So Help Me Todd: The underrated pleasures of an old-fashioned procedural

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
So Help Me Todd is on Paramount+
So Help Me Todd is on Paramount+ Credit: Paramount

In almost every country, there is a cable channel that plays Law & Order on repeat. There’s great comfort in knowing that you can check into almost any hotel and, while fighting off jetlag, there’s the familiar beat of L&O’s dun-dun.

It’s an anchor in a new place.

With hundreds of new series making their debut every year, a procedural still has the power to grip us. It’s not pushing boundaries in storytelling or it won’t have everyone raving about the latest twist or cutting line of dialogue. It’s not The Bear or Succession or Russian Doll.

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But the low-commitment of a procedural is exactly the show you want to watch when you’re exhausted from a long day or overwhelmed by the prospect of the 17 shows in your watchlist while also trying to remember the four series your friend told you about over lunch.

Plus, a traditional procedural show is a self-contained story that ends in 42 minutes. There’s little risk that you’re going to get sucked into a four-hour marathon with endless cliffhangers and before you know it, it’s 2am, and Idris Elba’s plane is still hijacked.

The likes of Law & Order and its many spin-offs, Bones, E.R., The Mentalist, and Australian equivalents such as Water Rats, Rush and the rest, still have their place in a TV diet that is stuffed with “the next big thing”.

You don’t always want foie gras and oysters. Sometimes, you want Macca’s. And just to belabour the travelling analogy, you always know what you’re going to get with airport McDonald’s no matter where you are.

So Help Me Todd is on Paramount+
So Help Me Todd is on Paramount+ Credit: Paramount

The underrated So Help Me Todd is never going to be labelled the next big thing. It’s not going to be showered with awards and five-star reviews and it’s not going to make any publications’ top 10 TV shows list. But it is thoroughly pleasurable and charming.

Precisely because it knows the formula for good procedural TV – an intriguing case-of-the-week set-up with a sprinkling of a longer-term story arc, and quirky characters you like.

Just returned for its second season, So Help Me Todd stars Skylar Austin as Todd, a thirtysomething with a preternatural gift for deduction and observation but is otherwise a direction-less manchild who still lives in his sister’s garage. You know the type. But he’s good-hearted and witty so you like him.

His mother Margaret (the divine Marcia Gay Harden) is a lawyer at a fancy firm who hires Todd as the business’s private investigator. His sleuthing skills has helped her clear an immigrant woman wrongly accused of murdering her neighbour and track down the person who killed a jury member.

These are underdog cases, designed to stir our sense of injustice and empathy, but packaged with quips and a jaunty tune.

Meanwhile, Todd and Margaret have to find a way to bridge their relationship after some previous conflicts while his put-upon sister expresses her frustrations at having to be the responsible one.

These are all familiar tropes and they work for a reason. When you wrap them all up together, ticking the right boxes, it’s a gift of a TV series. And, it releases only one episode a week so it gives you something light to look forward to and you never feel burdened with having to get through it all before you’re left behind.

So Help Me Todd is go-at-your-own-pace TV.

The tried-and-true doesn’t always have to be tired and uninspiring. It can be comforting, familiar and appealing. Especially if it stars Marcia Gay Harden.

So Help Me Todd is streaming on Paramount+

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