I was sceptical at first when people started suggesting that Taskmaster was a really great show, if only because of the fact that it’s broadcast on Dave which bar certain episodes of Red Dwarf hasn’t created anything comedy wise that’s of much interest. But within a few episodes of the first series I was hooked by this inventive and involving comedy game show, as various comedians are set tasks and challenges and have to come up with the most interesting way to do them. Or just try to bend the rules as far as they can, in the case of Tim Key. Greg Davies makes for a great host and judge, whilst Alex Horne is a first rate side kick and the tasks he creates and oversees often provide a lot of hilarious moments. Dave quickly recognised it had a hit on it’s hands and so ordered a sod load of episodes, which is why only three years on it’s now on it’s seventh series. Up until series five the high quality was maintained and whilst there’s often been the odd weak contestant (with Mark Watson and Lolly Adefope disappointing the most) the rest always tended to be on top form and so it didn’t really matter.
Unfortunately series six was a far patchier affair, and an over stretched one at that, with ten episodes feeling far too long a series when compared to previous runs, and some of the tasks were a tad dull so I don’t exactly blame those involved for failing to be funny during them. I’ve always preferred the tasks which allow the comedians to show off their imaginations, so anything which lets them make a short film, song, artwork, or grants them the chance to demonstrate their verbal dexterity, but this leaned towards the more physical challenges which can be fun, but also be shockingly dull. More of an issue was that the line up was uninspired as well. Whilst Tim Vine was consistently funny and Liza Tarbuck provided a lot of laughs when she actually cared about doing a task (which was the case 80% of the time, but frustratingly on other occasions she half arsed it as she admitted herself), unfortunately Russell Howard was okay, yet only okay, and Alice Levine and Asim Chaudhry were often quite insipid, with the latter constantly being mocked by Greg Davies as he was so bad. Bad can be funny though, as Joe Wilkinson proved in series two, but Asim was sadly just painfully bland, which surprised as I’m fond of his sitcom People Just Do Nothing.
Series seven then had a lot to do to allay my concerns that this was a show that was running out of steam. The line up at least looked a lot better, with James Acaster, Kerry Godliman and Phil Wang all being comedians I’m extremely fond of, whilst I don’t mind Rhod Gilbert, and Jessica Knappett was the only one who I wasn’t previously aware of. The show started strongly with the prize task, with Acaster’s perhaps obvious but very funny cardboard cut out of MC Hammer making me laugh, and whilst Phil Wang’s daft toy carriage confused initially the haggling story made up for it. Rhod Gilbert’s effort was surprisingly inventive, if questionably disturbing, and only Jessica Knappett and Kerry Godliman’s felt humdrum, but then there’s always a couple of rubbish opening prizes in the first round.
The second task “Quick Change” was also a pretty enjoyable one, as the contestants had to change outfits as quickly as possible. Knappett redeemed herself after the first task with a swap from being a bride to a gaudy eighties style exercise get up, whilst Rhod Gilbert’s bikini escapades with Alex was joyously silly even though I’m disappointed we didn’t get to see “Little Alex Horne”. Meanwhile James Acaster was fine if not up to the standard of the first two (and Greg’s reaction was the same as mine), but he talked a good game in the studio and so provided some decent laughs. Indeed there wasn’t really a bad moment in it, though it could be argued that Godliman was a little uninspiring, and Phil Wang’s attempt a bit embarrassing, but the studio chat rescued his segment too.
The third task “Assembly”, was purely physical, where the group had to put together a tall free standing structure using cardboard boxes, which didn’t inspire much hope that it would be an intriguing one. Kerry’s very literal take on the task suggested this might be true, but thankfully James Acaster was a lot better, even if it was a terrible failure ultimately. The others were fine as well, even if no one did anything that interesting whilst building their towers, but the interactions between the contestants on stage made it worthwhile, with the highlight being Wang’s betrayal of Rhod Gilbert. The fourth task was “Estimating Girth”, where all had to work out the circumference of the caravan using baked beans. Godliman amused (even if her maths skills concern greatly), and Acaster provided strong laughs with his attempt, whereas Knappett was fine if nothing-y. Phil Wang was slightly weak, but Rhod Gilbert impressed once again, even if his bean measuring skills aren’t all that. It wasn’t a great task to be honest though, so I don’t blame the group for not creating many laugh out loud moments.
As always the show ended with a live task in the studio, and I’ve tended to find these to be the weakest element of an episode, and this unfortunately proved to be the case once again. I get that it’s included so that the studio audience don’t spend the show mostly watching VT and get to see a task performed in front of them, but it’s rare that any of them are that involving. Having to create a “fruit hat display” without the use of their hands, only Acaster struggling to do it led to any laughs.
Right now it seems like Acaster, Wang and Gilbert will provide the best value for money, though I feel a bit guilty being so negative about the female cast members, and it’s by no means always been the case with Liza Tarbuck being impressive in the last series, whilst Sally Phillips proved herself to be one of the best ever contestants in the fifth season. Godliman being so banal disappointed though, when I saw her do stand up a few years ago she was very funny but she and Knappett were average at best here. As previously mentioned there’s fun to be had watching someone being bad at something, which Knappett certainly was, so it’s only Kerry who really let the side down. And hopefully that will change over the course of the series.
We’re only one episode in so it’s of course too early to judge the series as a whole, but it was a strong opener with a team who gelled together well, so it gives me a great deal of hope that it might be one of the best yet.
The episode can be watched on UKPlay’s site.
Whilst Alex Horne did a Reddit AMA yesterday which is an entertaining read.