Note: Chris Longo wrote this story long ago, dashed it away under his bed and only now, to commemorate the closing of the 2014 Winter Olympics, is he revealing it to the general public.
I remember my first run-in with British police like it was yesterday.
It was the final day of my study abroad experience in London during the 2012 Olympics and I had tickets to see the gold medal round of boxing with my friend Danny. We spent the night before at our favorite drinking spots in the London suburb of Guildford, celebrating a successful stay in Great Britain with our classmates. When the morning came, we needed to trade recovery time for a hurried dash for the next train if we wanted to make it to the boxing match on time.
Before we even left our flat, Danny and I discussed whether the thrill of attending our fourth and final Olympic event was eclipsed by our desire to crawl back into our beds and never see the light of day. We knew sleeping in wasn’t really an option since we might never have the chance to be at the Olympics, or be in London again, so we splashed some cold water on our faces and caught the next train into Waterloo station.
One train, two transfers on the London Underground later and a solid hour of pretending our blistering headaches were an early-morning daydream, we arrived at the site of the arena. The sun was just reaching its peak as the early afternoon clouds vanished into the background of the London sky. I knew it was a pretty sight but I kept my head down to avoid the glare of sunlight dancing off the calm waters of the Royal Victoria Dock. It was the only day of my extended stay in London that I chose to not wear sunglasses.
The entire walk along the dock we contemplated turning around before we decided it might be in our best interest to get as close as possible to ExCel London, the site of Olympic boxing, and see if we could resell the tickets for a substantial profit. As we reached the perimeter of the arena, I proceeded to tell anyone draped in their country’s flag that I had tickets available. The bystanders around the arena either seemed uninterested or already satisfied with their tickets in hand. That was until a slender woman in an elegant white dress, dolled up like one of those real housewives reality stars, asked us if we were selling tickets and signaled to her husband to come give us an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Not long after I left London I decided my Arrested Development fandom meant I had a duty to watch The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret on Netflix. David Cross, standup circuit veteran and the genius behind one of TV’s most beloved supporting characters, created a teleplay to chronicle how easy it is to display a level of negligence that could get you in a host of trouble while in a foreign land.
The show, which aired on IFC, tracks the follies of Todd Margaret (David Cross), a temp at a Portland-based company. Todd is summoned to run the satellite office for an energy drink company in London, as commissioned by Brent Wilts (Will Arnett), a “boss” who has no real authority at all. With nothing to leave behind, Todd sets his sights on London and quickly makes a name for himself in an adopted land by lying to mask his insecurities and lacking the brainpower to overcome his gullible nature. Each episode starts with Todd sitting in a courtroom as a judge reads a list of charges the British government has brought against him before the episode flashes back to the days before the trial.
I can assure you I didn’t run up a laundry list of charges like “funding a terrorist organization,” “possession of biological weapons,” “espionage,” “forgery” or “unnecessary public nudity.” But while in London I nearly made the most costly mistake of my life by borrowing a page from Todd Margaret and leaving my brain back in the states for a few hours.
The woman flicked her straitened black hair over her shoulder as she tried to explain in broken English that she wanted to see a fighter from her home country of Mongolia and was willing to pay more than triple face value to do so. She signaled again to her husband, who approached with no discretion, eyes hidden behind high-end aviators while flaunting just the acceptable amount of chest hair in a blue and white checkered button-down. He briefly glanced over the tickets and reached into his pocket, pushing his spotless golden wristwatch up his forearm. The outcome of our afternoon was now in the hands of some visibly wealthy Mongolians.
“Good seats?” he questioned.
“The best,” I instantly shot back without a clue of knowing the correct answer.
The hangover was blocking my brain from computing what was going on. I was going about the whole situation like it occurred multiple times in my life. These Mongolians were dressed to the nines , and were willing to pay a stack of British notes equivalent to nearly nine hundred US dollars for boxing tickets. How lucky were we that a Mongolian fighter was going for gold? Have I ever met a Mongolian before? What were the odds? At the time the only thing I could focus on was the math. It added up to sweet visions of a shopping spree in central London, steak dinners and maybe even a few fat, expensive cigars. Who knew, with that much money and one day to spend it, the possibilities were excessive and limitless, like only Americans could imagine. The American Dream!
I’m no mathematician but the numbers sounded too good to be true. The Mongolian man pulled out his wallet and quickly shuffled through the bills. He neatly folded the stack of British notes and asked me if it was enough. My eyes were as vast as the Atlantic for the three seconds I flipped through the cash wad.
I was never a fast counter. One hundred, two hundred, three hundred, I slowly, and silently counted. Then my view was interrupted. I lost count. A silver badge was flashed in my face, casting a shadow over the pounds and sending a whirlwind of emptiness into the pit of my stomach. An undercover cop took the money from my hand, the tickets from the Mongolian and suddenly it was all way too good to be true.
Netflix has given us the gift of Todd Margaret and we should take advantage before this opportunity slips away. In interviews prior to the show’s premiere, Cross talked about having a set beginning and end to the series and needing to “flesh” out the middle. Cross got both of those right when originally coming up with the idea for the show.
Todd Margaret’s premise is fresh – playing perfectly into binge-watch format that saw Arrested Development’s season four get mixed reviews. Where Arrested Development takes 15 episodes to find an end, Todd Margaret locks you in for this ride that you know has an end point, a grandiose one at that.
The opening scene of each episode lets know that Cross is building toward Todd’s eventual downfall in Great Britain, which is a compelling storyline based on the character’s serious knack for creating his own misfortunes. Todd is the byproduct of Cross’s most well-known roles, blending the shallow, dimwittedness of Tobias Funke with the absurdist humor of some of the characters he portrayed on the HBO sketch comedy series Mr. Show with Bob and Dave. He’s not a lovable slacker on a wild adventure that we can sink our teeth into, rather he’s perpetually overlooked and has never really amounted, or aspired to amount to anything.
What makes the show compelling isn’t so much that Todd Margaret can carry an episode with his dialogue, but that Cross throws his American goofball into London, a town that has no qualms about telling a tourist what behavior is and isn’t acceptable, and into a situation that seems promising on the outside but in reality is a predetermined failure.
Neglecting to check or regard the rules of a foreign land and thinking like a hungover, entitled American, I was now detained outside of the arena by a towering policeman outfitted in all black. His face was unmoving like some kind of soulless robot. He spoke with a stern, intimidating tone, which felt more appropriate for a terrorist detainee than a student studying abroad. Danny stood to about ten feet to my right but it felt like he was miles away. He was explaining to another officer that scalping is legal in America and we foolishly had no idea we couldn’t do it here.
After looking at my passport, the officer radioed in my name and told me that he was watching me the entire time because I asked him if he wanted to buy tickets just five minutes earlier. I set myself up.
“Do you have any idea what the penalty for illegally scalping tickets is?” the officer said.
He didn’t wait for me to say no before answering his own question.
“50,000 pounds or five years in prison.”
My heart wasn’t thumping out of my chest. I wasn’t about to breakdown and cry. I just stood there, defeated.
“Dude,” I mumbled out of the side of my mouth and paused for dramatic effect. There could have been hidden cameras for the American/British reality drama “Locked Up Abroad” somewhere.
“My mom is going to be pissed.”
Todd is a character you feel bad for but you know you really shouldn’t. Let’s call it the Tony Soprano complex (May the late James Gandolfini RIP). Though Todd isn’t a New Jersey mob boss or some kind of terrorist mastermind that he’s mistakenly made out to be, he gives you that little reason to pull for him after a number of asinine mistakes. That dynamic, much like The Sopranos did long ago, keeps viewers coming back.
While this is an underlying reason to emotionally invest in the series, the real value in Todd Margaret comes from the show’s ability to use Todd and Brent as an embodiment of the stereotypes that most foreigners envision of Americans who travel abroad. Some of the best scenes come from the Brits that openly mock the worst team in the history of the energy drink business.
The supporting cast, with Brits Blake Harrison as Dave and Sharon Horgan as Alice, is brilliant, particularly in the second season when they become the keys to understanding the bigger picture of the series. Both Harrison and Horgan play along with Cross and Arnet exceptionally well, and at times they find new ways to liven up set pieces when it feels like Todd’s appeal is starting to wear thin.
I don’t want to sound like a complete homer for the show. Todd Margaret isn’t perfect. At times it’s predictable and immature, but each episode moves you enough to want to see what madness Todd could devise next.
After standing with RoboCop for an eternity, the other officer signaled for us to come over to the original spot where the illegal transaction went down. He told us to sit on a stone wall while they huddled to discuss what the next course of action would be. We didn’t say anything to each other, fearful that we’d be cuffed, shipped off to a jail in the English countryside and without saying, expelled from school. This might be the worst way to become a criminal, I thought to myself, as looked off into the distance only to spot the Mongolians, who were carrying on with their ticket search as if the cops didn’t just snag about $900 from them.
After a brief debate, the officer that questioned Danny approached us as RoboCop stood in the background. Clearly playing Mr. Good Cop, he asked me in a gentile tone if I was enjoying my stay in London before telling us we had two options.
“You can either give the tickets away,” he said. I thought he was fucking with me.
“Or you can take the tickets, go into the arena and have a good time.”
He was fucking with me, right? He was going to dangle me over the edge of an international nightmare only to pull me back and allow me to carry on as if nothing happened?
Danny and I share this look of elation, confusion and well, whatever it was we were on the exact same page. The officer gave us no explaination on why he was letting us off. We took the tickets and walked on in, dumbfounded in the best possible way.
Somewhere in my head, Al Michaels was behind a microphone uttering the most famous call in Olympic history over and over: “Do you believe in miracles?”
Now I do, Al Michaels. Now I do .
Before Todd leaves our screens forever, there’s a “did that really just happen?” moment not too far off from when Danny and I walked to the gate of the arena as free men and looked at each other like we went through some out of body experience.
The “fleshing out” part proved to be the hardest for Cross as Todd Margaret ends with a slew of unanswered questions. For a show that’s unorganized chaos from the start, Cross didn’t have a way of tying everything together, so he just lets some of the loose ends stay loose. Maybe the series could have benefited from another episode to sort things out, but the ending was satisfying to me in that it wasn’t about pilling on the misfortunes of a lovable loser, but teaching an incompetent or stubborn American a lesson.
Whether it’s Todd Margaret, who we find out is rude to a Brit in a bar to start his adventure, or a British cop giving me a scare before letting me move along without penalty, sometimes it’s better to move on after things end and not dwell on how you got there .
It should be common courtesy for a television series, like any good tourist, to figure out when it has overstayed its welcome. For Cross, he kept Todd Margaret in Britain just long enough to be a cult classic and left before anyone started to wonder whether the trip was worth all the trouble in the first place.
 Who knew Mongolians were so wealthy? Or at least these ones were. Hell, I know nothing about Mongolia.
 When he did enter the arena we spotted the Mongolians cheering on their beloved fighter in seats that were way closer than ours. They successfully gave away all those pounds to some other lucky bastard. If we did get the money, our shopping spree was going to be at River Island.
 As Danny wrote here, it was one of the most exciting sporting events I’ve ever witnessed in person. Yet the “happy I didn’t miss it” didn’t quite outweigh the “wish I walked away with that fat stack of bills.”
I told the officer that we would take the tickets and that my mom would send him a Christmas card to thank for him understanding our situation.
 When you finish watching the series, come back to this and I swear that sentence will make more sense.