TV Review: Toast of London, C4

toast

Typical. You wait ages for a sitcom about an unhinged actor and then two pitch up. Hot on the heels of Count Arthur Strong comes Matt Berry as Steven Toast, first seen in a C4 pilot in 2012. And there is another uncanny spot of synchronicity too. Strong is co-written by Steve Delaney and Graham Linehan, Toast is co-written by Berry and Linehan's Father Ted chum Arthur Mathews.

That is, however, where the similarity ends. I'd assumed Toast would be a kind of Partridge/Brent-style self-aggrandising arse, totally lacking in self-awareness, but actually in the first episode he is a different kind of arse altogether. Boozy, slightly bitter but almost a moral compass compared to the supporting cast of screwballs such as a mad-eyed Sloaney stalker (Morgana Robinson) whose criminal case is still pending and a mad-eyed female journalist (Phoneshop's Emma Fryer) with various addictions and obsessions.

In tonight's scene-setter Toast is currently lodging with Ed (Cold Feet's Robert Bathurst, looking increasingly like a wrinkled Piers Morgan). These scenes are played straight until another house guest provides the most elaborate laugh. Due to a cosmetic cock-up or possibly a conspiracy to get back at Toast a female acquaintance has been given the face and most of the body of Generation Game-era Bruce Forsyth.

Toast is certainly funny but the tone is a little too eager to please. The hectic occasionally Boosh-bonkers script almost lobs too much into the mix. There are ridiculously bizarre names (Cliff Promise, Ray Purchase, Doon MacKichan - real name - doing a nice turn as uber-agent Jane Plough), ludicrously surreal lines and preposterous cartoonish sight gags such as a teeny tiny champagne bottle, a collapse of the fourth wall as Toast walks "off set" and a house that it is almost impossible to get into. In fact in some ways this latter Alice In Wonderland coup de television summed up the episode for me – I couldn't quite get into it. 

Berry is very good though, even if that distinctive James Mason-meets-foghorn voiceover delivery means that he is never a million miles away from The IT Crowd's Douglas Reynholm. He also gets the chance to show off his musical chops in a completely unexpected song at the end – Toast & jam?

Too odd to be conventional, too conventional to be out and out odd. Definitely worth sticking with, and not just to see which direction it heads in from here.

Toast of London is on C4 on Mondays.

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