Catch up TV review: Taskmaster New Year, The Masked Singer, Birds of a Feather
James R | On 03, Jan 2021
Taskmaster’s New Year Treat (All 4)
Taskmaster has been one of the best TV shows of the past year, thanks to its winning blend of silliness to the point of distraction and, well, silliness to the point of distraction. Greg Davies, as the Taskmaster giving contestants pointlessly absurd challenges to complete, is as bitterly sarcastic as ever in this new one-off episode, and he has a surprisingly well-picked line-up of contenders to bully: John Hannah, Krishnan Guru-Murthy, Nicola Coughlan, Rylan Clark-Neal and Shirley Ballas. The show lives and dies on its casting, and after a strong batch throughout 2020’s season, this special once again pulls it out of the bag, with Guru-Murthy’s occasional daft moment wonderfully at odds with his calm newsreader profession and Nicola Couglan throwing herself into each round with the enthusiasm of an excitable arts and crafts student. Rylan’s determination to bend the rules is offset by John Hannah’s more straightforward approach, but the show is stolen by Strictly veteran Shirley, who serves up innuendo after innuendo with each task, much to the delight of Davies – a round involving slipping something through the hole in a doughnut is only the start of it.
The Masked Singer (ITV Hub)
ITV’s strangest game show returns for its second season and, much like the first, the series’ reliance on the most absurd central premise makes for an oddly unusual treat. The programme sees celebrities dress up in costumes – animal or otherwise – and sing in front of a panel of judges, who try to identify the person beneath the mask. Host Joel Dommett is as generic as they come, but the judges are a motley group, with Rita Ora’s enthusiastic guessing nicely contrasting with Jonathan Ross’ less serious joking suggestions. Mo Gilligan blends brilliantly in with them as the season’s new judge, effortlessly bringing humour to the table with a relaxed, confident charisma. Episode introduces us to Robin, Swan, Dragon, Sausage and Alien, and while which one gets unmasked isn’t a huge source of tension, trying to guess their identity correctly before they are is genuinely fun to play at home – especially when Alien’s accent seems too familiar to be a total surprise.
Birds of a Feather (ITV Hub)
Birds of a Feather has never been the most contemporary-minded of series, with its tale of two sisters (Tracey – Linda Robson – and Sharon – Pauline Quirke) being badgered by their wealthy neighbour Dorien (Lesley Joseph). This festive outing tries to be more cutting edge, updating the sitcom’s dated format to take into account the coronavirus pandemic – and so we see Tracey living with Dorien, while Sharon is trapped on a cruise ship. Tracey is keen to uphold safety measures – including with a tape measure to enforce social distancing – while Dorien is determined to continue dating (enter Les Dennis as her new fella, Graeme). The series deserves some praise for trying to rejig things, and the cast are certainly committed to their characters, but the laughs are sparse, with even the modern nods to the current crisis feeling boringly out of date – with Quirke not appearing at all, due to other commitments, you suspect she’s the one who had the last laugh this festive season.