Like many young actors, Scott Prendergast was drowning in debts and doubts.
He twas 35, with no money, no insurance and $27,000 in credit-card debt. “My mother was constantly having to step in and save me and fix my life,” he told the Television Critics Association.
Then a crisis turned everything around. Parts of that – 17 years later – are being re-created in “So Help Me Todd,” which debuts at 9 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 29) on CBS.
Skylar Astin plays Todd, an unemployed detective who is hired by his mom (Marcia Gay Harden), a big-time lawyer. (They’re shown here.) Prendergast wrote the script and is a producer, which makes things complicated. “You’re basically casting a proxy of yourself,” he said. “And then someone is playing sort of a version of your mother.”
These days, he’s 52 and, seemingly, an adult. “Scott is also a big kid,” said Rosa Arredondo, who plays a law-office staffer. She recalls when “he told me this crazy story, which sounds so made
It isn’t, he said. Back in 2005, everything was going wrong. “I didn’t have car insurance and I’d hit a taxi and all the windows exploded. And then I got injured and I didn’t have health insurance.”
His mother kept helping him … until he had a chance to help her find his step-dad.
“On their 10th wedding anniversary, they were leaving for a trip to Greece. She came home from work and he was gone. He had cleared out half of the house.”
Roles were reversed. “I saw my mother collapsing, very upset, very emotional,” he said. “Something I called ‘my Incredible Hulk moment’ just kicked in. And I said, ‘We’re going to find this guy.’”
He used the random skills that came from having “watched too many episodes of ‘Without a Trace.’” He also used his experience talking to credit-card people. Soon, he had his step-dad’s new address.
“My mom and I staked that house out for two weeks,” he said. “And, eventually, I broke in.”
That part of the story shows up in the opening episode. Prendergrast isn’t telling the rest, because some of it will be dramatized later this season. But he assured us that:
— His mom is alive. “Every day, (she) is calling and asking … like, ‘How is Marcia doing her hair?’”
— His former step-dad isn’t.
— And his once-stumbling career is now doing fine.
Prendergrast had worked (writing and acting) on a couple of the offbeat shows from early cable – “Celebrity Deathmatch” and “Space Ghost Coast to Coast.” He did some shorts and dreamed big.
“I was like, ‘I’m moving to Hollywood. I’m going to make a movie. I’m going to be in entertainment.’ And my mother was like, ‘You are an idiot and you need health insurance.’ (But) at the end of that ordeal, my mother said to me, ‘I believe in you …. Go to Hollywood; follow your dreams.’”
He wrote, directed and starred in a movie (“Kabluey”) that didn’t reach theaters, despite having good reviews and Lisa Kudrow. But he’s done a fair amount of acting, including 16 episodes as Scott in “Silicon Valley.” And he sold “Todd” to CBS, which is betting the time is right for a light mystery.
Elizabeth Klaviter, formerly with “Grey’s Anatomy,” is the showrunner, working with Prendergest. “After the pandemic,” she said, “I really enjoying … watching something that has a light touch.”
At least, it feels light now. It might have felt heavier at the time, to a broke guy and his abandoned mother, as they scrambled to achieve a Hollywood ending.