Toast of London review – Episode One – Channel 4

Toast of London Channel 4 BerryI imagine Toast of London will split opinion. It deals in a specific type of absurd humour that is almost purposely alienating. Many people who like it will talk about it with a condescending laugh – ‘ha, you just don’t get it’ – and many people who hate it will assume anyone who does like it must be an idiot. Personally, based on watching this episode and the pilot aired last year, I quite like it. There were lulls in places and I think it could, as the series progresses, become annoyingly whacky and filled with too many non-sequiturs, but at this point I’m cautiously onboard.

Creator Matt Berry plays the title character of Steven Toast, a struggling actor. This first episode followed his attempts to escape an obsessive love interest all the while courting a different woman, an alcoholic journalist and extreme hoarder who is the ‘type of person who throws shopping trolleys into canals.’

Toast of London is a lot like Berry’s previous show, cult hit Snuff Box. It’s basically a more streamlined, sitcom-like version of that show, with all the same comic methods that Berry clearly loves. So, the bulk of the laughs in the episode came not from funny lines but from off-kilter vocal inflections or weird gestures and movements from the actors – characters running away from a conversation rather than walking, or Berry’s pronunciation of famous names like Bruce Forsyth and the Man from Del Monte.

Then there’s little absurdist moments, like tiny champagne or miniature sandwiches, or a black Nigerian female who has been physically altered to look like Bruce Forsyth. This can all get a little tiring after a while. Berry’s comedy reminds me of the US show Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job!, which is equally absurd in an almost aggressive way. I liked that show, but I stopped watching after a few seasons or so because after a while it just becomes exhausting. There are six episodes of Toast of London and I think it’s possible that even people who enjoy the show will get worn down half way through.

If things get really bad, it could end up like Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy Vehicle; an assortment of embarrassingly bad random nonsense. I’ve spoken before about the fine line absurd humour walks between genius and the ‘Random!!!’ comedy of idiots and teenagers; hopefully Toast of London can avoid the pitfalls of such lazy wackiness.

There was enough in this episode though to suggest that the series has potential. The huge list of ridiculous names – Susan Random, Clem Fandango, Jemima Gina, Beazers Fofoon – was funny, and the song that closed out the episode was good – something Snuff Box also did well, its theme tune woven throughout the series in various different and ingenious forms.

There’s nothing particularly original in Toast of London, with Matt Berry playing the same character he always plays, and this first episode was worryingly light on genuine laughs, but it does have potential. Maybe give it a few episodes, and if does hurtle downhill fast, you can safely dismiss anyone who likes the show as the type of idiot who follows Noel Fielding around everywhere, or, alternatively, if you do like the show, talk patronizingly about how us haters just don’t get it.

Choice lines:

  • ‘Even Jesus didn’t have 3000 followers.’                                                                    ‘…….’                                                                                                                            ‘Yeah, I think he did.’
  • You can read an article Matt Berry wrote in character as Steven Toast here.
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