Saturday, Oct 4 2014, 4:00am EDT
Digital Spy presents The Best TV Shows You Might Have Missed - a celebration of television’s underrated gems, undiscovered wonders and future hits.
Toast of London
The brainchild of Matt Berry and Father Ted co-creator Arthur Matthews, Toast of London largely flew under the radar when it aired on Channel 4 last autumn. With the second series soon upon us, there’s no better time than now to take a look back at the funniest sitcom you’ve probably never heard of.
Berry, a veteran of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and The IT Crowd, takes on the lead role of Steven Toast, a British thespian whose best days are long behind him. A vain and egotistical actor, he’s at rock bottom thanks to a divorce (Amanda Donohue crops up as his ex-wife) and a starring role in a play that’s so offensive the public want to see him dead.
This might sound like the setup for a redemption story across its six-episode debut series, but Toast very much follows in the footsteps of great British sitcom characters of the past like Basil Fawlty, David Brent and Alan Partridge. Toast, like the aforementioned trio, so often gets close to success only to see it slip through his fingers.
We get a perverse thrill out of seeing our comedy protagonists fall flat on their face, and Toast’s humiliations are up there with the funniest of them.
Encouraged by his well-meaning but clueless agent Jane Plough (Doon Mackichan), Toast pinballs from voiceover jobs to constipation relief commercials, to dubbing a gay porno and beyond.
With Berry’s history in Darkplace and The Mighty Boosh, it’s no surprise to see Toast of London dance off into the surreal. Each episode shifts into a musical number to underscore a particular crisis for Toast, while the series also features bungled plastic surgery that turns a woman into a Bruce Forsyth lookalike and one instance of spontaneous combustion.
That’s not to mention the final installment of the series, ‘Bonus Ball’, in which Toast manages to torpedo his James Bond audition (“I knew Craig couldn’t handle it. Too many stunts and he looks like the villain.”) by going ‘method’ and bringing a real gun.
There are great running gags, too, notably Toast’s complete obliviousness as to who Benedict Cumberbatch is and his despair at the Scramble Studios staff who produce his voiceover work. In these scenes the show brilliantly lampoon the skinny-jeaned hipsters who inhabit Soho, primarily through Shazad Latif’s smug Clem Fandango. Never has one man’s struggle to convincingly say the word “yes” been quite so funny.
As sharp as Berry and Matthews’s scripts are, they need a great cast to do them justice, and fortunately Toast of London has just that. Berry, sporting a mustache that’d make Burt Reynolds green with envy, is superb at the heart of it all. Those orbiting around him shine, too, particularly Robert Bathurst as Toast’s flatmate and Harry Peacock as his nemesis Ray Purchase.
Watch out for a surprising guest spot from Michael Ball (playing an enforcer for Andrew Lloyd-Webber) and a blink-and-you’ll-miss scene with Daisy Ridley, who’ll soon be heading to a galaxy far, far away in Star Wars Episode VII.
With six episodes (seven if you include the pilot that aired back in summer 2012) clocking in at just over 20 minutes each, this is a show that’s easy to plough through in one binge-watch. Toast of London is essential viewing for all comedy fans.