The Weekend’s Viewing: Toast of London's 'sit' was traditional, but the 'com' definitely wasn’t

Toast of London, Channel 4 // Inspector Montalbano, BBC4

There is a contingent of comedy fans – the really knowledgable ones with the excellent taste – for whom a little-seen BBC3 show from 2006 called Snuff Box represents the peak of British television. Matt Berry, who co-starred in and co-wrote that absurdist dark comedy, set in a gentlemen’s club for hangmen, also stars in and co-wrote Toast of London. So is it the second coming we’ve been waiting for?

Slightly less knowledgable comedy fans, with slightly less excellent taste, may remember Berry as Douglas Reynholm in The IT Crowd or Dixon Bainbridge in The Mighty Boosh, but in this he finally takes the lead, playing portly middle-aged actor Stephen Toast, a role that allows full use of his booming voice. In the opening episode it was all going well for Toast: his agent, Janet Plough (Doon Mackichan), told him he’d won an acting award from a gossip magazine after 28 years in the biz, and women seemed to find him irresistible. So what if one was on bail for attempted murder and the other throws shopping trollies in canals for fun?

Where Snuff Box blended sketch, songs and character into something brand new, this felt more familiar sitcom territory – Toast even shares a bachelor pad, Men Behaving Badly-style, with Ed (Robert Bathurst). Yet while the “sit” was traditional, the “com” definitely wasn’t. When Toast’s flatmate brings home a conquest, it’s not Leslie Ash from next door, but the Nigerian Ambassador’s daughter, who has been transformed into a Generation Game-era Bruce Forsyth  by a vengeful plastic surgeon.

The Berry sensibility was also retained with melodramatic camera zooms, a musical finale and a 1970s feel (albeit now located mainly in Toast’s hairdo). This doesn’t entirely get the BBC off the hook – they still need to commission more Snuff Box – but with the help of co-writer, Father Ted’s Arthur Mathews, Berry hasn’t had to restrain his imagination. Squeezing the larger-than-life luvvie Toast into a Sunday night sitcom set-up has just  become part of the joke instead.

Stephen Toast would no doubt identify with Inspector Montalbano, another middle-aged man tormented by the amorous attentions of attractive young women. Luca Zingaretti is back and bald as ever for a third series as BBC4’s Sicillian detective, and just when we’d got used to Michele Riondino in The Young Montalbano. Usually Il commissario doesn’t like to be bothered with anything as trifling as a burglary, but this one was different. For one, the culprit was targeting Vigata’s clique of wealthy socialites. For another, one of the victims was Angelica, a mysterious beauty with an evident distaste for bras.

BBC4 originally introduced this series to fill the slot left vacant by The Killing and Borgen, but in truth Inspector Montalbano is a lot warmer than its Scandi cousins, and not just because of the Mediterranean climate. Montalbano always has time to finish his morning espresso before heading out to the crime scene, his Keystone Cop assistant Catarella always has a charming malapropism to lighten the mood, and while “government cuts” might mean the police are reduced to using bicycles for stakeouts, Montalbano can still afford a few beautifully cut suits to wear on the job.

Warm became steamy on Saturday night, as Montalbano made his usual leisurely progress towards an arrest. Town gossip Mrs Cannavo offered almost enough detail on the suspects’ wife-swapping antics to put the police off their antipasti di mare and then there was that temptress Angelica.  I know they do things differently in Sicily, but surely Montalbano wouldn’t cheat on fiancé Livia? Then again,  her over-dubbing has gone from bad to worse since the last series, so maybe it’s entirely justified.

twitter.com/MsEllenEJones

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary charm: Clive Owen and Keira Knightley in 2004’s ‘King Arthur’
FilmGuy Ritchie is the latest filmmaker to tackle the legend
Arts and Entertainment
Corporate affair: The sitcom has become a satire of corporate culture in general

TV review

Broadcasting House was preparing for a visit from Prince Charles spoiler alert
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: There are some impressive performances by Claire Skinner and Lorraine Ashbourne in Inside No. 9, Nana's Party spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Glastonbury's pyramid stage

Glastonbury Michael Eavis reveals final headline act 'most likely' British pair

Arts and Entertainment
Ewan McGregor looks set to play Lumiere in the Beauty and the Beast live action remake

Film Ewan McGregor joins star-studded Beauty and the Beast cast as Lumiere

Arts and Entertainment
Charlie feels the lack of food on The Island with Bear Grylls

TV

The Island with Bear Grylls under fire after male contestants kill and eat rare crocodile
Arts and Entertainment
Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch, in a scene from Avengers: Age Of Ultron
filmReview: A great cast with truly spectacular special effects - but is Ultron a worthy adversaries for our superheroes? spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Ince performing in 2006
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Beth (played by Jo Joyner) in BBC1's Ordinary Lies
tvReview: There’s bound to be a second series, but it needs to be braver spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry, the presenters of The Great Comic Relief Bake Off 2015

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Harold Ramis' original Groundhog Day film, released in 1993

Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

    How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

    Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

    Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
    Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

    Aviation history is littered with grand failures

    But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

    Fortress Europe?

    Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
    Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

    Never mind what you're wearing

    It's what you're reclining on that matters
    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence