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Image: Channel 4

‘Taskmaster’s New Year Treat’

The first sign that 2021 was going to be a better year than 2020 was the fact that, on the very first day, we had a new instalment of Taskmaster. The aptly-titled New Year Treat proved to be a treat indeed – it was an hour of sheer fun, with great tasks and a cast that gel so well it’s a shame we won’t be seeing more of them.

For a one-off special, a set of five challengers assembled to take on a new series of tasks set by the Taskmaster Greg Davies and his assistant Alex Horne. Film star John Hannah, newsreader Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Derry Girls actress Nicola Coughlan, reality star Rylan Clark-Neal and Strictly Come Dancing judge Shirley Ballas all united to face such challenges as fitting a large thing through a doughnut and building the lightest tower. Who will win the Taskmaster’s golden eyebrows?

One of the big questions going into this special was a significant one – would it actually work? I mean, we know that the formula is magic, but this is the first outing without a cast of comedians (excluding a bizarre festival special with TV executives that you can find online if you’re curious), so would it still be as funny? The answer, I’m pleased to report, is a mighty yes. The chemistry is there and, as the show was just a one-off, it felt as if everyone was there to have fun. The end result was an incredibly fun watch.

Rylan’s camp energy and attempts to get around the rules worked brilliantly, and Guru-Murthy reminded me of Paul Sinha’s turn as a smart guy who didn’t prove as good as you’d expect

I went into the show backing John Hannah for the win – my father watched the Mummy films a lot when I was little, and he was brilliant in that (there’s a recommendation for a fun couple of films). That said, I entered the last series thinking that Katharine Parkinson would be the obvious winner, so what do I know? I’ve never overly liked Rylan or Guru-Murthy, but they were both perfect picks for this. Rylan’s camp energy and attempts to get around the rules worked brilliantly, and Guru-Murthy reminded me of Paul Sinha’s turn as a smart guy who didn’t prove as good as you’d expect.

The past few series, there’s always been someone I don’t know, and it was Nicola Coughlan this time round, but she was brilliant. She also had the best lines of the night: referring to herself as “ol’ chumps” in the middle of sexy and brains was a laugh-out-loud, and her dismissal of John Hannah’s explanation of a task (“people are talking an awful lot of shite today, I’ll tell you that for free”) was genius. If she’s booked for a full series, I wouldn’t be complaining.

There was a good selection of tasks. I’ve mentioned the doughnut and the tower, but the contestants also had to sculpt a person they could only identify through touch. After a fun live task that saw Hannah try to hit Greg with balls and Coughlan attempt to bat with the open side of a triangle, it was Shirley Ballas who won the day. She’d clearly been having a whale of a time, powering through tasks with a flirtatious energy that looked like drunkenness at points. It was fun – the contestants were having fun, and we were all having fun at home watching.

The one-off format works really well, and I’d love to see more instalments like this with an eclectic range of guest stars

Taskmaster’s New Year Treat was a welcome special that really livened up New Year’s Day, and it leaves me with a few thoughts for the future. It would be brilliant to see this cast return for a full series (fingers crossed on that one happening). The one-off format works really well, and I’d love to see more instalments like this with an eclectic range of guest stars. And although Taskmaster has consistently proven to be one of the funniest shows on TV, I’d be lying if I said the prospect of ‘John Hannah, Caravanner’ couldn’t rival it.

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