Modern Toss: Series Premiere

Modern Toss feels like the television equivalent of browsing the funny pages of a college newspaper trying quite hard to be "edgy."

Modern Toss

Airtime: Tuesdays, 11pm ET
Cast: Simon Greenall, Paul Kaye, Doon Mackichan, Mackenzie Crook and David Schaal
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Series Premiere
Network: IFC
US release date: 2009-03-17

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.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.