Television Comedy Reviews

Television Comedy Reviews by Joshua Gaskell

Tag: Objective Productions

Toast of London, S02E01

By Matt Berry and Arthur Mathews
Objective Productions for Channel 4
Monday, 3rd November 2014

This new series begins with Toast (Matt Berry) at Scramble studios, Soho, where he’s recording a version of the London Underground’s ‘Mind the gap’ announcement. Alongside producers Clem Fandango (Shazad Latif) and Danny Bear (Tim Downie) is ‘Boris Johnson’, who vexes Toast by asking him to say the famously brief phrase with ‘quite a long gap between the words the and gap.’* In the next scene Toast is at home and asks his thespy friend Ed (Robert Bathurst) what his ‘porn name’ is. Ed immediately replies that it’s ‘Posh Dong Minge-Muncher’, but then admits that he’s never heard that to arrive at one’s porn name, ‘you combine the name of your first pet with your mother’s maiden name.’ How nice to be back in the world of Toast of London, where it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish between the surreal elements and those that only appear super-real because Theatreland in fact is.

In the first category (I think) is Ed’s annual ‘Celebrity and Prostitutes Blow Football Tournament’, in which Toast agrees to take part: ‘Blow football with prostitutes? This sounds right up my rue.’ His nemesis – in blow football as in life – is fellow actor Ray Purchase (Harry Peacock), who looks like a colonial-era military man, except for the white turtleneck and werewolf hair.§ Toast’s first choice of prostitute blow football partner is Mrs Purchase (Tracy-Ann Oberman). She’s already agreed to partner Ray, but Toast raises the ante by having sex with her while Ray is passed out next to them in the bed. (He’s hungover, having had a skinful with the anti-gays after a lecture about ‘rampant bum banditry’.) Toast and Mrs P’s slomo dog-style sex is hilarious, with the cross-eyed Toast oddly cartoonish and resembling a dwarf from the new Hobbit film.

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However, he has some humiliation of his own to stomach: a part as Charles Dickens that his agent has secured turns out to be a tour guide job aboard an open-top Routemaster for ‘What the Dickens Tours’. For no congruous reason the tour is conducted in what is evidently suburban London, so we get to see Toast out of his Soho comfort zone. Speaking through a megaphone for the benefit of his one passenger, he misidentifies a Belisha beacon as a lamp post, gestures off-camera at what apparently ‘looks like an abattoir’, and confidently asserts that ‘London was built in the thirteenth century, mostly made of straw, then a Great Fire came and knackered the lot.’ Toast’s mood is lightened, however, when he bumps into Purchase – aboard a rival bus, working for ‘Beefeater Anti-Gay Tours’ – and is able to slander loudly Mrs Purchase’s scruples (‘your wife’s a prostitute’).

Later, at the Colonial Club, the tournament is about to begin. Purchase is so confident of victory that he agrees, in the event of his losing, to do whatever Toast asks of him, ‘however disgusting or degrading’. The tournament final, when it comes, is a close-fought thing: Team Purchase wins 10–9, but is then disqualified on the grounds that Mrs Purchase is in fact ‘not strictly a prostitute’, thus handing the victory to Toast and his partner Wendy Nook (Louise Jameson). The episode ends with the forfeit of Toast’s choosing: a third and final bout of lovemaking and pleasure between him and Mrs P.** It’s much like the first, except that this time, instead of being unconscious, Purchase is tied to a chair with his eyes held open by a pair of specula oculi.

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* ‘The brevity of the phrase is said to derive from the limitations of solid-state digital recording technology when it was first introduced in the late 1960s’ (Brewer’s Dictionary of London Phrase & Fable).
† Jimbob Cain, in case you’re wondering.
‡ The Toast type in this milieu is quite hard to pin down. He works in showbiz but tells his agent he’s never heard of Gary Barlow or Russell Brand. I think of him as a former Groucho rakehell, who swung from candelabra with YBAs in the ’90s, but never quite had the talent and is now looked upon as an also-ran.
§ The two of them greet each other like Seinfeld and Newman, by simply saying the other’s name through gritted teeth.
‖ The lecture’s thesis is similar to Keith Chegwin’s in Extras: ‘Men have knobs, women have fannies: pop knob in fanny.’
¶ The director must have been pleased with the effect too, because a few minutes later they’re at it again on a bed in Springleys, a soft furnishings shop in the Fulham Road. (This is the opposite of ‘then I got off the bus’ humour: instead of panning out to reveal the inappropriateness of the sex, the viewer knows from the off that we’re in a public place, and the joke is that the other customers pay the lovers no attention at all – almost as if Toast and his world don’t really exist.)
☞ The setting is identifiable as Cleveland Road, W13. The bus travels east past Cleveland Park.
** See ‘House Of Fools, S01E04’ (note §) for a comment on Berry’s pronunciation of pleasure.

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Fresh Meat, S03E04

By Tom Basden
Objective Productions and Lime Pictures for Channel 4
Monday, 25th November 2013 (advance 4oD premier)

This fourth episode of the new series of Manchester University-based Fresh Meat is written by Tom ‘Lord’ Basden (one quarter of the sketch act Cowards).* It contains three main subplots: Kingsley, Josie, and JP (Jack Whitehall) are taking part in a pharmaceutical drug trial during which JP hopes to get back in with Sam, and Kingsley to spill the beans to Josie about his overlapping relationship with Heather (now in Hong Kong); Oregon has written an autobiographical play, the production of which turns into a way for her and Vod to attack each other through fictionalised versions of themselves; and Howard goes to the library in search of Petrology of the Ultramafic and Gabbroic Rocks of the Brady Glacier Nickel-Copper Deposit, Fairweather Range, Southeastern Alaska by Glen R. Himmelberg and Robert A. Loney, but someone has already taken it out.

As is the case with all the best episodes of Fresh Meat, this one demonstrates the truth of the axiom that the devil has all the best tunes (i.e. JP has all the best lines). In the first scene he’s talking to the doctor whose job it is to screen him for the trial. ‘How do you feel in yourself?’ asks the doc. JP replies, ‘Does that mean the same as how do you feel?’ This is unusual, in that JP is the teller rather than the butt of the joke. But that doesn’t last long: ‘Actually,’ he says, ‘I am feeling a bit un…pumped. There’s this girl [Sam] who I, like, like.’

Unpumped he may be, but Basden gives JP a series of well-pumped lines. Talking to Kingsley about Heather’s absence, he refers unironically to ‘Honkers’, and then responds to Kingsley’s advice that ‘A check a day keeps testicular cancer at bay’, by asking sincerely, ‘Is that an official rhyme?’His privileged upbringing has instilled in him a proprietous faith in what is official. (This is why Ann Barr and Peter York’s tongue-in-cheek ‘Guide to What Really Matters’ is The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook.)

It’s at the trial that Basden’s feel for the character and Whitehall’s pitch-perfect performance really come into their own. JP approaches an assembled group (including Sam), with a pile of board games, and asks ‘Wanna start with Risk? It could be fun.’ Sam replies scathingly, ‘Or it could be really dull and take hours.’ ‘That’s why it’s called Risk,’ returns JP.§

RiskIt could be really dull and take hours. That’s why it’s called Risk.

The group were in the middle of listening to one of their number talk about her gap year, so they don’t play Risk; but that doesn’t mean they forego facsimiled imperialism, because JP joins in with his own ‘gap year ’dotes’. The first one goes down very well:

So, me and Max Parr went swimming in a waterfall in South Africa, and when we got back we found a leach in his arse, so he tried to get rid of it by sitting on a ferrule that we’d covered in salt […] and he accidentally pressed the button which opened the umbrella whilst it was in his arsehole.

However, the second story goes down, as JP afterwards laments, more like ‘spunk soup’:

So, we were on Max’s dad’s boat off the coast of Durban, and we were muchos masheoed. We’d taken like three bongs with us. Anyway, we were doing some scuba-diving in pairs. My partner was this proper fatty called Ed. He’s like this huge whale of a guy. Such a bell. And it was hilarious, right, because he was scuba-diving whilst we were getting our bong on. So the boat didn’t have its anchor down, so it drifted like two miles, and he couldn’t find us. He got sunstroke and shat himself and nearly died!

This boat ’dote is greeted by a tumbleweedy silence from all, and no amount of protest – ‘There are several boys at Stowe who refer to that story as el classico’ – can reverse the damage. Later that night, with the trial over, JP goes to Sam’s window to beg her forgiveness, but the presence in her room of a muscular rival gives him his answer, and he is reduced to calling out, pathetically, ‘You have my blessing!’ We feel sorry for JP and unsympathetic towards the other guy, even though JP is a posho and the object of the satire; and this is why I compared him above to the devil.

Blake famously said of Milton that he ‘was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it’, neatly summarising Romanticism’s fascination with the rhetoric and poetry of Satan in Paradise Lost: even though theologically we can’t sympathise with or feel drawn towards Satan, the way Milton writes him forces us to do both. Similarly, the ‘theology’ of a youth-orientated, 2013 Channel 4 sitcom doesn’t allow us to like the public school toff whose name is an allusion to a bank, but the exuberance with which he is written forces us to do so.

Writing that is, in this sense, of the devil’s party, is at one with the times. Whitehall has been on the telly quite a lot this week. On Have I Got News for You he read out John Major’s debate-sparking quote:

In every single sphere of British influence, the upper echelons of power in 2013 are held overwhelmingly by the privately educated or the affluent middle class. To me from my background, I find that truly shocking.

‘To me, from my background,’ Whitehall said, ‘I find it hilarious.’ And on the first episode of Backchat, his father, Michael, tells him that he’s a ‘a good old-fashioned Tory’. Although in both cases an acceptable theology was maintained by means of qualification – respectively, ‘I don’t’ and ‘I’m not! Stop outing me as a Tory!’ – the jokes were nevertheless generously indulged.

Yeah, politics… But anyway, Fresh Meat is really good.

* Manchester is Whitehall’s own unalma mater (he studied History of Art there for two terms).
† He needn’t have worried, however, as it is (thankfully for the rest of us) available online here.
‡ Honkers: ‘A nickname for Hong Kong current among British expatriates from the 1920s’ (Brewer’s Dictionary of Modern Phrase & Fable), and ‘perh. subliminally influenced by honkers adjective [meaning drunk]’ (Oxford Dictionary of Modern Slang).
§ Possibly an example of Basden writing, a fortiori, above JP’s own ability as a comic.
‖ ‘Max Parr and I’, shurley? as per Michael Whitehall’s correction in the Backchat trailer.

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