Archives for posts with tag: Dave

Sometimes it’s good to be proven wrong. The new relationship your friend starts that you think won’t last but then results in their eternal happiness. The idea at work you are convinced will fail but actually makes turning up that bit easier. Or, on a smaller level, where you feel a TV show has lost its way only to surprise you by a return to form.

Taskmaster did just this. After what I felt was a ropey series 5, series 6 then became one of my favourites, with series 7 nearly matching that. The fear of downward spiral ended as I was able to put the stumble in quality down to a blip.

I still had worries for series 8 though. The line-up unnerved me. Only one of the cast was a stand-up comedian, although two others admittedly were, just not known for it. The other two are comedy actors, who I feel struggle on environments like this, as there is a certain element of ad-libbing that doesn’t work for those who depend on a script.

If the first episode is anything to go by, I shouldn’t have worried. Sian Gibson, one of the actors, is actually very good at handling the spontaneous nature of the show, perhaps because Car Share, the show that made her a star, was largely unscripted. Joe Thomas, the other actor, struggles more, and looks hopelessly out of his depth. However, that is not necessarily a bad thing, as it makes him a convenient receptacle for his fellow panellists’ barbs.

The others (Paul Sinha, Lou Sanders and Iain Stirling) are also on good form. In the case of Stirling this is already bordering on excellent. Sinha is another potential walking punchline as he seems to be the contestant most likely to repeatedly make a pig’s ear of things.

The tasks remain as inventive as ever as well. The first episode saw everything from sexy ventriloquist dolls to competing powerful smells. For a show that depends so much on original and eccentric ideas, it is surprisingly still thriving.

Greg Davies and Alex Horne remain brilliant of course. It is impossible for them not to be. Having said that, an episode of Taskmaster where they are the funniest thing is a poor episode, as the driver should always be the contestants. Good news – they are not.

This show is one of my hours of unadulterated joy. If it can maintain this form I never want it to end. I was as wrong as wrong could be last time. And it has never made me more happy to be so.

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Panel shows are surprisingly difficult to get right. The best of them are like dropping in on a conversation between friends, full of sparkling repartee and witticisms. Sometimes you can even find out something new along the way.

When they are done badly though, it is painfully obvious. The sparks that seem so easy to manufacture elsewhere never materialise, the jokes fall flat and everyone appears wooden. All of which results in a very painful half an hour to an hours viewing.

Hypothetical very nearly veers into the second category. The concept is that guests are set hypothetical challenges and must come up with the best way to complete it. For example, how would you make an S Club 7 musical a runaway success on Broadway? Would you rather wear a big hat or a little hat for the rest of your life? As with a lot of panel shows, there is not a lot at stake.

It is hosted by Josh Widdicombe and James Acaster, the latter also acting as points giver. Widdicombe in particular doesn’t quite fit as a host, not least because he falls into that common trap for comedians, not being able to read an autocue. Considering it is the job of a stand up to be able to ad lib, I don’t know why they are forced to read from one anyway.

Acaster is better, but flourishes when he is allowed to go off script and just converse with the guests. In fact, it is a bit too obvious that the show doesn’t need two hosts and that Acaster could carry this by himself if needed.

The quality of the guests matters. To be fair, both episodes so far have at least had a few good ones on. But the whole show only zings when the guests almost forget what they should be aiming to accomplish and just start riffing off each other. Which is fine, except it makes the whole point of having a concept pointless. Whilst all panel shows rely on a particular tangent catching fire, most still seem to be able to stick to the central point without detracting from the fun.

Overall, you get the feeling that the show isn’t quite there as a finished product. It’s a bit like when someone gives you a deconstructed dessert – you can see all the bits are there, but it would me much better if it came as a whole thing. But it does show promise. Some smart fine tuning to the basics would see it really fly. Let’s hope they get the chance to do so.

Are some shows review proof? What I mean is, are some programmes so deliberately slight and inconsequential that to review them is to miss the point. They are not designed to be appraised or analysed, they are merely something to be watched and disposed of.

I ask this question because I want to review Judge Romesh, but to do so feels almost silly. It is just a knockabout show where comedian Romesh Ranganathan settles minor disputes and invents novelty punishments. It’s Judge Rinder with an even shakier grasp of the law.

So yes, it is basically all a bit of silly fun. Most of the humour derives from Romesh’s dim view of the people in front of him and the verbal onslaughts he releases as a result. This isn’t the kind of show where you come away debating the nature of justice. The ‘crimes’ are barely even crimes. We are talking here about friends not paying people back for things or marital couples settling some minor axe to grind in their relationship.

Tom Davies plays the usher and looks comfortable and natural in the set up. There is some slightly odd joshing between him and Romesh that suggests some kind of mutual bromance between the two. It isn’t the funniest aspect of the show, but it fills some dead time.

The one fly in the ointment is, and I hate to say this as she is the only woman in the set up, Kerry Howard, ostensibly the court’s clerk. Unlike the naturalness of Romesh and Tom, Kerry come across as fake and scripted. There is a whole aura of her trying too hard. There are some jokes about her being the third wheel that land a little too well because she is exactly that.

I suppose my advice for watching this show then would be as follows: firstly, don’t take it seriously – it’s not meant to be, secondly, be prepared for some slightly forced but ok bromancing, and thirdly, blot your ears out when Kerry is talking.

It does what some might argue TV is meant to, it fills the time. It is though highly disposable – it wouldn’t be missed if it never got a second series, but you wouldn’t object if it did. And that is as close as I can get to a review.

I am a fan of Jon Richardson. I like the fact that his comedy stretches beyond that stereotypical Northener, a trap many of his colleagues with similar accents fall in to. His foibles, though irritating, are relatable. He has actually done documentaries on his OCD tendencies, including one very moving one a few years ago.

He is now fronting Jon Richardson: Ultimate Worrier, a panel show where he and his guests try to rank worries in order of importance. Over the course of the show he discusses three of his own worries, his guests get one each and the audience has one at the end. Jon being Jon, this means people who don’t stack the dishwasher right are more anxiety inducing than the threat of nuclear war. It is a twist on the Room 101 format, except there is no competitive element.

There are things I like about the show. Richardson is as good as expected, which is very. Although a lot will depend on the quality of the guests, the format seems solid and some laughs do happen. My biggest came from Suzy Ruffalo’s horrifying puppet. They even have an expert on to discuss some of the worries, which is a nice touch.

But there are many things I need changing to really enjoy it. The sketches are awful and seem to be added to make what is essentially a 30 minute show into an hour. Richardson is also not a natural talker direct to the camera. Like many comedians, he is better at ad-libbing than following a script. He could, and should, just get on to meeting the guests and getting cracking, rather than taking us through an opening monologue.

My final thing isn’t really a thing that can be changed, and probably isn’t even a real bug bear, but I can’t stand when comics laugh at each other’s jokes. It isn’t a problem on some shows like As Yet Untitled or any other show that is heavy on banter, light on format. Maybe the problem is that I don’t believe them to be sincere laughs or that they are a form of canned laughter, a marker telling us what to laugh at.

So yes, it needs tinkering with. It needs to feel smoother and more natural, and tighter editing. But it is funny and interesting, which buys it enough credit with me.

We need to talk about Taskmaster. And not in an ‘Oh my god did you see it?’ kind of way. More of a, ‘That wasn’t as good as it used to be’ kind of way. Because it’s true, it does seem to have declined. Four seasons why I found myself crying with laughing at least once an episode to this series, where it rarely got passed raising a smile.

There are two obvious things that need to be held accountable. The first is the tasks themselves. Actually, I feel these haven’t declined as much. There are still the deceptively fiendish mixed in with the borderline logic puzzles and the odd bit of eccentric creativity thrown in. It is noticeable how this series the ability for a contestant to read between the lines and ‘cheat’ their way to first place has been tightened up, but the show doesn’t live or die by that. So it’s not the tasks then.

Which leaves us with the contestants. I think we need to separate here individual charms from those of the group. Nish Kumar, Bob Mortimer and Aisling Bea all provided excellent moments of humour, some of which I will discuss more later. Sally Phillips and Mark Watson, less so. Phillips constantly came across as trying too hard, exemplified by the very first task of the series, where she had to give Alex Horne a hug. Cue lots of silly giggling whilst she shoved cake in his armpits. Watson, meanwhile, spent most of the tasks acting like a depressed and confused puppy and didn’t really spark off anything.

As a group there wasn’t much banter either. The show relied on the back-and-forth between Greg Davies and the contestants rather than between themselves. Overall, it felt flat and inconsistent. Which is major disappointment.

There were some individual moments of brilliance. Aisling Bea turning the tables on a prank played on her by Greg and Alex by sending a gold pineapple to her mum was genius. Nish Kumar made the phrase ‘You bubbly fuck’ my now go to when I get mad at the washing up. Bob Mortimer though was the star. His random comments made the show tick over and I would advise anyone feeling low to search for his ‘sausage display toy’ to cheer them up.

But it never should be relying on such fleeting moments. Maybe it is just running out of steam, or hopefully it was just a duff series. There is a Champion of Champions episode at Christmas that may point towards the show’s future. Part of me wants it to go on forever. But then again, I can’t bear to watch a continued decline. If this is to be its final curtain, then I will grin bear it. Or preferably, laugh myself silly for an hour one last time.

Panel shows seem to sprout up like weeds at times. There must be whole meetings, perhaps weeks of them, dedicated to just thinking up a new format. Then there are hosts and team captains to allocate, and a USP to find. So many fail, because quite frankly when you see them executed to near-perfection (Have I Got New For You, QI, Would I Lie to You) anything that falls short of that just looks like a mess with a bunch of ego’s fighting for airtime. Besides, all the best formats have been done. Haven’t they?

It turns out not, and there is still space for genuinely new takes. Taskmaster, currently being shown on Dave, is a panel show with the constraints loosened. The format is deceptively simple. Host Greg Davis, sets five comedians bizarre tasks to complete and awards points based on their success. These tasks range from high-fiving a 55-year-old, to emptying a bath tub of water in the quickest time possible. Obviously the humour is derived from the varying levels of incompetence the comedians perform these tasks with, as well as the subsequent banter.

It is hard to get across how funny this actually is, especially as the humour builds with each episode. You see, each week it is the same comedians, so patterns emerge, and the banter gains power by the fact they learn and use each other’s weak spots. For instance, there is a running theme of Romesh Ranganathan constantly running a constant low-level rage that explodes on certain tasks. Tim Key meanwhile, is constantly portrayed as sneaky, Roisin Conaty as ditzy and Frank Skinner as a calm, elder statesman, governed by logic (even if this logic rarely works).

I have genuinely cried laughing at times at this show, for reasons it is impossible to explain. It is daft, stupid, and ultimately pointless. Yet it is also a stroke of genius, and just the right side of twisted to stop it slipping into uncomfortable territory. At the end of the day it puts a smile on my face, and sometimes that’s all I want.