16 October 2020 00:34
Channel 4's task in poaching Dave's best programme was simple: don't screw it up. And by barely changing a single thing for Taskmaster's tenth series, they passed with flying colours. Of course there was no need to meddle with a winning format, unlike when they snatched Bake Off and failed to secure the talent. Here the omnipotent Greg Davies and creator Alex Horne came as part of the package. What were they going to do, suddenly introduce a fair and transparent judging process, not dependent to the fickle whims of a grouchy, imperious man?
Covid did mean some tweaks. 'I've removed the studio audience,' Davies intoned. 'Nothing to do with recent events, I just don't like them.' And the five new panels were socially distant across the vast stage, which did seem awkward at first. But with all the usual elements in place, from the abusive relationship between host and sidekick to contestants that were both competitive and inventive, and not always in a good way, the ice was quickly broken. Key, of course, is everyone's determination to succeed in whatever stupid challenge they have been assigned, such as to trying to get eggs from a balcony to a frying pan. And why not when there are such glittering prizes on off as Johnny Vegas's acid reflux medicine? Well, that's the theory. Initially it seemed like Daisy-May Cooper was barely trying when responding to the first task of brining along something that's nice In The Mouth to impress the Taskmaster - and thinking no further than a bottle of wine. More surprising, that turned out to be the best on offer. But for two-thirds of the show Cooper laughing uncontrollably and infectiously at her own ineptitude, while trying to avoid Davies's steely gaze, was a delight. And then she pulled off a victory… maybe. The genuine reactions of the competitors to how they – and, more importantly, their rivals – fared is another element to the show's success. Of the rest of the line-up, Mawaan Rizwan is the unknown quantity. He has the rare gift of being able to simultaneously overthink and underthink a problem. When his lateral inventiveness pays off, he can be quite impressive. When it doesn't, he looks dumb, and happily accepts either fate. Perhaps aptly for someone who played a lawyer in the comedy Defending The Guilty, Katherine Parkinson is Ms Loophole, trying to twist the rules as much as she can. Given the pedantry that's often found in his stand-up, you might have expected the same as Richard Herring… and that's true to an extent, but his intellectual need to win overrides that trickery. He quickly vocalised the dynamic of the show: he, and the others, are the eager children desperate to please the demanding father figure of the Taskmaster. This is a show that lets the comics' personalities under stress shine through, which is why the viewers become so invested. Watching Herring suspending his eggs off a balcony has the nail-biting drama of a penalty shoot-out, but for geeks. And the heartbreak of Vegas watching his hopes of winning a task literally drift away was tragic, even for a man who's made a comedy career out of misery and pathos. It all added up to an entertaining return of a joyous show... Review date: 15 Oct 2020 Reviewed by: Steve Bennett