Over the past few months, Thursday nights have become the night of the week for reality competitions, whether its been the runway challenges of Drag Race UK, the furry feats in Pooch Perfect or the cringe-worthy comedic attempts in Stand Up and Deliver. While all of these shows have now vacated their regular spots on our TV guides, thankfully Taskmaster is flooding back to save us all from a telly scheduling drought.
The long-running game show, which moved from Dave to Channel 4 last year, returns to our screens tonight with its 11th series, another eclectic Taskmaster line-up of comedians and a new list of ridiculous tasks that pose (and answer) a number of questions, including: “How would Lee Mack go about trapping a motorised electronic rat?”.
Host Greg Davies is back on his typically eccentric form as the show’s tyrannical Taskmaster, while his challenge-setting sidekick – show creator ‘little’ Alex Horne – is armed with his iPad and ready to receive another wave of Davies’ madcap insults.
Meanwhile, this year’s cast of celebrity competitors doesn’t boast as many big names as series 10 but still makes for a delightful bunch nonetheless, with Would I Lie To You’s Lee Mack leading the pack with a surprising amount of enthusiasm followed by Fresh Meat star Charlotte Ritchie, stand-up comic and documentarian Jamali Maddix, Frayed star Sarah Kendall and Man Down’s Mike Wozniak (whose glorious moustache is a frequent scene-stealer so far).
Of course, the comedians’ chosen task outfits are always a fun part of the show and this year’s line-up hasn’t disappointed. Lee Mack’s funky motorcycle jacket, complete with cape and shorts, is arguably the best ensemble of the bunch, while Ritchie and Kendall have gone for casual, practical choices with denim dungarees and a jumpsuit. On the other end of the formal spectrum, Wozniak has opted for a suit which screams “middle management primary school” as Greg points out, whereas Maddix has gone for an all-black GCSE drama look, from his charcoal beanie down to his dark trainers.
For those unfamiliar with the series, throughout the 10-part series we’ll watch as these five celebrity contestants compete in various pre-recorded tasks, which are then judged by Davies who’ll award each of them points ranging from one to five, before they take on a socially-distanced group task in the studio. The winner of the whole series will take home a golden bust of Greg Davies’ head that, in my opinion, looks more like Jack Whitehall’s father than the Cuckoo star, but is still a worthy trophy even so. In previous series, we’ve seen the show’s competitors try to hide a pineapple on their person, write a song for a stranger, make an exotic sandwich, attempt to impress the Mayor of Chesham and do “the most preposterous thing” with a chickpea in a bid to win points from the ruthless Davies – but how do the challenges of series 11 compare?
While it’s hard to weigh up the tasks of one episode against those featured across 10 series and three specials, Taskmaster’s 11th season gets off to good start. Inside the Taskmaster house, which has now been given a Soviet-themed make-over, our comedians are asked to do the most impressive thing they can under a table whilst keeping their head above it, waving with the other hand and looking forward. The results are unsurprisingly chaotic, with all five contestants taking the task in completely different directions whilst a Stalin-esque portrait of a Ushanka-wearing Greg Davies stares over them.
In fact, all of the episode’s challenges deliver some golden moments, from Charlotte Ritchie scootering around an airfield whilst letting out an adorable “weee!” every few minutes and Mike Wozniak wobbling around on a hoverboard, frantically clinging onto a stack of plates, to Lee Mack passionately hurling a yellow bucket into Jamali Maddix’s tower of green ones during an in-studio stacking challenge.
My only complaint is that pretty much all the challenges were physical ones whereas some of the show’s best tasks have been the more abstract and creative. The ‘Make the Best Upside-Down Film’ task from last series let the likes of Johnny Vegas, Daisy May Cooper and Katherine Parkinson flex their artistic muscles, while season five’s ‘Give Alex a Special Cuddle’ task gave us Bob Mortimer spooning Alex Horne in the boot of his car.
With nine more episodes of the series to go, however, I’m sure there are a huge variety of tasks to come, and with a line-up of celebrities who seem prepared to dive head-first into the absurd mind of Alex Horne, Taskmaster’s 11th series is set to be an hour of gleeful absurdity we can look forward to on a weekly basis.