The past 30-something years in showbusiness haven’t been kind to ageing actor Steven Toast (Matt Berry). His shows have been picketed by protestors, he’s been forced to flog laxatives and Congolese cigarettes, and the old-school London he knows is disappearing. So when an audition for a job in Hollywood comes in, he barely bats an eyelid. “All these British actors are obsessed with working in America,” he booms at his agent in his trademark RP. “If you’re in a s*** show, it doesn’t matter where you film it – you may as well be in your own bed.” But by the end of the episode, Toast is jetting across the pond to appear in a new Star Wars film. The UK acting scene has failed him, but maybe, somehow, Hollywood will be different.
The series opener of Toast of Tinseltown, Berry and Arthur Mathews’ new spin-off from their wacky sitcom Toast of London, sees the idiotic actor initially return to his old stomping ground of Soho members’ clubs and his agent’s office. Toast’s anger problem has got worse – so much so that he’s been branded “an unreasonably angry piece of s***” in The Stage newspaper. It doesn’t help that he’s still losing out on roles to his long-time rival, the equally moustachioed “Ray bloody Purchase” (Harry Peacock). Learning that Ray beat him to yet another part in a Hollywood film, Toast lobs a phone out of the window, karate chops a desk in half and repeatedly smashes his head against any table he can find.
After a seven-year break, the opening episode allows viewers to reacclimatise themselves with Toast’s world, while also highlighting just how things have changed. Doon Mackichan’s beehived agent Jane Plough (pronounced “pluff” like Brian Clough), who over-enunciates and displays cigarettes on her desk like a bouquet, is still as useless as ever. And no matter how badly Toast behaves, his housemate Ed Howzer-Black (Robert Bathurst, a highlight) still genuinely cares about him.
Episode one also reintroduces the viewer to the weird, Mighty Boosh-esque tone of the show. Much like Jamie Demetriou’s excellent Stath Lets Flats, humour comes from bizarre pronunciation and absurd names – in episode one alone, we’re introduced to characters called Sue Pipkins, Neil Doubledecker and Des Wigwam.
But America brings exciting new opportunities. Larry David makes a surprise cameo in the opening minutes as a conspiracy theorist (a genuinely impressive get for the show, if slightly dampened due to it taking place over Zoom). Later, SNL legend Fred Armisen plays a man called Russ Nightlife.
From one episode alone, it’s hard to tell whether Toast of Tinseltown will live up to the lofty heights of its predecessor. Certain things have been slightly lost in the move from Channel 4 to the BBC – we don’t get one of Berry’s dream-sequence songs in the opening episode – but the old faves are still there. Toast still responds with a baffled “who?” to names like Idris Elba and Sam Mendes, while audiences will be sure to punch the air at the return of the words: “Steven, this is Clem Fandango, can you hear me?” from Shazad Latif’s recording studio hipster. It’s been a while, but yes, we can hear you, Clem Fandango.
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