It’s been a few years now since Shonda Rhimes tries to produce a comedy in order to expand her empire and explore a new territory. No surprise here: she’s deeply in love with shows like The Mindy Project (where she guest-starred) or Cougar Town. She developed several projects for ABC but Toast, which was already in contention last pilot season, only got an order this time around and will be her first real attempt. The idea was brought to her by fellow actor Scott Foley, a series regular in Scandal, and his longtime friend Greg Grunberg –they met way way back on Felicity– with Foley writing the script. None of them will act in it. Toast is not really in ABC’s wheelhouse since it’s not what we can call a family comedy, though there’s a family component, and romantic comedies didn’t really work them (Selfie, Manhattan Love Story, Mixology…). But who knows, maybe this is the one? Maybe it’s their How I Met Your Mother? At least, there’s a concept.
The idea that every episode will feature a toast from one of the guest could get old very fast. That’s my main concern. But of course, every episode will be different since the personnality of the guest in question totally change the dynamics. In the pilot episode, they chose to focus on Arden, one of the bride’s best friend, who’s batshit crazy, very flirtatious, probably an alcoholic and totally self-absorbed. She got on my nerves at some point, but you get used to her. She’ll probably be much more bearable when she won’t be at the center of the stage in subsequent episodes. Maybe they thought they needed the most scandalous character -or so it seems for now- to make a splash at the beginning. Arden tells the story of the day they met, in a cafe, Max’s cafe for instance, and how they were this close to never talk to each other despite an almost reciprocal love first at sight. Most of the story works in flashbacks, with the guest voice-over. And sometimes we pause to see the reaction of the couple and the other guests, especially their parents who, of course, didn’t know the real story.
Every episode will tell one stage of their relationship through a toast. But how many toasts can those people give, honestly? You can’t make 8 seasons with this. Well, technically — and I guess they thought about it and looked for a solution– this is “just” the rehearsal dinner. So, in season 2, they can work on the actual wedding diner. And in season 3… I don’t know… the divorce dinner? Maybe it’s too soon… Let’s say the baby shower afternoon toasts? See, you can go on and on… The same guest can do multiple toasts this way. It’s not that bad a concept after all. Or am I just trying to convince myself? One thing’s for sure: this couple is cute. It’s a network comedy so don’t expect them to be original. I didn’t find them too cliché, though. But they need to be as broad as possible so people can identify to them. Just forget You’re The Worst, Catastrophe and other anti-romcom. That’s not what we are offered here. At leas, there’s an effort made in the casting process since they made them an interracial couple. But it was probably not planned at the writing stage so there’s no reference to it. But I hope they will adress it at some point. There’s something to do with it, obviously. Two different set of families and values and traditions. That can fuel the story and make it more relevant. Especially since even cable comedies don’t really tackle the subject. It’s all-white.
When it comes to comedy, does the Shondaland recipe can be adapted? Of course, it can! The rythm of this pilot, the back and forth between past and present, the dramedy feel of the whole thing is very Shonda Rhimes. Scott Foley knows who he works for. Or Shonda made a ton of notes. He only wrote a movie before Toast, but it does look like a “real” professional script. Would Shonda have been interested in the project if it was not from him but some unknown person? Probably not. Would ABC have picked-up it to pilot if it was not produced by Shondaland? I’m conflicted on this one. I don’t have the answer. Anyway, it’s not off-brand for them. Just not their strong suit. It’s a very good idea to give the bride role to Jerrika Hinton. She thrives on Grey’s Anatomy and she feels more at ease with comedy than drama (not that she’s not good in drama!). Plus, they can recreate the magic she had with Tessa Ferrer, as her best friend Jules here, who played the annoying but moving Leah Murphy in the medical soap.
Toast is not the funniest thing I’ve read this year and the fact that it’s produced by Shonda Rhimes doesn’t make it an automatic yes, and shouldn’t for what it’s worth. But if ABC wants something different than the regular family comedies they’re renown for on their schedule next year, maybe it’s the right way to go. The concept looks stronger than expected and branding it as “the first Shondaland comedy” –which it is– already makes half the work for the marketing department.