Television comedies can really be a little hit-or-miss. Too often, characterization is stymied (if not entirely stalled) out of a fear that actual character growth will kill the humor. So Help Me Todd 1×05 “Let the Wright One In” gives me exactly what I was hoping following the previous episode and proves that they aren’t scared of moving their characters forward. And that’s so incredibly refreshing to see.
Partners in Crime
The dynamic between series leads Margaret (Marcia Gay Harden) and Todd (Skylar Astin) is so good, I’ve been concerned that So Help Me Todd would keep it stagnant. Why mess with something that works? To their credit, however, while the series may still be finding their footing with the supporting cast, they haven’t let that hold them back.
True, Margaret and Todd remain at odds as often as not. But their skirmishes are now relatively minor – a clash of personalities, rather than a fundamental matter of distrust. Margaret may not like how her son dresses. Or eats in the. She may think he’s is something of a mess. (And, let’s be honest, she’s not wrong.) But she also recognizes he has skills. And whatever she thinks of his tactics and only passing familiarity with the truth, in the course of the first five episodes, we’ve seen her come to trust in his abilities. Will she be entirely comfortable with his tactics? Probably not. Will Todd make things more of a mess before he gets her the answers she needs? Almost certainly yes. But the point is, he’ll get her the answers she needs.
This is exactly the direction I was hoping their relationship would take. Ideally sooner, rather than later. While there would have been comfort and familiarity in maintaining the status quo – in Margaret fighting Todd at every turn, questioning even his most basic suggestions episode after episode. Heck, The X-Files maintained Scully’s skepticism for yeeeeeears, no matter how many shape-changers, clones, and flukemen she encountered. (Admittedly, only about 30% of our reason for watching that show was due to the absurdly convoluted mythology. We were mostly watching for something else.) So even if So Help Me Todd eventually allowed Margaret to grow past her skepticism, it wouldn’t have been surprising if it took them most of the season to get there.
On the contrary, Margaret and Todd have shown tremendous growth (in trusting each other, if not personally) in the first five episodes alone. Every week, I find myself enjoying this show more and more because of it. Margaret faces a problem, and the first person she calls upon is Todd. They may still bicker about investigative strategy. Even as Margaret begins to assume a few of Todd’s tactics. But in terms of purpose, they’re on the same page.
Getting rid of the unnecessary tension frees up the series to focus on the bigger picture. They still bring the humor and tension with petty bickering between the two. But they also open the doors for truly touching moments, in which the two begin to understand each other better. As they did this episode, in the scene about Margaret’s loneliness and how exhausting it can be. While I truly enjoy their opposite natures and the humor that stems from that, this moment of connection immediately became my favorite scene in the show to date. I didn’t just root for Margaret in that moment. I liked her. I came to understand her better and sympathize with her. As abrasive as her character can be at times, that connection with the audience is important.
All that said, while I was cheering at So Help Me Todd‘s embracing of character growth, I would be remiss not to point out a missed opportunity. You had the chance to put Astin in a tuxedo again and you passed it up? Come on, show! It’s totally plausible that a group this snooty would demand their serving staff dress to the nines! How could you pass that up?
Just as I’ve wanted Todd and Margaret to trust each other more, I’ve been hoping for more of the supporting cast. Last week, we got to see a little more potential in Todd’s dynamic with Lyle (Tristen J. Winger). We also got to see a little more of what they could do with his sister, Allison (Madeline Wise). Although I’m still curious to know what their long-term plans are for the latter, the Todd/Lyle scenes this week were exactly what I was hoping to see.
Similar (though to a lesser degree) to Margaret, Lyle’s growing increasingly willing to work with Todd. Well…willing may be too strong of a word. Begrudgingly accepting might be more accurate. He’s not on-board with lending Todd night-vision goggles. (On that note…the law firm has night vision goggles? Where is this firm and how can I get a job there? So Help Me Todd is making legal investigation seem way more interesting than it usually is in reality.) But Todd – and Margaret – need information, and he’s immediately up to the challenge. More out of a bit of professional competition than eagerness to give Todd a helping hand, perhaps. But the result is still the same.
Allison didn’t get as much progress this week. Last episode we saw the potential in her willingness and ability to take both members of her family to task. Her background as a doctor can also prove useful at times. However, she’s never going to be able to fully help Todd with his investigations, due to HIPAA, and there are only so many times he can plausibly steal her white coat to go undercover.
If there was one moment I truly appreciated her this episode, it was her repeated attempts to shoot down the complete absurdity of her brother’s “the coma patient miraculously recovered!” con. Medicine doesn’t work that way, Todd! Her commentary was me, about 98% of the time when I’m watching how television depicts the legal profession. I feel for you, Allison. I feel for you.
But while both Lyle and Allison are starting to get fleshed out a little, it’s disappointing that Susan (Inga Schlingmann) remains just sort of…there. Hopefully, the show has some plans to give her character some much-needed growth, and soon. There has to be more to her than long, sorta-lingering looks and a huge rock on her finger. Her marital status does not equate to characterization, and the series needs to give us more than a few awkward silences and appreciative looks to get the audience to root for a ship that’s clearly intended to be a thing down the line.
I certainly hope they find their footing with Susan soon. However, give me a few more scenes like the one we got in So Help Me Todd 1×05 “Let the Wright One In” between Margaret and Todd, and I’m happy to be patient a little longer while they get there.
So Help Me Todd airs Thursdays at 9/8c on CBS.