Hit show Taskmaster is back with series 13
Who knew, back in 2015, that a programme on Dave – then known solely as a home for repeats of old, no-longer-topical comedy programmes – would be such a hit?
Especially given the show’s content: the first task set to its celebs was to eat as much watermelon in a minute as possible (a task which Roisin Conarty failed at in hilarious fashion).
No sooner had the melon pips been cleared away than Dave realised they had a hit on their hands. In 2020 Channel 4 pulled off arguably their biggest coup since snagging Bake Off and secured the show for their own schedules, more than doubling Taskmaster’s viewing figures as well as bolstering the channel’s comedy credentials.
If you’re unfamiliar with the format (have you been hiding under a rock these past few years? Not that we would blame you, given recent events…), Inbetweeners’ Mr Gilbert and former real-life teacher Greg Davies takes the titular role as Taskmaster, the imposing figurehead whom the contestants must please and appease; Alex Horne is the sidekick who sets and invigilates the tasks.
Behind the scenes Horne is actually the brains of the operation. He created the show and executive produces it, which makes his treatment by Davies and the task-performing celebs all the more amusing. He’s frequently the recipient of jibes and ends up stoically wearing a brave face while being pelted with fruit or subjected to other demeaning treatments during the course of tasks. He’s also earned the nickname “Little Alex Horne” from Davies (Horne is 6’2”, but next to Davies’ 6’8” frame most people can appear “little”).
Horne originated the idea for an Edinburgh Fringe show in 2010, apparently a response to his jealousy at friend Tim Key’s Edinburgh Comedy Award in 2009. It didn’t win the trophy, but it did furnish him with a TV-ready format that was repackaged and snapped up by Dave, eager to move into original programming.
Taskmaster is now a franchise, with an American remake of the same name (and also with Horne as co-host), as well as versions in Sweden, Norway, Finland and New Zealand. Its global appeal is something the creators are confident in, and indeed last month they launched Taskmaster Supermax+, a worldwide subscription-based streaming service that offers every episode ever made, ad-free, for £5.99 per month.
We don’t recommend that for UK viewers, who can already watch every episode for free on All4, but for a show which has long proven it can build and maintain audiences through word-of-mouth alone, it may prove to be a very shrewd move indeed.
Of more relevance to us is the new British series, the first since the show won the National Comedy Award for Best Comedy Entertainment Programme. The line-up this series comprises Ardal O’Hanlon, Bridget Christie, Chris Ramsey, Judi Love and Sophie Duker, and when pressed on potential highlights in an interview with the Guardian, Horne stated: “People get so cross with me when I say… definitely I don’t want to highlight one comedian in particular, but I would say Judi Love. Ed Gamble is the host of our Taskmaster podcast, and he’s watched all the new episodes, and he just texted me the words ‘Judi Love’ and I knew exactly what he meant.”