So Help Me Todd Is Back At Last!

David B Morris
9 min readFeb 24, 2024

And It’s As Funny And Heartfelt As Ever (But Mostly Funny)

They’re on your side (if they can stop arguing with each other)

Almost concurrent with the arrival of Peak TV came the emergence of what has become known as the ‘dramedy’. I trace its origin to the rise of Ally McBeal and Sports Night and since then, it has essentially been one of the major products that basically every network, service and streaming has run with — much to the dismay of millions of Emmy voters.

With some series — Weeds, Nurse Jackie, The Big C — they get considered comedy as a basis of their half-hour format, even though the longer the series continue, the fewer laughs there are. I remember spending a lot of time an energy trying to understand how Tony Shalhoub won three Emmys for Monk when I was certain it was a drama rather than a comedy. Similar protests went on for the early seasons of Glee, throughout the era of Orange is the New Black and Shameless (which were ultimately nominated in both the drama and comedy categories by the Emmys) and in the last few years some of the most brilliant comedies of all time, I speak of both Barry and Atlanta in particular, pushed the boundaries so much that by the halfway point of their runs they didn’t seem to fit any definition.

Perhaps that is why, even after I realized just how exceptional So Help Me Todd was when it debuted in the fall of 2022, I still considered it more of a drama with comedic elements and could not understand why Marcia Gay Harden was being nominated in comedy categories in some awards shows, I acknowledged the series was often hysterically funny (in a way that the final season of Barry almost never was for all its brilliance) but because of the format, because it was an hour long, and because it was on CBS, I was still inclined to view it more in the dramedy category. Having spent more than eight months waiting for it to return, I am now pretty sure I’ve been reading it wrong all along. So Help Me Todd is a pure comedy much in the way that Monk was and Poker Face clearly is. There are occasional elements that are serious to be sure, but the show has decided to completely lean in to the comic elements that made it work so well, and it’s really showing how brilliant is.

When we left Margaret Wright (Marcia Gay Harden) at the end of Season 1 she was about to finally be made a name partner at her firm and finally had decided to get involved with Gus, the rumpled messy, attorney she spent most of Season 1 hating and has now realized is perfect for her. The two of them were about to go on their first date when Margaret arrived home to find Harry, who had abandoned her in the pilot and whom she had divorced in absentia last season, saying: “Iceland was terrible.” Meanwhile, Todd (Skyler Astin) had finally gotten his P.I license back, had received a promotion and had learned that Susan (Inga Schlingmann) his former girlfriend was about to elope with her fiancée and was headed off to the airport.

The season opener took place a few days later. Margaret was in bed with Gus but had not been home since Harry came back. By contrast Todd, who spent all of Season 1 essentially a mess, was completely put together. In a wonderful reversal his sister Allison (the wondrous Madeline Wise) is now living in his apartment having spent the previous year with Todd living in her garage. (We’ll get back to this.) He walked proudly into his office more put together than we saw him most of last season. Margaret, by contrast, comes to her office to find that on her first day as name partner, they have messed up the lettering on the sign and that as ‘managing partner’ she has learned the firm is facing financial problems and that Beverly Crest (I hope we see more of Leslie Silva) has essentially decided to lay off all of the problems on her, starting with all the layoffs.

So when Margaret needs help dealing with a murder (which we saw took place on TV but that Margaret missed because she was having sex with Gus) she decides to see Todd, who decides to make her wait for his help. This leads to the always wonderful byplay where Todd brings out her a contract for her to sign, and after she tears it up, he produces another one…and then another one. Todd is now in a position with leverage that he hasn’t had all season and Margaret, who is still a control freak but now having less control then she had before, doesn’t like it.

Margaret also has to deal with the fact that she has forgotten her son’s birthday which is at her condo and comes there to find the entire family…being served dinner by Harry. This leads to a wonderful scene when eventually Gus comes over with flowers and the two men in Margaret’s life have a perfectly civilized conversation completely unaware of who the other is. Then Todd shows up, walks in the door and sees Harry…and his first act is to break a champagne bottle and go at Harry with it.

Margaret eventually has enough forthright control that she kicks Harry out of her condo and tells him she is done with him. Harry, however, has not gotten the hint and spent the last episode constantly calling Margaret. Beverly, it’s worth noting, has no more respect for Margaret then she did before; in last night’s episode, she essentially dumped a huge case on Margaret at the last minute for a case involving a billionaire client (believe me I will get to that), with the sole extent because she knew it was a loser and she wanted Margaret to fail. Todd spent the day working through the courthouse, soliciting clients (who naturally kept rejecting him) and while he was there, picked up on the fact that there was a scheme among the bailiffs to commit credit card fraud and identity theft. Meanwhile, as the case kept getting worse against Margaret, the two stories came together and Todd managed to bail his mother out as well as realize the larger fraud.

Now the case that Beverly was there is the exact kind of case that could only happen in America. Gus was representing a billionaire client who was suing a puppeteer who had performed at her five year olds birthday party and who she claimed had traumatized her son. The major concept of this case seemed to be the idea that puppets were somehow human. This is one of the funniest things I’ve seen on TV in years, and what made it so hysterical was that everybody was taking it perfectly seriously. Allison got called as a medical expert and in her deadpan way when she realized what the case was about said: “Puppets aren’t alive, are they?” When she left the witness box, she actually began to wonder about this. (Allison is, for the record, an ER doctor.) Beverly then chose to show this case was false by eating cake in front of a five year old. The case ended in a mistrial because the jurors could not agree if puppets were human. This billionaire socialite had done all this, for the record, because she is seen as a corporate ghoul and she staged this whole sham of a trial, wasting taxpayer dollars on a day when everybody was watching a big publicity murder case, to do social rehabilitation. That Beverly indulged this whole affair — and dumped a murder case on an unprepared Margaret — shows just how utterly immoral a person she is; it’s beginning to seriously look like no one but Margaret at this firm has anything resembling a conscience. Beverly is annoyed that Margaret is trying to save the firm by pinching pennies rather than firing people, something she would have no problem doing on her own but doesn’t think its worthy of her time: I particularly love how Silva does not seem to show emotion for any part of her life.

So Help Me Todd is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a very long time. One is reminded of so much of David E. Kelley’s work in the 2000s, but whereas Kelley during that period loading every one of his frequently ridiculous cases with politics (albeit brilliantly) Todd’s cases are ridiculous, full stop. It’s impossible to look at the season premiere any other way: Margaret and Todd are working together to clear a client of a murder and eventually they realize that the man who killed a news anchor by dropping a light fixture on him was one of the grips. Who worked in the shadows and was the man’s lover. And his ringtone was Phantom of The Opera. And who had a cowl on his face when he was confessing. The capture involved chasing him through the ceiling to the title tune. I think that is what clinched it for me that this was a pure and unadulterated comedy.

And the show made that clear with the character of Allison. Alison spent all of Season 1 as the perpetually put upon Wright child, the only one who was a solid citizen but who no one respected. Everyone loved her husband more. She spent much of Season 1 realizing what a disaster her marriage was and finally left her husband. Immediately afterwards she went on a retreat, had her identity stolen and her house and credit cards had a lien put on it. She’s now living in her car, which has a ridiculous number of parking tickets on it. (That’s why she was at the courthouse that day.) Wise has been wonderful at performing like someone who views the entire world with a kind of confused surprise and we felt sympathy for her because of how everyone treated her. In a daring move, the show has decided to double down on the confused part of Allison, as if she is still sleepwalking through her life. Throughout last night’s episode, Todd led her by the hand through everything that went on, and she never asked a question. When Todd asked her to come up with a fake name, she said: “June Allison.” Then she wrote Todd’s name when she went through the court. Todd reacting into his watch: “Subject is confused…about everything.” At this point every line that Wise says is hysterical and she can steal every scene that she’s in.

Which is remarkable considering that in the lion’s share of them she is with two pros. Perhaps the reason it took me so long to realize that Todd is a drama is the presence of Harden who while one of the greatest character actresses in history, almost never does comedy, certainly when it comes to television. (Film’s a different story). From the second season of Damages to her recurring role in The Newsroom to her recent role on The Morning Show, I have always associated her with dramas. Her job in So Help Me Todd has not been so much to play straight woman but to play a control freak who in every episode things spiral out of control. Harden has been delightful in this way, but her character takes herself so seriously that even when she is (frequently) making herself a buffoon, you honestly think she’s playing its straight.

Skyler Astin, in retrospect, should have been a dead giveaway. Indeed, he has had a critical role in two of the greatest hour-long comedy series in the last decade: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. In both series, he was more than willing to humiliate himself in the face of impressive female protagonists and he was just as willing to do the same thing as Todd. The difference is that for all his lunacy, there is a method to his madness and it has bailed Margaret out time and time again. Astin is hysterically funny to watch every moment he’s on screen because he takes himself too seriously all the time.

And the reason So Help Me Todd is such a joy is because we realized by the time the first season was over that these two deeply flawed people, when they work together, can conquer the world. Because they’re related and because they’re who they are, neither will admit it to the other but watching them over and over, it’s clear that when Todd and Margaret Wright are on the case, the innocent will be set free, the guilty will be punished and the high will be brought low. That they do this by utterly humiliating themselves shows that they will do anything to help their clients — and each other. At the end of last night’s episode Lyle, the all too serious investigator who both rely on, says to himself: “I will never understand this family.” The viewer does and we are grateful for everything they do.

My score: 4.75 stars.

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David B Morris

After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.