Simon Greenall, Paul Kaye, Doon Mackichan, Mackenzie Crook and David Schaal
Regular airtime: Tuesdays, 11pm ET
US: 17 Mar 2009
Modern Toss arrives in the States via the same bandwagon that brought other subversive humor showcases like Wonder Showzen and Adult Swim. Unlike its altogether entertaining predecessors, however, the first three episodes of this British animated adult-only sketch show quickly free-fall into a redundant and juvenile repetition of the same unfunny characters engaging in unfunny gags.
Based on a comic website created by journalists Mick Bunnage and Jon Link, the series feels like the television equivalent of browsing the funny pages of a college newspaper trying quite hard to be “edgy.” A collection of rudimentary characters, with shtick in hand (and in their names), engage in predetermined tomfoolery. Take, for example, the character Peace & Quiet, a middle-aged, mild-mannered homebody just looking to enjoy his iced tea in his backyard, who is repeatedly disrupted by his neighbor’s oil-drilling or jack-hammering or whatever. With a name like Peace & Quiet, it may be ironic that he never gets any, but it’s not exactly gut-busting. Or take Sneezeman, a large nose who, you guessed it, sneezes a lot, so much so that he sneezes himself out of his car and back inside, then out of his car and into the road, where he is then run over by his car. Again and again and again.
The self-evident repetition doesn’t stop there (why would it?). There’s Gnat Burglar, a small fly who infiltrates sealed rooms to steal away his meals by sucking them up whole, and a segment called “Fly Talk” in which two houseflies casually swap stories of their encounters with celebrities and their detritus, a gag that does little in the way of laughs, but did make me unexpectedly nostalgic for another animated cockney-talking animal, the Geico gecko. In many ways, the brevity and single-note humor of Modern Toss does seem analogous to gimmick-driven mainstream commercials, that is, if Modern Toss weren’t so relentlessly obscene.
Fortunately for filth-lovers, Modern Toss does its rudeness well, and with a chomp of social commentary. In the surreal live-action bit “Illegal Alphabet,” real people dressed as giant capitol letters commingle out on the countryside, waiting for the chance to arrange themselves into words like “SHITCASKET” or “POLECOCK” or “PISSGRAVEL” until whistle-blowing cops intervene to break up the offending combination. The playfulness of the taboo words in conjunction with the bucolic setting helps make an astute point about the arbitrary nature of censorship (not to mention the power of words to evoke an image). Also entertaining and insightful is Mr. Tourette, who cynically takes to task the business of marketing like a foul-mouthed Ambrose Beirce and his Devil’s Dictionary. For example, when commissioned to construct signage for a visitor center in a picturesque Village of the Year, his finished product aptly reads: “TOURIST ASS FUCKING CENTRE.”
It’s easy to see why the irreverent Modern Toss worked well online and in print because its low-fi animation, niche characters, and underachiever punchlines have “cult following” written all over them. But as a television series, it lacks the necessary production value and cohesion to warrant enduring marathon loops of Sneezeman setting fire to himself in hopes of coming across any scant moments of zany fun that might be buried within. The running time and the medium undermine the online Modern Toss’ simple formula for success, namely, granting viewers the ability to skip to the good bits.