Catch up TV review: Taskmaster, Mo Gilligan: Black, British and Funny, Craig & Danny: Black, Funny & on TV
Ivan Radford | On 18, Oct 2020
Taskmaster (All 4)
Rarely has a TV show’s return to our screens been so welcome than the long-awaited debut of Taskmaster’s 10th season. Jumping from UKTV Play to Channel 4, it’s a relief to note that nothing has really changed at all, with the show’s uniquely daft format still as hilarious as ever – from the donating of individual items (“the best thing to put in your mouth”) by each contestant to form a prize kitty at episode’s end to the ridiculous challenges they have to carry out to win it. The tasks are wonderfully absurd and petty, from making something disappear to trying to get an egg into a frying pan several metres away. The show has always lived and died by its line-up of contestants, and this season has struck gold there too: Daisy May Cooper (This Country), Johnny Vegas (Benidorm), Katherine Parkinson (IT Crowd), Mawaan Rizwan (Live At The Apollo) and Richard Herring (RHLSTP) are one of the best group of participants the show has ever seen, second only to the golden fifth season featuring Nish Kumar and Mark Watson. Johnny Vegas is hilariously panicked, Katherine Parkinson entertainingly precise, Mawaan Rizwan endearingly bewildered and Richard Herring likeable cunning – and Daisy May Cooper is just flat-out hysterical at everything she does (or, more often, doesn’t do), not least because she takes part under the guise of her own superhero alter-ego: Miss Achiever. But what’s most joyous of all is the sheer relief and excitement they all clearly have just to be able to do something vaguely normal, and nowhere is that pleasure more evident than between the two presenters, Greg Davies and Alex Horne. The pair are turned up to 11 for the whole episode, as Horne is sarcastic and flippant and Davies ferociously mean, devoting almost all of his efforts to trying to make Daisy laugh as much as possible. Needless to say, it works. This is, against all the odds, exactly the TV show we need right now.
Craig & Danny: Black, Funny & on TV
For Black History Month, both ITV and Channel have come up with an inspired couple of documentaries charting the history of British Black comedy. First up is this offering from Craig Charles and Danny John-Jules, who navigate through 50 years of comedy legends. They take us all the way back to Charlie Williams, who became the first major Black comic on UK TV with his Yorkshire accent. A former Doncaster football player, he bagged a role on ITV’s The Comedians, before taking over from none other than Bob Monkhouse as presenter of ATV’s The Golden Shot. Tracing history from there through Rising Damp to Lenny Henry, ITV’s The Fosters (the first Black UK sitcom) and The Real McCoy, the first all-Black sketch show on UK TV. It’s a comprehensive schooling on the history of Black comics, whose role in the UK comedy scene is often overlooked, but also a chance to see Angie Le Mar in action, hear insights from other Black comics – Charlie Williams talked to “them”, not “us”, notes Richard Blackwood – and see Lenny Henry’s delightful impression of Trevor McDonald on Tiswas.
It draws to a close in the present day, as Mo Gilligan and others find their way to TV, mostly by growing their own audiences online. The result is a wonderful education, or reminder, about the wealth of Black British comedy talent that has paved the way for comedians today. “He did it so I don’t have to,” Blackwood says of Williams. That warmth, celebration and gratitude makes for a rewarding, enriching watch – but also leaves you wondering why, when The Real McCoy and Desmond’s aired so many years ago, diversity hasn’t improved on screen since.
Mo Gilligan: Black, British and Funny
Almost perfectly designed to tackle that question is Mo Gilligan’s own portrait of the British Black comedy circuit. Hidden from the mainstream telly, he shows us the sheer number of Black comics who haven’t made it to the TV at all – despite playing to sell-out crowds at the Hackney Empire. “You get one shot,” notes Gina Yashere (also a star contributor to ITV’s documentary) of the challenge of getting past the gatekeepers who have blocked so many Black talents breaking out onto our screens. But that hasn’t stopped many comics from sharing their witty wares. Starting out as pushing back against racism in the 1970s, the Black comedy circuit has been thriving for decades, even with the one-in-one-out policy that TV producers seem to take – as if Stephen K Amos and Kayode Ewumi’s HoodDocumentary are somehow the same thing. Gilligan’s frank, naturally funny style makes him ideal for this showcase of unsung comedy heroes, from Angie Le Mar to Slim, and he pays tribute to everything from The Real McCoy to BBC Three’s Famalam, but with a focus on contemporary talents. KG and Nick Marston went viral online, like Gilligan himself, and while terms are thrown about such as “the next Reggie Yates”, it’s clear how each comedian has their own voice and style, even as they also respect and value the shoulders of the people who went before that they stand upon. Seeing Gilligan and Richard Blackwood talk about having your own primetime show named after you is worth tuning in for alone. Everything else is a delightful bonus. Opening with a question from Ricky Gervais on Extras joking there aren’t any funny Black comedians, this superb documentary shows just how wrong that perception is, and dares any budding comic watching to do something about it. Essential viewing.