Why you should be watching Taskmaster
James R | On 29, Mar 2023
Taskmaster returned to Channel 4 on Thursday 30th March 2023, bringing its signature brand of silliness back to living rooms across the UK.
The series, for the uninitiated, sees Greg Davies take on the role of the all-powerful Taskmaster, who – alongside Alex Horne as his loyal assistant – sets out to test the wiles, wit and wisdom of five hyper-competitive comedians through a series of strange and surreal challenges. After nine seasons on UKTV’s Dave and several seasons on Channel 4, it’s a flagship UK comedy show with good reason, thanks to its downright unique approach to panel shows.
Never seen Taskmaster? Here’s why you should be tuning in or catching up:
1. It’s pointless
Taskmaster is based around one simple premise: force people to carry out the most random, inconsequential, arbitrary tasks imaginable. These aren’t epic feats of survival, challenging tests of endurance, or even remotely impressive displays of talent. Rather, these are tasks such as herding dogs, knocking over rubber ducks on walls, painting a picture of a horse while riding a horse, blowing something off a table or camouflaging yourself in a room. Over the years, it’s evolved from something amusingly trivial to the Shooting Stars of reality telly, the I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue of primetime TV contests. It’s the most pointless thing you’ll see on telly this year. And it’s all the better for it.
2. But there are points
What makes the daft challenges so entertaining, though, is that every contestant takes them so seriously, finding increasingly inventive ways to achieve the end goal as quickly, efficiently or flamboyantly as possible – or, even better, to cheat the whole thing entirely and find a lazy workaround.
Why do they take it seriously? Because there are actually points awarded for each round, and every episode sees one person crowned the winner. They get to take home not just the title of champion, but also some highly valued prizes: every contender brings an object they’re willing to forfeit to the winner. Previous submissions have included their favourite subscription (a standout was an annual subscription to daily emails containing photos of clouds) and an “object that makes an interesting noise”. So the stakes aren’t just high: they’re personal.
Just to prove it, the show even had a Christmas “Champions of Champions” special several years ago – that a TV show based around meaningless tasks with no purpose whatsoever can even claim to have a “Champion of Champions” is testament to just how absurdly confident Taskmaster is in its own brand of nonsense.
3. The tasks
It’s hard to overstate just how brilliant the tasks are, and with every season, the show’s producers have to find new ways to top previous challenges. What began with emptying a bath tub without taking out the plug has grown to making stop-motion films of potatoes, performing the most impressive stunt possible with a wheelbarrow, cheering up traffic wardens or just conducting a genuine miracle on camera. Season 10 promises people destroying a cake with a cricket bat. As you do.
4. The contestants
As you’d hope, the contestants who sign up for this tomfoolery are fully prepared to go the extra mile to emerge victorious – Bob Mortimer’s attempt at a miracle in Season 5 was only topped by Aisling Bea’s surprising and disturbing attempt to give someone “a special hug”. Nish Kumar and Mark Watson even manage to write a song about a stranger in 30 minutes that you would genuinely buy as a single. What’s also impressive, though, is that the show continually makes an effort to have a more diverse group of people on its show than most panel shows. Season 11 was one of the best to date, thanks to the laidback absurdity of Mike Wozniak (Man Down), who faced off against Charlotte Ritchie (Ghosts), Jamali Maddix (Hate Thy Neighbour), Lee Mack (Not Going Out) and Sarah Kendall (Frayed). Season 12 brought the giggles with Alan Davies (QI), comedian, Desiree Burch (Live At The Apollo), Guz Khan (Man Like Mobeen), Morgana Robinson (The Morgana Show) and Victoria Coren Mitchell (Only Connect). Season 13 had the ruthlessly competitive combo of Ardal O’Hanlon (Father Ted) and Bridget Christie (Stand Up For Her), plus Chris Ramsey (The Chris Ramsey Show), Judi Love (Loose Women) and Sophie Duker (Live At The Apollo). Season 14 featured Dara Ó Briain, Fern Brady, John Kearns, Munya Chawawa and Sarah Millican.
Season 15 includes comedian Frankie Boyle (Frankie Boyle’s New World Order), comic and writer Ivo Graham (The Stand Up Sketch Show), actor and writer Kiell Smith-Bynoe (Ghosts, Enterprice), comedian and novelist Jenny Eclair (Skins) and comic and actor Mae Martin (Feel Good).
5. The hosts
While watching people embarrass themselves on screen is entertaining, what makes Taskmaster really step up the laughter is its choice of hosts: Greg Davies and Little Alex Horne. Horne created the series, starting at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2010 before bringing it Dave in 2015 (after being turned down by Channel 4). Horne has a deadpan that’s lethal, overseeing each task as the officially adjudicator, and almost never breaking his straight face. In the studio, meanwhile, he’s joined by Davies to watch back the footage, with the Welsh former teacher overseeing the whole thing like an inebriated headmaster with discipline issues. Watching him berate everyone at every opportunity – not to mention barking orders at Little Alex Horne – is priceless.
6. It’s not serious
In an age of binge-watching, box sets and cliffhanger plot twists, sometimes you just want to sit down and watch someone trying to play basketball without their hands, or invent their own water-based form of transport.
7. There are 14 seasons to catch up with
Season 10 of the Channel 4 incarnation proved that, reassuringly, nothing had changed, with Daisy May Cooper particularly hilarious as she battled with the ferociously mean Davies, while Katherine Parkinson, Johnny Vegas, Richard Herring and Mawaan Rizwan each brought their own amusing strategies to the tasks. All 14 previous seasons plus the 2017 Champion of Champions special are on All 4, with the first nine seasons and special also available on UKTV Play. The early seasons are also on Netflix UK.