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Some comebacks are perfectly timed. January is always rubbish, but January in a pandemic? Send help. What we need is a dose of comedy featuring absurd people in ridiculous situations, taking place in a world which bears absolutely no relation to real life. This is Toast of Tinseltown.
The show started life on Channel 4 as Toast of London, which ran from 2012-15 and developed a cult following. Now it has been revived on BBC Two, and fans of the original can be reassured that nothing has been lost in the move.
Steven Toast, played by Matt Berry, is still a self-important idiot of a man with a booming delivery and a conviction that he is one of Britain’s great thespians. When we meet him again, little has changed: he still lives with retired actor Ed (Cold Feet’s Robert Bathurst), has Jane Plough (Doon Mackichan) as his agent and Ray Purchase (Harry Peacock) as his nemesis.
There is more voice-over work to do, overseen by studio duo Danny Bear and Clem Fandango (Tim Downie and Shazad Latif). The latter remains one of the best names ever invented for a TV character. This series also features a suspected psychopath called Russ Nightlife, a top Hollywood producer called Neil Double-Decker – the “Double” pronounced in the French manner – and anger management counsellor Des Wigwam.
Episode one finds Toast being treated for his anger issues. I shan’t tell you how that goes, but by the episode’s end he has thrown Ray Purchase out of a window. Helpfully, this means Purchase can’t take up a planned acting job. Cue Toast stepping into his shoes, and jetting off to LA, where he hooks up with a US agent whose office is a car and who is unaware that any of her clients have died (“Peter O’Toole, Larry Olivier, Olly Reed – great guys. Are they doing ok?”)
Is Toast actually going to make it big? Nobody thinks that very likely. “Guess who’s landed a role in the latest Star Wars movie? I’ll give you a clue: not only is he a fantastic actor, but he’s also a good friend of yours,” Toast tells Ed on the phone. Ed thinks for a moment: “Hopkins? Ian McKellen? Tom Conti?!”
There are celebrity cameos from bona fide Hollywood players, which proves just how highly this show is regarded. Co-writer Arthur Mathews throws in surreal scenes, broad comedy, wordplay and knowingly terrible one-liners. It’s all ludicrous, and that’s just what the doctor ordered.