Deciding on David Cross

Friday’s return of "Todd Margaret" promises more of the most effective cringe-worthy TV comedy since Ricky Gervais opened "The Office."

It's been 15 months since the first six-episode season of David Cross's cringe-comedy "The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret" debuted on IFC – and it's taken us nearly that long to get through the two-plus hours of material.

That's high praise: We haven't spent that much time hitting the pause button during a show we enjoy since Ricky Gervais' brilliant original version of "The Office" ended nearly a decade ago.

Like "The Office," Cross’ show is a comedy of the uncomfortable set in the UK, built around an achingly clueless protagonist who makes bad choices.

We’ve seen Gervais’ influence in Steve Carell's more likeable “Office” boss, and have felt his impact in a wave of TV comedies built to make us squirm – among them, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Louie" and "The Sarah Silverman Program." But Cross has succeeded in taking the form to new heights – or depths – making watching Season 2 of "Todd Margaret," which begins Friday, our inevitable decision.

For the uninitiated, Margaret is a moronic office temp from Portland who is inexplicably tapped by his cruel and foul boss (Will Arnett, in a role he was born to play) to market Thunder Muscle – an apparently weapons grade-toxic energy drink – in the UK.

Margaret shares cases of the beverage in a surreally long-and-narrow warehouse office with his assistant Dave (Blake Harrison), who exploits his ignorance of British culture and general foolishness – foiling his business dealings, setting him up for an Internet child porn rap and helping mire him in an apparent terror plot.

Margaret doesn’t help his cause by piling himself under silly and needless lies – his father recently died, he's originally from Leeds, he has an apartment in the Houses of Parliament. What most stretches credulity, though, is that a pretty café owner (Sharon Horgan) likes him – or at least pities him.

Cross, who shined (in blue) as the bizarre never-nude Tobias Funke in "Arrested Development," gives a gutsy performance in “Todd Margaret.” The character is more pathetic than likable – getting the audience to root for him doesn't seem to be the intent. You cringe not because of any empathetic connection to Margaret, but because the largely self-induced disintegration of a human being is hard to watch, even amid moments of hilarity (his disruption of Britain’s equivalent of a Memorial Day parade may be our favorite Season 1 moment).

Last we saw, Margaret’s lies started to unravel, even as it became apparent that he and his crude boss are pawns in a big conspiracy. He’s edging closer to the courtroom scene that starts each episode before flashing back into a new comic exercise in humiliation.

Like Gervais, who kept his version of “The Office” to a dozen shows and a special, Cross is bowing out after this season – which gives us a lifetime to get through the new episodes. In the meantime, check out a recap of the first season, done as a parody of the Taiwanese animated news parodies:

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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