2 out of 5
Created by: Scott Prendergast
covers season 1
I suppose the quality here is probably apparent in the title, but that’s easier to say after the fact. At the very least, it proves telling: a familiar phrase given a “twist” and I guess made into a “pun,” but not one that’s really funny unless you know Todd.
Ah, but we do: the promo shot of a presumed Todd (Skylar Astin) trying to look officious from over an arched-eyebrow Marcia Gay Harden’s shoulder, and the staunch typeface chosen for the title, give us the pieces we need know Todd after all, and chuckle at the non-pun.
I mean, slick marketing, yes, but what I’m long-windedly saying is that So Help Me Todd relies on “I think this is funny” relatability to skate its completely broad characters on by, which is kinda sitcom 101, but then aims for a courtroom / workplace / mystery-solving procedural in which nary a single iota of actual law or office logistics seems to exist, and mysteries are comprised of the equivalent of realizing the secret code word was written backwards. Zounds!
Acknowledged that this still sounds pretty typical for your average sitcom. Yes. So Help Me Todd is aiming for mass appeal, and it succeeds. Where it falls below some popcorn-quality bar, though, is firstly in how absolutely lacking in character it is, which is tough when you’ve got some very capable talent up front and secondly that it occasionally shows that its mix of comedy and capers and lawyering can work really well… only highlighting how comparatively lazy it feels when that equation isn’t solved.
Todd was once a private investigator, but he lost his license. In order to work off the hours required to get it back, he convinces his mother, Margaret (Harden) to employ him as an investigator at her law office. The family – also consisting of doctor daughter Allison (Madeline Wise) – has had its ups and downs, with Margaret now newly single and her relationship with Todd always a bit shaky. Episode by episode, Todd helps Margaret find the proof to get wins in the courtroom, and perhaps the family starts to grow closer together as well.
Surely a fair setup, and, as mentioned, when it works, it works: Skylar is really great at pulling off a mumbling-but-sharp slapstick Colombo routine, and Harden can spout nonsense law stuff and make it sound good. The cases are about as complex as any given Law and Order, but the blend of family dynamics, hijinx, and happy ending predictability for any given case is digestible, if not really entertaining when the script is tight and the actors can enable it.
And then there are the other 95% of the episodes, in which Todd has apparently never had an education past elementary school, can only solve cases by tripping over banana peel clues, and the law is comprised of gotchas where someone just says something contrary to the other lawyer. It’s legitimately embarassing how pea-brained the characters behave during this 95%.
I will allow that the balance is difficult, and when you can get by with smirking and puns, sure, why not.
Just don’t show me you’re capable of otherwise, else I’m liable to judge you rather harshly for it…