There are a lot of great feelings in life. Making a baby laugh. Knowing that your parents are proud of you. Falling in love. But arguably one of the best feelings is when you find a new TV show you love and then realise it already has a bunch of seasons out.
This blessed rare occurrence happened to me with the show Taskmaster. It’s originally a UK show in which five comedians and/or well-known personalities complete a series of “tasks” set by sidekick (and show creator) Alex Horne, for judgment by the extremely tall Taskmaster, the comedian Greg Davies. It’s a show that has been around for a long time but it only just came into my orbit.
Undoubtedly to the annoyance of some long-term die-hard fans (I don’t care), the first version I watched was the New Zealand Taskmaster, after visiting my girlfriend in New Zealand and (wonderfully) getting stuck here. We loved it so much that we then started watching the UK version. Also probably to the annoyance of some long-term die-hard fans (I don’t care), we started watching the UK seasons out of order, based on which contestants (women) we wanted to see first.
One of the reasons Taskmaster is so good is also one of the reasons it is hard to describe to people in a profound way. That is, it’s extremely silly. The tasks range from “make this coconut look like a businessman” to “bring a board game to life” to “throw a potato into a golf hole”, and many more. Sometimes it’s about being fast, sometimes creative, sometimes there’s a best way to do a task, sometimes there is a loophole – but it all boils down to the person doing the task. That’s where the joy comes from. These contestants are all professionally funny people and performers. We have seen them in their natural habitats doing standup, starring in TV shows, radio, acting – but this is an entirely different situation. How will Noel Fielding’s brain fire under pressure when tasked with “making an exotic sandwich”? In what way will Richard Osman “impress this mayor”? What will Sally Phillips do when told to “create a water-cooler moment” with a water-cooler? (Answer: film an amazing video of her having an affair with it.)
Five very different people are given the same task to do under pressure and, as you watch them approach it, you get a real insight into their minds. It is often fascinating, sometimes surprising and it’s almost always funny. Tasks are pre-recorded at the Taskmaster house and property a few months earlier and each episode shows the contestants and hosts in the studio later, watching the tasks along with us. Seeing the contestants celebrated for nailing a task, or seeing contestants absolutely baffled at why they approached things a certain way only months earlier is almost as good as the Taskmaster’s subsequent judgment. Davies is perfect in that role, formidable, usually fair and overwhelmingly charming.
He is 100% committed: which is the major reason the show works even though it’s so silly. Everyone is committed. Nobody is too cool for it. Some of the best comedians in the world give it their all, even when that “all” is doing something weird with an egg and looking ridiculous. That doesn’t mean that it gets monotonous, because everyone’s display of commitment can vary so wildly. Some are loud and expressive, some are quiet and thoughtful. Only a few are so annoying they make me yell at my screen (email me for a list).
I’ve noticed a growing number of people on social media talking about Taskmaster. I don’t know for sure that it’s become popular lockdown viewing but it wouldn’t surprise me. I think fun and silly comedy is the most our brains can cope with during a taxing time. The comedians have great rapport, the hosts have a loving dynamic and there’s a lot of gentle roasting. There’s also the fact that the show takes place largely at the Taskmaster house. Is it comforting during this time to watch other people trapped in a house, trying to complete nonsense tasks that don’t really matter in the scheme of things, and having fun doing so? It might be a stretch but I’m here to tell you it’s worth a try.
This was an article about why you should watch Taskmaster but it’s also secretly about me setting a task for you once you’re done. I think New Zealand has proven that the formula can succeed in other locations and Australia is full of incredible comedians who are now very available. It would absolutely work, and be great, and also I should be hired to work on it. So your task is: once you’ve taken my advice and watched the show, join me in the call for a Taskmaster Australia. Your time starts now.