David Cross’s very funny series, “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,” returns to IFC on Jan. 7 after a three year hiatus. The second season ended with the end of the world (literally), so the 51-year-old comedian had some serious storyboarding to do before bringing his show back to network TV. He’ll be in Boston on March 27 for his “Making America Great Again!” tour at the Wilbur,his first stand-up tour in six years.
We caught up with the one-time Emerson student before his show premieres Thursday.
Season 2 of this show ended with Todd Margaret blowing up the entire world. How do you go about reviving a show that literally ended with the apocalypse?
The short answer is, I didn’t. I had no intention of revisiting the show. It felt complete. I thought we’d done a really good job there, and told the story from beginning to end just the way we had meant to.Then IFC poked me about doing a third series and I said “No no no no no no no, but out of common courtesy and professionalism, I will approach the other writers and see if there’s any ideas that they have, because I can’t think of one.”
Within an hour, Mark Chappell wrote up this amazing idea that was so good that I stood there going “Shit. I’ve got to do this again. I’m going to have to do this. I’m going to have to go back to London for another nine months and be away from friends and family and my dog and my house.” That’s how good the idea was.
To what degree will viewers be lost watching Season 3 if they missed Seasons 1 and 2? Is it the kind of show with plot points to keep track of?
No, not really.Here’s the difference: If you go to the Museum of Modern Art, and you’re looking at some big painting, like a Mark Rothko or a Jackson Pollock, something that is just non-linear and abstract, you might look at it and go, “Huh, that’s kind of interesting, I guess,” and then you walk away. The difference between that experience and looking at that piece with someone pointing out what’s interesting about this painting [is that] you walk away with a greater appreciation of it [with context.]
Both people who viewed the painting enjoyed it, but one person is going to enjoy it on a much deeper level. And I would say, that would be equally true of someone who watches Season 3 without seeing the first two seasons.
On the show, Todd Margaret is portrayed as a nearly pathological liar. Are you much of a liar? And, if yes, can you remember the best — or worst — lie you ever told?
I’m sure the last lie I told was something like, “Oh, yeah, I enjoyed it. Really good show!” or something to that effect, but I am a terrible liar. I get sweaty and I kind of get outside myself and I can see how the person is looking at me and I feel like I’m giving off a million tells and everyone can see I’m lying.
That’s really interesting to me because some of the most famous characters you portray are extraordinary for their lack of self-consciousness. Is there something in that tension that is especially comic for you, in terms of your performances?
Yeah, the difference between me and my characters definitely makes feigning radical unselfconsciousness a fun, interesting challenge. When I do my characters, I’m riffing and I’m improvising, it’s a really fun exaggerated thing for me to do, to just let my brain just sort of generate the kind of outrageous lie that character might come up with. I love it.
Both your wife, Amber Tamblyn, and her dad, Russ Tamblyn, play guest roles on the show. Two questions: Is it weird to mix family life and professional life like that? And, more importantly, is there any chance that Russ will break out some of his classic “West Side Story” dances moves?
No, there is no chance of the latter happening. Russ had open heart surgery shortly before he had to fly out to London, so we were already crossing our fingers, just hoping he’d recover in time, so we were very lucky to get him but, yeah, no dancing.
As for mixing family life and professional life, it’s great. Any time I get to work with my wife is a treat. She’s really funny and it’s great to have her on set, and the same is true of Russ. I’m extremely lucky to be able to do stuff where I can employ them and pay their way over to London, you know?
There were no real challenges with bringing “Bob and David” back, that I can remember. We had that very brief, initial feeling of “Oh shit, what if this isn’t any good, what if we’ve lost it, what if it’s not funny?” but that went away immediately.
The challenges for “Todd Margaret” were different. How do you do a third series for a show where the last season ended with everyone dying? Like I said, Mark came up with a great idea, but writing that, figuring it out, solving the logic problems of justifying including characters we knew we needed to have, but who had no easy reason to appear in this new setting.