Taskmaster has been one of the funniest show’s on British tv over the past couple of years and that’s quite the statement given that we’re going through a period of having some really quality comedy on television at the moment, with Fleabag, Jerk, Inside No.9, Vic and Bob’s Big Night Out, This Time With Alan Partridge and Ghosts all delighting. But it lives and dies on the strength of it’s contestants and if there’s a batch who aren’t particularly that funny, or don’t gel well as a team, it can be a little disappointing as series six proved. That still had it’s moments and Tim Vine and Liza Tarbuck still provided plenty of laughs, but it wasn’t quite as good as what had come before.
Fortunately series seven was outstanding, the show has a habit of bringing the best out of it’s contestants and it especially did so here. Rhod Gilbert had previously not done anything that I’d loved but he was astonishingly funny on the show, partially due to his baiting of his longtime friend Greg Davies but also due to the way he bent the rules or took on tasks in a manner you might not predict, while James Acaster, Jessica Knappett and Phil Wang also proved to be fantastic value, and even though Kerry Godliman irritated with her spoilt brat persona she won me over by the end.
Before series eight began I had no idea if it would be a success or not though, mostly due to not knowing a huge amount about some of the contestants. Paul Sinha’s stand up show Shout Out To My Ex is truly likeable and mirth inducing material and Lou Sanders stand up can be incredible, but I had concerns about Joe Thomas as he’s not a particularly great actor and his Richard Herring Leicester Square Theatre Podcast was bland stuff. Plus Sian Gibson and Iain Sterling were unknown quantities to me as I was only aware of Sian as an actor and so had no idea if she’d be funny in real life, and though Iain Sterling’s extremely well known due to fronting Love Island that’s not a show I’ve paid much attention too and I’ve never seen any of his stand up.
The episode began with the prize round and this time they had to find the most powerful smell, there was a lot of potential for hijinks but only Iain, Lou and Paul delivered. Iain went with “Fart in a jar” and though maybe a bit predictable there was some strong humour to be found in Alex being forced to smell it, Lou’s professionally made scent was a cute idea backed up with some funny lines, while Paul’s vinegar was perhaps nothing amazing but his story about being given advice by “Jimmy Soldiers” was fun. Joe unfortunately came out with a dull tomato stalk and Sian’s perm lotion was dull too, but at least the others were able to come up with some amusing comments to save the day.
Next up was the “Parental Guidance” task where they had to find a hidden baby monitor, to be honest it wasn’t that great an idea for a task and the first three contestants showed that to be the case as they wandered around making mostly odd noises, with Iain surprisingly poor, though there was some laughs to be had from Joe’s bizarre “Ah” sounds and Sian’s baby cries, and in the studio segment Greg mocked them effectively. Lou thankfully mined some strong laughs by having fun with the concept and being creative in her search, while Paul being the worst of all amused, seeing contestants angrily hate a task is always good tv and so for that reason alone he made a strong impression. Again though, the task itself was fairly weak so I’m not surprised it wasn’t a memorable one and I don’t blame the contestants for not doing anything that special with it.
Fortunately the third task of the evening was to make the best ventriloquist’s dummy and be chatted up by it, a fantastic idea and the highlight of this particular episode, if only because we got to see Joe Thomas once again be so rubbish that it was ridiculous and laughable, while Sian Gibson’s Greg Davis doll was a great idea, his swelling tongue made me chuckle a lot, as did the make out session at the end. Iain Sterling’s sequence was admittedly a bit weak but he saved it by being outraged by the others puppetry efforts, and Paul Sinha was amazing from start to finish as he flirted with the pig who brought down David Cameron, and his “You won’t need your trousers where we’re going” was the line of the episode. Lou Sanders was also beautifully funny and messing with Alex never fails to entertain, with her saying”I play guitar but I wait to be asked” being a close second for the funniest comment of the show.
The fourth task saw Alex on a bridge with lights on his head, and they have to get as close to him as possible with him ducking down for ten seconds before reappearing for another ten, and so on and so forth. Essentially a warped game of hide and seek Lou was hilarious by using a red bin as a disguise and Iain’s speedy efforts also engaged. Paul and Sian weren’t anything that remarkable but their confusion over where Alex was made for enjoyable watching, and the task gave Joe the chance to shine finally as he took it on with aplomb, and so it was the second task of the night that I liked a lot.
As always the final task was the weakest, as mentioned in the previous review it’s existence is understandable as it gives the studio audience a chance to see a task live but the ideas have been mixed and only a few have caused me to laugh hard. This week they had to put a bunch of donuts in a bucket only using their mouths, and eh, it was fine, amusing initially but then repetitive. Greg knocking Paul for laying on the floor was something which made me smile, but that was about it, and it’s a shame it ended on a bit of a bum note, but then I’m used to that by now and I’m sure most viewers are too. Plus it ended the episode on a tie break, where Lou and Iain had to peel a banana using just their feet which Lou made amusing at the very least.
Judging by this first episode my concerns about Joe Thomas seem to have been proven right, I’m sure he’s a nice enough guy but he’s a bit mundane and only Greg’s piss taking made his inclusion in the show worthwhile. Still, there tends to be a rubbish contestant each series and at least Joe’s really poor, so should be fun to mock. Iain’s efforts are better but he’s still something of a mixed bag, though his studio interjections suggest he should be memorable, while the other three are fantastic. Sian looks like she’s almost as quirky as the wonderful Sally Phillips and should be as memorable, Lou Sanders is already proving herself to be amazing and I’d be stunned if she doesn’t turn out to be the best contestant of the series, unless something goes terribly wrong and she’s struck by lightening or something, and Paul Sinha’s also delivering some gorgeously funny moments and then some.
This is only the first episode of course, so perhaps Joe and Iain will impress more later on in the series, but even despite my qualms it’s already shaping up to be another fantastic season, and I’ve a feeling that Lou, Paul and Sian alone will make it hilarious and must watch tv. Well, them and Greg and Alex of course, it almost goes without saying as to how superb they are but it’d be unfair to ignore their contributions as they really do make the show such a delight with Greg saying to Lou “You wouldn’t be putting a bin on your head if he was a good dad” taking bronze in the best comment competition I’ve seemingly just created. I’ve really missed Taskmaster during the months it’s not been on and it’s fantastic to have it back, that it’s looking like it’ll be one of the best yet too warms the cockles of my heart, and I’ve no doubts at all that it’ll make everyone who watches it laugh an enormous amount over the next couple of months.