‘Toast of London’ is a bizarre, surreal ride

Tuesday, December 10, 2019 - 5:47pm

NOSELL

Netflix

Comedian Matt Berry’s (“What We Do in the Shadows”) “Toast of London” has been running on Channel 4 for more than five years now, only recently traveling over the Atlantic airwaves and underwater cables to Netflix and IFC in the U.S. As with many examples of British comedy, it may take a bit of warming up to it to really enjoy, but once you embrace its nonsense, it’s one of the funniest shows out there

“Toast of London” revolves around the life of its protagonist Steven Toast (Berry), a hopelessly lost and eccentric stage actor whose life mostly consists of bumbling around and confronting a bizarre set of characters, from a rival actor known as Ray (“Bloody”) Purchase (Harry Peacock, “The Kennedys”) and his landlord Ed-Howzard Black (Robert Bathurst, “Downton Abbey”).

Berry and Arthur Matthews, the writers of the show, have a glittering resume of TV comedy. Berry has taken part in classics such as “The IT Crowd” and “The Might Boosh,” and Matthews co-created one of the finest TV comedies of all time, the timeless “Father Ted.” They take many of the same elements of the aforementioned shows, but tone down some of the innocent silliness in favor of an unhinged vulgarity.

The show is loosely serialized, but most episodes deal with largely independent arcs. The premiere finds Toast in a conversation with his inept agent Jane Plough (Sarah-Doon Makichan, “Good Omens”) about finding new roles and expanding his horizons. This conversation takes place after the rousing failure of his current play, whose title is supposedly so obscene that every time it is mentioned by a character, all we hear is, well, a host of other sounds. Berry’s delivery suggests he is always on stage, eschewing any form of dynamic range other than a powerful, straight-from-the-diaphragm voice. 

In addition, he has a distinctly individual accent. While slightly unnerving at first, it makes a bit more sense if you view the series as a set of live theater bits. The voice as well as the litany of facial expressions that Berry produces fit the self-aggrandizing character of Toast perfectly.

The premiere also gives a taste of the absurdity that defines the show, involving episodes such as Toast interviewing a producer in jail for Holocaust denial. “Toast of London” is unapologetically crass and stupid equally as often as it is unbelievably clever. It’s a credit to the writers that that line is towed almost perfectly in each episode.

Viewers of “Toast of London” will feel utter confusion upon their first watch, but the show is intriguing enough that it warrants a rewatch. After a rewatch, it will be extremely difficult not to fall for its charm.