One of my favorite shows of all time has returned, and very few people actually know about it. Well, that’s not entirely true. Taskmaster (2015 – present) is a big hit in the UK, where it’s filmed and primarily airs, but for some reason it’s still extremely niche in North America.
Comedy Central tried to make a version of the series in 2017, but it messed with the formula too much and only ran for one season. In 2020, presumably looking for some pandemic-friendly content, the CW bought the rights to two seasons of Taskmaster and only aired one episode due to extremely low ratings. For some reason, the show can’t seem to get a foothold in North America, and I don’t understand why.
The premise is fun and simple. Five comedians or media personalities are given a series of tasks over the course of a few months and later come together at a live taping to watch, discuss, argue, and cringe over the results. They are then given points by the Taskmaster (comedian Greg Davies) based on how well they did, if they found a clever workaround, or based purely on the Taskmaster’s whims at the moment. Show creator and co-host, Alex Horne, is there when the contestants are completing the tasks and is also present at the stage shows as the Taskmaster’s administrator, sidekick, and punching bag.
The biggest selling points are the variety of contestants and the variety of tasks. Tasks can vary from something simple (“Don’t blink, your time starts now”) to large, Rube Goldberg-ian scavenger hunts. There are artistic tasks like paint a rainbow while in a pitch black room, or draw a horse while riding a horse. There are tasks that require more input and creativity from the contestants themselves, like the simple task of figuring out a way to surprise Alex. That’s where the diversity of contestants comes into play.
The best seasons have five distinct personalities who handle tasks in five distinct ways. This doesn’t necessarily mean they handle the tasks well, but at least they handle them interestingly. So far, Season 12, which premiered last week, seems to have that quality. The contestants are Alan Davies, Desiree Burch, Guz Khan, Morgana Robinson, and Victoria Coren Mitchell — obviously not household names in North America — and some of the tasks so far have included “paint a picture of the Taskmaster with the canvas either six inches above you or six feet above you” and “bring in the thing that would feel the nicest if you put it in a bag and sat on it.”
It is, above all else, a silly show.
If you decide to check the show out, the new episodes are usually uploaded to YouTube by Thursday night or Friday morning after airing. I’d also suggest just going back to Season 1 and starting from there, since all of the seasons have been uploaded to the official Taskmaster YouTube Channel. If you do feel like jumping around, seasons 5, 7, and 11 are particular standouts in my opinion.
While North America hasn’t quite jumped aboard the Taskmaster train, Taskmaster has taken off in other parts of the world. Sweden, Norway, and Finland all have versions of the series. New Zealand’s version of the show just finished its second season, which is up there with the best seasons of Taskmaster I’ve ever seen.
I think that if you like puzzles, comedy, and watching celebrities have potentially embarrassing breakdowns over goofy tasks, then it’s worth your time to check out this underrated show out.