The Best Sitcoms of the 21st century so far: Toast of London (2012-?)

Just after he appeared in The IT Crowd but before he started appearing in TV’s What We Do In The Shadows, Matt Berry played jobbing actor Stephen Toast in this enjoyably zany Channel 4 sitcom written by Father Ted co-creator, Arthur Mathews and Berry himself. Although the third and most recent series ended in 2015, it is rumoured to be back soon.

Arrogant, humourless and vain, Stephen Toast is a man totally convinced of his own genius. Pompous, clearly lacking in any talent and totally out of touch (he has never heard of ten-pin-bowling or Benedict Cumberbatch), Toast is nevertheless unafraid to take any job going, a tendency which along with his perpetual womanising, often lands him in deep water.

The first series sees him constantly castigated for performing in the worst play in the world on a nightly basis. He also ends up working with a vicious director notorious for murdering uncooperative actors on set, appearing in a dubious film funded by a wealthy Arab businessman intent on destroying the Duke of Edinburgh, briefly being buried alive and very nearly being assassinated by musical star, Michael Ball after refusing to pay a gambling debt owed to Andrew Lloyd Webber.

And then there are the voice overs. Like Berry himself, Toast is happy to lend his unique voice to all manner of commercial endeavours. These include, reading out the names of every place name in the UK for use on a sat-nav system, recording phrases to be used on a military submarine (including “fire the nuclear weapons!”), saying “YES!” over and over again with increased vigour for an unspecified reason and providing the dubbing for an all-male pornographic film. These sequences, always featuring the line, “Yes! I can hear you Clem Fandango!” usually occur at the start of each episode and are often the funniest bits in it.

Berry is great and is backed by a fine supporting cast. Doon Mackichan is excellent as Toast’s long suffering agent, Jane Plough (pronounced ‘pluff’) while Robert Bathhurst plays Ed, Toast’s amiable but perverted landlord, living off royalties and permanently wearing a dressing gown. That’s not to mention the impressive range of cameos (Brian Blessed, Jon Hamm, Amanda Donohoe), other rising comedy stars (Morgana Robinson, Tim Downie, Tracy-Ann Oberman) and Toast’s nemesis, Ray Purchase (Harry Peacock), whose wife Toast is openly shagging.

Toast of London is not a show afraid to deploy a silly name (Ken Suggestion, Jenny Spasm and Dinky Frinkbuster are just three) or to bend reality for it’s own purposes (does the Globe Theatre still exist? Is Toast old enough to have been an adult in 1969? Is Bob Monkhouse still alive and married to a zombie?). It is often very silly indeed, making Berry’s usually melancholy musical intervals somewhat out of place.

But otherwise, this is a first class performance.

MORE!

Netflix. All 4.

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