Culture Film & TV

Task #1: Come up with a snappy title for this article.

Task #2: Write an article for The Oxford Blue about Taskmaster with a 600-800 word count.

Practically speaking, Taskmaster should not be as successful as it is. It doesn’t have any of the features of a modern game show (Pointless is a good example of this, with its tension building music and lights). Until relatively recently, it was shown on one of the lesser-known British television channels, Dave. For those who have not seen the show, the object of the game is to collect points by winning tasks, which are then added up at the end of the series to decide on the winner (there are also weekly winners, but this does not impact the overall winner of the series). The tasks vary from episode to episode, but nearly every episode includes a prize task, where the contestants must bring in an object related to a theme, a solo task, which often takes place in the Taskmaster house, a team task, and a studio task, which takes place at the end of the episode. The contestants are then ranked on a leaderboard based on how successfully they have completed a task and can win a maximum of 5 points; however, there is some variation from episode to episode.

Now, if this summary of the show makes you wonder what all the fuss is about, then you would be perfectly justified; I have missed out three vital elements which transform the show into something highly watchable. Firstly, the ‘Taskmaster’ himself (comedian Greg Davies). He allocates points and essentially controls the show, earning him the label of a ‘tyrant’ in Channel 4’s trailer for the current season. The contestants will only be awarded points if they impress him, and they will either be disqualified or lose points if they irritate him. A good example of the dynamic Greg Davies brings to the show is his confrontation with James Acaster in Series 7. During a prize task, Acaster becomes impatient and accidentally insults the Taskmaster, which leads to him being led off to the side of the stage, where Greg quietly speaks to him in a way that would not be out of place in a primary school (Davies was a teacher before he became a comedian). The Taskmaster is accompanied by his assistant Alex Horne, the original creator of the show. The assistant is the complete opposite of the persona of the Taskmaster; he is constantly mocked by Davies and humiliated by contestants in their efforts to complete tasks. In Series 4, the contestants are told to make ‘an exotic sandwich’, which Noel Fielding interpreted as tying bread to Horne’s head and instructing him to do a short dance routine. However, the task clearly states that the contestant must eat the exotic sandwich, so Fielding decided to eat a bit of Horne’s beard. Horne’s reluctant acceptance, or even enjoyment, of his use in tasks has been addressed by both Horne himself and Davies, particularly when the tasks take a slightly disturbing turn. Perhaps being open to humiliation would not appear to be a good characteristic for a modern game show host, which further demonstrates why Taskmaster is an unusual success.

The final element that makes up Taskmaster is the contestants. These are usually British comedians or television personalities, who bring their own style of comedy to the already outrageous tasks. This often affects the comedic dynamics of the series, based on the lineup of comedians. Their interactions with the Taskmaster are often more memorable if they have some prior relationship with Davies before the series starts (and considering the size of the UK comedy scene, this is not unlikely). From Mark Watson stealing Davies’ trousers at a comedy gig, to Rhod Gilbert’s various creepy pictures of Davies, feelings of antagonism between the Taskmaster and the contestants are increased, making the show more unpredictable for the audience. The tasks further add to the conflict between the contestants, the Taskmaster’s assistant, and the Taskmaster. This is largely due to the tasks either being incredibly literal or very difficult to complete successfully, which leads to arguments about the interpretation of the rules. Outside experience rarely helps in the context of Taskmaster and usually the more academically able contestants (such as David Baddiel) tend to struggle more with the tasks, because they are often so ridiculous. Alex Horne has stated that he believes the most entertaining parts of the show are when the contestants fail spectacularly. The audience understands that they would also struggle to complete the tasks, and thus convince the Taskmaster to give them points, helping them identify with the contestants and remain invested in the show. Series 11 combines all the enticing elements outlined in this article and I personally cannot wait to see who will become the latest champion.