Actor and bon viveur Stephen Toast (Matt Berry) returns to our screens in a different guise from the original comedy series; rather than the Toast of London, he’s now the Toast of Tinseltown, with this BBC revamp of the Channel 4 hit, now set across the pond in LA. Having landed a part in ‘the new Star Wars movi-e’, Toast’s career appears to be on the up, and he can forget about his trials as a voice-over artist under the talk-back thumb of the fashionatas Danny Bear and Clem Fandango. Writer Arthur Matthews is still in position, co-writing with Berry, and the results are comparable with his previous work on beloved sitcom Father Ted.
The Stephen Toast phenomenon is a hard one to quantify; you either get it or you don’t. Whereas Ted Lasso locates a transatlantic sweet-spot with feel-good, be-all-you-can be positivity, Toast of London travels in the opposite direction; Toast’s epic failures are as sour as the thespian’s tones are strangulated, and despite the presence of various SNL and US comedy alumni including Bill Hader and Larry David, the humour is very surreal and still very British. There’s no win that Toast can’t effortlessly turn into an abject loss, and Toast has lost none of his brittle texture in the off-screen years.
The character names are helpful; Fred Armisten plays Russ Nightlife, who offers Toast some accommodation in the Hollywood Hills, while Rashida Jones is Billie Tarzana, a mysterious guest at their house. Throw in Sola Mirronek, Weech Beacon, Nina Armenia, Des Wigwam, Bellender Bojangles and more, and you’ll get the feel of the baffling nature of Toast’s world. But the old stalwarts are still there, with agent Jane Plough (Doon Mackichan) reappearing in a fresh guise, and Ed Howzer-Black (Robert Bathurst) still providing moral support from the kitchen table.
Although it’s dubious whether Toast of Tinseltown involved any location shooting at all, it’s one of the most accurate pictures of the Hollywood rat race you can imagine, with Toast’s Star Wars success shrugged off by everyone he meets, and misunderstandings and old rivalries (rival Ray Purchase returns) constantly tripping up Toast’s progress. Toast is an enduring comic creation, and Berry fits him like a glove; he’s a classic fish-out-of water, and the observation of how this perennial outsider doesn’t click with the elite is still essential viewing in these comedy-starved times.
Toast of Tinseltown is on the BBC iplayer now.