast we watched in all his cringe-inducing glory.
So, is it more fun to finally be able to play the other side of the Todd Margaret-shaped coin? “If [the other Todd] didn’t exist, would this [version] be that enjoyable? Probably not,” Cross said. “I’d just be able to have that prior established buffoon character to play off of and sort of start getting closer to. That was fun, because it starts off completely different. Much more cocksure and arrogant and brusque and savvier for sure. And then start slowly becoming that initial character, that was fun. As an actor, it’s really fun. I got to wear more comfortable clothes, so that’s cool.”
Even more difficult than coming up with a compelling narrative reason to revive the IFC series was actually making the show itself. The production was, in Cross’s own words, “quite literally the most difficult production [he has] ever been a part of.” And these weren’t just usual logistical and scheduling issues either. “Everything that could go wrong, went wrong, and not in a fun, good way,” said Cross. “We lost locations at the last minute. We lost an actor five days before we were supposed to start shooting,” who was “a very important part [of the production] and triggered a really important scene, and the thing that happens to Todd, that furthers to story in a major way. He dropped out and it was a nightmare.”
As a result, Cross and the writers had to spend the entire weekend after a week of filming to figure out how to correct the narrative’s course. “What you call a thread in this kind of storytelling, you pull one thread and it just unravels all these others,” Cross explained. “It creates a domino effect, and it affects all these other things.” They stayed up for what “felt like 72 hours straight,” taking few breaks in between, as they worked backwards through the story in an effort to find a suitable replacement.
And that was just the tip of the iceberg. Losing pivotal locations proved to be a nightmarish experience, too. In past years, they were allowed to film in the Courts of Justice, where the original heart of Parliament was situated, but they were prohibited this time around because of another film crew. “Some film crew was in there — and it was an American film crew, of course–and they boldly disrespected it,” Cross revealed. “Now there’s no more shooting, and people didn’t want us to shoot there. For years and years and years we shot there, and then some frickin’ American asshole goes in there and disrespects it…and now they’re like, ‘Nobody can shoot there.’ We lost that and lost a bunch of places that were imploded and razed, so they no longer existed. It was really difficult.”
So, after overcoming many logistical hurdles, is Cross prouder of this season than past iterations? “Maybe in a way, but I don’t like doing that,” he said. “Nobody cares to hear that. I said I would just shut up and enjoy it on its own level.” After assuring him that I wasn’t asking him to rank-order the series, he confessed, “To be truthful, knowing how many obstacles there were, I think I’m quite happy with how it turned out.” After seeing the first few episodes of the season, I’m more than inclined to agree.
After hearing how treacherous making this third season of Todd Margaret was, I couldn’t help but wonder if there was a fourth season on the horizon. Cross was quick to answer: “No. The door’s been shut, sealed, the entire room has been encased in concrete and sunk into the ocean.” That sounds pretty definitive to me. After all, surviving one nuclear apocalypse was plenty.
But with the production of Mr. Show and Todd Margaret in his rearview mirror, Cross isn’t resting on his laurels. The veteran comedian is embarking on a nationwide stand-up comedy tour entitled Making America Great Again, which kicks off in San Diego on January 26. With a title like that, I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not he was doing it to actively mess with Donald Trump’s Google searches.
“You know, the tour name just occurred to me,” Cross explained. “I was trying to think of a tour name, and they were all so cute and punny and precious and I could not think of one. Time was running out and then it just kind of hit me. It’s kind of obvious; it’s not like I’m spending a lot of time on politics. I probably spend less than 15% talking about that stuff. It’s such a meaningless platitude type of title or slogan for a campaign, it just seemed to fit perfectly, because it doesn’t mean anything. My other titles are just getting a little too precious, esoteric, so I’m happy I came up with that one. But it doesn’t mean I’m going to be up there doing an hour on politics and stuff. I never do that. The title is what it is, it’s just easy.”
As it turns out, Cross has had a stand-up tour in the works for a while, and he devised the new hour-long set while recuperating after undergoing shoulder surgery. “My arm was immobile for a couple months and then there’s a pretty extensive physical therapy [component], and it meant I couldn’t take other projects and I had to stay in one place,” said Cross. “So I was like, ‘Oh, I’ll get another tour together and I’ll put an hour together and go on tour.’ I’ve been meaning to do it. I was so busy with all these other projects, I finally got the opportunity.”
The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret airs Thursdays on IFC at 10/9c.