“Once in a while, a startlingly original bit of TV comes along that redefines an entire genre,’ said Richard Watsham, as he discussed the renewal of Taskmaster. The show is an absolute phenomenon – a very British take on the gameshow that has amused audiences throughout the country. With its sixth season having recently begun, what better time to look at the show? Why is Taskmaster so popular, and does this series stack up?
it’s one of the most surreal and funny things on TV
The show is a competition between five celebrity contestants – tasks are organised by Alex Horne, and Greg Davies is the arbitrator – the Taskmaster. These challenges are normally incredibly simple with a touch of the bizarre, and the joy is in watching the contestants as they figure out how to tackle them – approaches can be ingenious, creative, poorly thought-through or any combination of the three, but they’re always hilarious to watch! This series’ competitors are Radio 1 presenter Alice Levine, People Just Do Nothing star Asim Chaudhry and comedians Liza Tarbuck, Russell Howard and Tim Vine.
Now, I love Taskmaster – it’s one of the most surreal and funny things on TV at the moment, and it’s unabashedly good fun. That said, I’ve been finding the most recent series a bit underwhelming (although it’s still markedly better than the painful US version that has also just begun airing).
I think there’s a shared problem between the two of them, and that’s that they haven’t cast primarily comics. I’m backing Tim Vine, who you would have expected to be perfect for this show (in much the same vein as previous surreal competitors like Bob Mortimer), but he hasn’t nearly been as daft as I’d hoped. Levine is also incredibly charming, and she’s brought a certain kookiness that works wonderfully with the format. Chaudhry, this series’ token ‘crap’ contestant (a la Joe Wilkinson) is embracing the role, and clearly having great fun.
they haven’t cast primarily comics
I’m less keen on Russell Howard (who I like, don’t get me wrong, but he seems to have developed an air of ‘trying too hard’) and Liza Tarbuck, who isn’t particularly funny nor does she seem massively engaged with the tasks. It’s getting to the extent that, when she wins tasks that Greg judges, I’m actually getting frustrated with the show. I know it’s a subjective thing, but there’s no way that Photoshopping eggs into a ‘most eggs’ photo when everyone else put the effort in deserved to win! As line-ups go, Series 6’s challengers haven’t quite won me over yet.
It also doesn’t help that few of the tasks this year have been as memorable as in previous series. The aforementioned egg task has stayed with me, but I struggled to remember a lot from this series, and I’m currently watching it. Getting to the house in 30 minutes or throwing darts aren’t particularly interesting, really. I also like seeing the different ways that competitors approach tasks, and so ‘identify the flavours of baby food’ or ‘remove a fiver from under a pint without touching it’ aren’t that good because there is only one thing you can do. I like random silliness, and Series 6 has been lacking in that.
You’ll never watch anything else like it
Of course, this isn’t to say that previous series haven’t seen their share of dud tasks (weird painting tasks are always very same-y and end with predictably rubbish artwork), and I don’t want it to seem that I’m slating Taskmaster – far from it! A poor episode of Taskmaster is still a lot better than a lot of what is on TV – rather, this serves to reinforce how strong a show Taskmaster is.
It’s such a genius format that it would be challenging to do it poorly (although kudos to the Yanks for trying) and, for every poor moment, there’s an equally memorable and hilarious one. The last time I giggled as much as I did watching the ‘conceal a grape in your mouth’ task, I was watching another episode of Taskmaster (Bob Mortimer, wearing an edible face mask, screaming ‘I’ve sinned again,’ to be precise). You’ll never watch anything else like it so, if you haven’t yet experienced the unique joy of Taskmaster, your task is to drop what you’re doing and correct that wrong.