As cute as So Help Me Todd has been so far, it’s still a show that’s looking to find its footing. It shines best when focused on the two main characters of Margaret (Marcia Gay Harden) and Todd (Skylar Astin). With other characters it tends to falter a bit. But the problem with having strength with only one dynamic is you have to lean so far into it that no real progress can be made for the characters that might alter the one dynamic that works.
Of course, we’re only on the third episode, so it’s entirely too early to condemn (or laud!) the series for its handling of this dynamic. But still, the signs are already there that this could be an issue. Hopefully, the writers can strengthen some of the supporting characters as we move forward, to help offset this issue.
Looking In A Mirror
“Second Second Chance” embraced the Margaret/Todd dichotomy (and dynamic) more than any episode to date. It also leaned into the primary cause of tension between the two of them – Todd’s failure to live up to his mother’s expectations. But also more than the previous episodes, the audience was given a glimpse into Todd’s feelings about his own perceived failures.
In that sense, while the episode was still largely a comedy, there was an underpinning of pathos to his scenes. At the start of the episode, we see Todd connect with old college friends. All of whom are more successful, more well-off, more…everything than he is. At least by society’s standards and in their eyes. He doesn’t really fit in with the old crowd anymore. And they know it, too, as they even remark on how he’s “pulling himself up by his mother’s bootstraps.”
With friends like this, who needs enemies?
But there is one person Todd can still relate to. One person who’s at least as much of a screw up as Todd himself is. Possibly more. And so Todd embraces his friend’s problems as something of a “fixer upper project.” Like if he can save Brian (Erik Knudsen) from jail, maybe there’s hope for him, too.
It’s a message that only becomes more overt over the course of the episode. When it seems like Brian escapes the frying pan, only to jump into the fire, Todd tries at first to keep the faith. But he quickly loses it, writing off his friend as being beyond saving. And, in so doing, implicitly writing himself off at the same time.
To the episode’s credit, Margaret doesn’t immediately take up the torch while Todd’s faith falters. She also remains skeptical. But she has a duty to perform, and she takes her responsibility as an attorney seriously. She believes Brian his guilty, as well, but in her quest to mount a defense, she comes to realize that he’s innocent, after all. Even as Todd remains skeptical, she’s determined to fight for him. And she’ll drag Todd along with her. Kicking or screaming, if need be.
It’s a nice reversal from the dynamic that was established in the first two episodes of the series. Todd usually has to fight her to give him a chance. His optimism can seem excessive, even, at times. It’s refreshing to see Margaret as the one with the faith. Particularly since it allows us to see that Todd’s bravado is often just that. He may act like he’s only moderately perturbed by the fact he’s not at the same place in his life as his friends are. But it bothers him more than he lets on.
It also suggests that, when push comes to shove, Margaret will fight to keep faith in her son. Even if she isn’t good at showing it. And definitely even though her “faith” comes with a side of “railroading his life choices because she knows best.” We know that she’ll eventually make this clear to him, as well. He’ll one day realize she’s always had his back…in her own strong-willed, uncompromising way. It’ll take some time to get there…which may be a problem for the show.
Strength And Weakness
As I wrote above, the real strength of the series lies in its primary dynamic. Which isn’t to say it isn’t trying to build others. There are other characters the show is trying to develop. There’s Todd’s sister, Allison (Madeline Wise) – who both lets her mother dictate her life and is (in her dynamic with her husband) perhaps more like her mother than she realizes. There’s coworker, Lyle (Tristen J. Winger), whose adversarial relationship with Todd should be humorous but veers close to grating as often as not. And there’s the presumed ex-girlfriend-turned-future-love-interest, Susan (Inga Schlingmann). I’m a shipper. I love shipping things. I want to ship this, but so far, I can’t. The only things we’ve really gotten from their dynamic so far is that she and Todd are opposites, and she’s engaged to a man who bought her a freaking asteroid-sized rock. What drew them together? Why should we root for them? Beats me.
The fact these other dynamics don’t really work yet leaves me really wanting to see the Margaret/Todd dynamic grow. Faster than I should, since this is television, and television doesn’t usually work that way. We’re only three episodes in, so of course they aren’t on the same page yet.
But it’s still a little frustrating that we don’t seem to have made much if any progress towards Margaret giving Todd the benefit of the doubt. Yes, he’s overeager at times. Yes, his method may sometimes be…questionable. But he’s now consistently been right when he’s thought there was more going on and insisted that he could help get to the bottom of the issue. Still, he says he can help, and Margaret shoots him down immediately. She insists he stay out of her business and away from her cases. At least until Todd takes some sort of action that forces her hand.
Although she ended up being the True Believer this episode, it started with that usual dynamic. Even though he’s been right every time before. Even though she does trust him enough to get a little one-upsmanship material on her frienemies.
While I know it will take some time for their dynamic to really shift, I can only hope that this episode marked the beginning of that shift. Margaret doesn’t need to believe in him fully. Certainly not in his life choices, which are questionable at best. She doesn’t need to approve of his methods and can continue to push back on that. But I’d at least love to see her start giving him the benefit of the doubt when he says he has a hunch there’s more going on than meets the eye and he can help get to the bottom of things.
At the very least, he deserves that.
So Help Me Todd airs Thursdays at 9/8c on CBS.