Prepare yourselves for the giggle of a lifetime.
Taskmaster, the popular British series, is coming to The CW this weekend, and if you haven't yet set your eyes upon this feast of comedy, you are in for a treat.
The show, which is hosted by creator Alex Horne and Greg "The Taskmaster" Davies, features comedians being asked to complete absolutely ridiculous tasks that range from the impossible to the absurdly simple. They might be asked to move a watermelon with breadsticks, or build themselves a new set of legs. The comedians each film their tasks separately over the course of a few months, and then they all come together to watch their attempts back and earn points given for being the best, or the fastest, or the funniest. If they win the most points in a particular episode, they receive a collection of questionable prizes provided by the other contestants. If they win the whole season, they get a golden cast of Davies' head. You'd be surprised to find out how hard they work to win, despite very little reward.
In celebration of the show coming to the U.S. (which just so happens to be two days after it won a BAFTA), we hopped on a video chat with Horne and Davies to help fill Americans in on their new favorite show. (We also did some geeking out, so if you're already a fan like this writer, there should be some fun stuff in here for you too!)
How did Taskmaster end up on The CW? The hosts actually have no idea, but they have a theory related to the coronavirus pandemic.
Horne: "I don't know the answer. Greg, do you know the answer?"
Davies: "I don't know the answer. Somebody in America saw it and rang up the production company and said, 'Can we buy it?'"
Horne: "We did this thing [during lockdown] called Home Tasking where people at home did tasks, and that got quite big in America, so I think that tipped it over the line. I don't know if that's true, but that's roughly what I heard. It sort of showed that Americans were on board with doing stupid things for fun."
Davies: "I've certainly noticed more comments coming from the States on social media. I've had a few more messages than I would expect to have for a show that doesn't air over there."
Horne: "It feels like Americans have always really enjoyed British comedy, so it feels like a good fit because people always say it's a particularly British show. So if you're into that sort of thing, then I think hopefully it will tick all those boxes."
Who are the stars? The season that The CW is starting with is actually season eight, most notably featuring Iain Stirling, the narrator of Love Island UK. It also stars Joe Thomas, Lou Sanders, Paul Sinha, and Sian Gibson. If you're not familiar with any of those comedians, you're about to be.
Davies: "I think for anyone who doesn't recognize any of the contestants, just take a moment to imagine your favorite comedians being humiliated by one giant man and one really small one. And you know, it'll all make sense. I don't think it matters if you know the people or not, because they're all comedians or comedy actors in this country, and they're all very funny. So we deliberately chose people who do funny stuff for a living, and we take them out of their comfort zone, away from them being in control of the comedy."
Horne: "I'd also say that over here, everyone's always heard of one or two of them, and then we've introduced the audience to a couple of them. So because it's the same cast for the whole 10 episodes, you will know them even after one episode, and it becomes more of a sitcom in that respect. For the first 15 minutes, you might not understand who they are, but you'll get to know them, and you'll have your favorites pretty quick."
Davies: "Within an episode, people have decided who's gonna win and who's the funniest."
How do Horne and Davies fit in? Davies is called The Taskmaster, and he makes the judgments while Horne, who also created the show, runs the tasks themselves and then presents them to Davies. Many fans will know Horne as "Little Alex Horne," who fictionally lives in Davies' house and acts as his servant. (Horne is actually 6'2", so he's only "little" next to Davies, who is 6'8".)
Horne: "I would say none of it was planned. We didn't sit down and think, 'How should we do this?' It was a pretty natural dynamic and we didn't know each other that well before, so it's all been built up over the years."
Davies: "There was a pilot that was never aired, and as a starting point, because in my standup I tend to be quite chatty, and there are elements of an authoritarian about me onstage, and the opposite where Alex is concerned. We did sort of say, 'Well, I'll be an authoritarian and you can be my humble servant,' and then when we did the pilot, we just realized we probably overcooked that a bit too much and we were being too character-like. So when the series proper started, we tried to make it more naturalistic."
Horne: "I think there's stuff for an American audience to enjoy that they don't normally get on a panel show. There is quite a complex relationship between us. Sometimes Greg actually is nice. Sometimes I'm dominant for a flash. So hopefully there's stuff that will surprise you, or just that gets under your skin."
Davies: "I think we're largely not that far from ourselves, really. But there's a dynamic to fall back on, which is he is my simpering man-servant, and I'm all powerful."
Why has Taskmaster not worked in the U.S. before? There actually was a U.S. version of the show in 2018, featuring Horne with Reggie Watts replacing Davies. The season starred Ron Funches, Lisa Lampanelli, Freddie Highmore, Dillon Francis, and Kate Berlant. It did not last past a season.
Horne: "What I like about this going on The CW is they're showing the full-length show. At 45 minutes, or an hour with adverts, it's quite long, whereas the one we did before was very brief. It was half an hour, so I felt it wasn't a true representation of Taskmaster. So we just hope that this one will pique the interest more. I think there's more to get your teeth into."
What are some of the best tasks this season that fans can look forward to? Horne and Davies had to do some googling to remember.
Davies: "Paul Sinha really made me laugh at his gross incompetence at something. Was that the golf carts? That was comfortably my favorite task from that series, is they had to drive around a course blindfolded on a golf cart. And it's the only time across nine series where you can hear Alex laughing his head off behind the camera. It's just such chaos. It's arguably my favorite across all the series, actually.
Horne: "It also has the task which viewers recently voted as one of their favorites, which was at the train station, where I had a helmet, bobbing up and down."
In the task Horne's referring to, he was wearing a helmet with a light on it and standing on a bridge over some train tracks. For 10 seconds, he would stand up and shine the light, then he would kneel down for another 10 seconds. Contestants had to make their way to the bridge without being spotted during the time he was standing up.
Horne: "There's also one other, which is 'make the best thing to engage a toddler,' which is a really sweet task. It sort of shows the different types of tasks, because they have to make something that a two year-old would enjoy, so then you have a very sweet denouement with a little kid...I think she chose just a tray of water in the end. But it's always quite hard when people ask us what our favorite task is, because they're very varied, and there's a lot of them."
Davies: "I don't know what season 'make a really fantastic pair of legs' was in, but that was one of my favorites. I love that, because some of the giant legs that they made made me cry with laughter."
Horne: I mean, there's sort of three or four different types of tasks. I probably don't [have a favorite] because you always start with basically a blank piece of paper. For example, 'do the most impressive thing backwards that when you play it forwards, it looks interesting,' yielded really brilliant stuff. But I also like the ones which are just 'get an egg as high as possible.' I like the ones where people at home think, 'How would I do it?'"
Horne and Davies also had thoughts on our personal favorite, "Write and perform a song for a stranger." One song, written about an unsuspecting woman named Rosalind, was about how Rosalind does so much cool stuff. The other song's chorus included the lyrics, "Rosalind is a f--king nightmare."
Davies: "'Rosalind is a f--king nightmare' could truly be one of my favorite things that's been said across the series. Just so unexpected, because Rosalind was lovely."
Horne: "Yeah, she did all sorts of things. That was [Bob Mortimer]'s first instinct, immediately. 'Well, we've got the chorus.'"
Taskmaster is particularly great for revealing a whole new side of its participants—a side that they might not necessarily have wanted people to see—when they can't play the character they created for the stage. Beyond the individual tasks, that's what both Davies and Horne really love about the series.
Davies: "On [other shows], the comedian is given the space to bring their onstage persona with them. And on our show, they can't get away with that. They can't rely on the character they've crafted. They get taken out of that. So I think this is the joy of the show for me. Comedy is one of the few businesses or careers where if you have a stand-up comedian, you have largely absolute control of what you put out there, or what you want people to think is funny about you, and they have no choice but to reveal other aspects of their personality, and that is the great joy for me."
Taskmaster, which is produced by Avalon, will begin airing on The CW this Sunday at 9 p.m., but if you can't wait, you can watch the first six seasons on YouTube.