David Cross on Resurrecting ‘Todd Margaret’ and the Future of ‘Arrested Development’
After reviving Mr. Show and Arrested Development, Cross is back yet again with a practically unrecognizable version of The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.
There wasn’t supposed to be a third season of David Cross’s The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.
“I would even get pissy about it after the hundredth person was like, ‘Hey man, is there going to be any more Todd Margaret?’ And at that point I’d be like, ‘No man, how can there be?’” Cross tells The Daily Beast as he rides the East River Ferry from Manhattan to Brooklyn. “I never had any intention of bringing it back. The story was done.”
Not only was the story “done” but at the end of “series two”—Cross uses the British parlance for seasons as the show originated on the UK’s Channel 4 before getting picked up by IFC stateside—his title character literally blew up the world. It was a pretty definitive period on the show in an age of countless reboots and revivals on television.
Yet somehow, the show is back, with new episodes premiering on IFC Thursday, nearly four years to the day after the previous series began airing in the U.S. And in the process, the title has lost its qualifiers. Now, it’s simply called Todd Margaret.
After the little-seen show was rediscovered by Cross’s fans on Netflix, IFC came calling, asking the creator if he would ever consider pretending that whole end of the world thing didn’t happen. The executives pitched the idea of prequel or maybe even a “zombie post-apocalypse” but Cross immediately shut them down. “I was like, ‘No, I’m not interested in anything like that,’” he says. “But I did say, out of professional courtesy and respect, I will go back to the other writers and see if they have any ideas.”
Ultimately it was Cross’s co-writer Mark Chappell who came up with “the craziest, most fucking brilliant idea I could ever imagine for this project.” After hearing it, Cross quickly called his longtime comedy partner Bob Odenkirk from Mr. Show and W/ Bob & David and told him, “Fuck, I have to do this. I can’t not do this.”
While a four-year gap between seasons may seem interminable for some fans, it is nothing compared to the unusually long breaks that preceded some of Cross’s other recent projects. Seven years elapsed between the end of Arrested Development on Fox in 2006 and its revival on Netflix in 2013. And from the end of Mr. Show on HBO in 1998 to its return as W/ Bob & David, nearly 17 years passed.
“These are three projects that I really, really enjoy doing. I rarely take work that I don’t think I’ll enjoy on some level,” Cross says. “I’m very lucky. Few people get to do that once, I got to do it three times.”
He describes his much-obsessed-over work as Tobias Fünke on Arrested Development as a “paid vacation” and swears that he has no inside scoop on a potential fifth season of that show. “I’m not being cute,” Cross insists. “So far everything I’ve learned has been from the Internet. I know they’re writing them or talking about them, but nobody’s talked to me. I’m dying to do more, they’re really fun.”
In podcast interviews over the past year, executive producer Brian Grazer promised 17 new episodes of Arrested on Netflix and even said that production was slated to begin in January. But all of that was news to Cross, who says his entire 2016, and part of 2017, is already “completely booked.” Showrunner Mitch Hurwitz did some fancy maneuvers to work around the increasingly busy cast members’ schedules for Season Four, but at this rate it does not look like we will see more of the Bluth clan anytime over the next two years.
Busiest of all is the show’s patriarch Jeffrey Tambor, who has been winning countless awards and non-stop critical praise for his role as Maura Pfefferman on Transparent. Cross says he finds Tambor’s performance “amazing,” but added that he doesn’t feel the weight of the show’s transgender themes as much as he thinks he’s “supposed” to. “As good as the acting is, I just have to take a little break,” he says, explaining that he can’t watch too many episodes in a row. “I just don’t care. Because I’m a white cisgender ethnophobic, transmogrifier?”
“I also have to get a glossary because I’m not up on the ways to not label people,” he jokes.
That doesn’t mean Cross has lost the political edge to his comedy, which came to a head shortly after 9/11 when his stand-up act was full of scathing George W. Bush jokes. But while Bush made him angry, Donald Trump just seems to make him sad.
“I find him just a cipher for the sad, ignorant, hateful part of America’s id,” Cross says of Trump. But at the same time, he adds, “I think he’s important. I think it’s really important to see that there’s a fairly large chunk of the American citizenry who are knee-jerk reactionary racist, xenophobic people, who are just misinformed, I think. And seem to have lost their humanity.”
While Trump’s message used to be available only from angry Fox News viewers and the comments section of Breitbart.com, Cross thinks it’s important that they are now out on the open. “They’re having rallies and we get to see and hear them in person,” he says. “And there are thousands, tens of thousands people attending these events.”
“I don’t think he’ll be president of the United States, but it’s important to show that this idea of American exceptionalism is long gone, because that’s not exceptional,” Cross adds. “There’s nothing exceptional about him or his diehard acolytes.”
“What has it been, three years? I’m surprised to see you after that last episode,” 30 Rock’s Jack MacBrayer says in the first episode of Todd Margaret’s third season, playing a character formerly portrayed by Spike Jonze. “You look different,” Cross’s character acknowledges.
“This one is a bit of a mystery and a puzzle you have to figure out,” Cross says of the new series. “And you kind of figure it out along with Todd, what’s happening. And he’s a completely different character, looks different, acts different.”
While the old Todd Margaret was an incompetent, low-level American office worker with a bald head and no facial hair, the Todd we meet in series three has a full head of hair and a goatee, along with a more important position at the fictional company and a whole lot more confidence. Returning to the show are Sharon Horgan, Blake Harrison and Cross’s Arrested Development co-star Will Arnett, each playing bizarro versions of their old characters.
Like the latest season of Arrested, Cross admits that the new episodes “will really not make much sense” to anyone who hasn’t seen what came before. He described fitting those various puzzle pieces together as the “biggest challenge” of his career to date.
Todd Margaret is the type of comedy show that requires ultra-close viewing and careful attention, the kind no one in their right mind would consider giving your average network sitcom. But two decades into his television career, it is the type of consideration Cross has earned.