With the curtain having fallen on the latest series of Matt Berry and Arthur Mathews’ thespian satire Toast of London, Jon Hamm’s brilliantly subversive cameo unfortunately shines the spotlight on a format in need of a more suitable showcase for its headline act’s talents.
“A crush on Jon Hamm? You couldn’t be more wide of the mark!” So insists Steven Toast, somewhat unconvincingly in a true belter of an episode, more than living up to the greatness of its inevitable Hamm on Toast title.
Now three series in, the cameo provides welcome respite from an over-reliance on repetition and catchphrase (yes, I can hear you Clem Fandango – we can all hear you), taking what was once welcome novelty to often law-of-diminishing-returns weariness in an unwelcome parallel trajectory to Toast’s faded career.
However, the appearance of Hamm provides just the ticket, forcing Toast into a superbly executed, uncomfortable realisation of his growing homoerotic feelings for the Mad Men star, and both upholding and subverting the latter’s none-more-charismatic reputation.
It also shows Hamm’s comedy skills taking a drier and more understated turn than his appearances in the likes of Bridesmaids, 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and none the worse for it whatsoever.
What’s more, with Matt Berry surely many a comedy connoisseur’s man crush, Toast’s admiration of the US actor takes this concept to dizzy new heights, where Old Fashioneds meet the old-fashioned world Toast embodies as he battles younger, less embittered actors and trendy but out-of-touch media execs instructing his voiceovers.
Nor is Hamm the episode’s only cameo appearance, with Brian Blessed playing Toast’s father in a casting masterstroke, and in the kind of high-profile acting role Toast himself and his rivals would surely fight over till the bitter end.
With irony the foundation of the greatest greatest sitcoms, it’s pleasing to note that Toast’s failings have propelled Berry’s career to its highest point yet.
He said in a recent interview that the key to the character is that he constantly has “an air of someone who should be more respected and should be doing much better things than he is doing,” a feeling sadly not restricted to jobbing thespians worried that they’re past their prime.
Great actors really do need suitably great roles, then, but whether this vehicle remains the best platform to deploy Berry’s truly exceptional comedy talent to greatest effect remains to be seen.