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.Ellen E Jones, The Independent, 20th October 2013
Writer Nigel Smith conducted exhaustive research for this comedy series about a man in a coma: he was lying in one himself a few years ago. The central character Ben (played by Neil Pearson) is not the most reliable of narrators - his mind wanders from real memories to imagined conversations with his toddler daughter who drinks vodka from a baby's bottle and is voiced as a middle-aged vamp by Leslie Ash. From the ghastly fear of the music one's family might play in the hope of speeding up a return to consciousness to the arrival of Robbie Williams at another patient's bedside - where he is mistaken for Jesus - this is full of restorative laughs.Jane Anderson, Radio Times, 25th June 2010
When some well-paid person at the BBC came up with the idea of pulling the BAFTA-nominated comedy Pulling, it was the worst decision since Leslie Ash signed up for a lip job. This priceless one-off, then, will be a (small) consolation prize for fans of the show, as we catch up with miserable Donna, dippy Louise and man-eating drunk Karen.What's On TV, 17th May 2009