Archives for posts with tag: Greg Davies

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.

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I have said it before and I will say it again – comedy is a broad church. If Boy Meets Girl is the epitome of cosy and low key, then at the other end of the spectrum is the brash, farcical Man Down. Such is the gap, I often wonder if I am the only person who watches both, or rather, watches one and records the other for a less hectic night.

When it comes to choosing which one to watch live, Man Down wins every time. It has a natural energy that draws you in. I also feel that, in some respects, it has matured over time, and has settled into a nice rhythm, without losing its anarchic edge.

Take the most recent episode. Dan’s soul-searching, Jo’s shop opening, the bipolar menace of Daedalus, all long running themes of the series, combined together nicely with one-off plots to build to a crescendo at the end. In this instance, Jo’s disastrous shop opening is rescued by Dan being snapped out of his selfishness by a talking to by Nesta, who just so happens to have lost her driving licence. One stolen police car later, combined with Brian’s infatuation with his local MP, leads to a relatively happy ending, with lovely side veers into Brian being tormented by a group of tweenage girls and a newspaper editor obsessed with Dan’s knee.

In many respects, this series feels like the strongest yet. Dan is actually showing sign of emotional maturity. This is a positive for me, as I was always slightly unsympathetic to his plights in the past. As shown in the example above, his friends are no longer purely there to get him out of situations; he is capable of saving them as well.

In fact, the whole ensemble cast seem to be at the height of their confidence in performing their roles. Along with Greg Davies’ Dan, Stephanie Cole is fantastic as professional battleaxe Nesta, and the casting of Tony Robinson as Daedalus is inspired.

As a result, I know feel invested in what happens. Does Dan go to America? Will he realise Miss Clarke has a crush on him? Will people finally realise what a nutjob Daedalus is? I genuinely want answers.

Yes, the comedy is daft and broad. This isn’t some sweet and ground breaking tale. It is essentially about some over-grown child, who should know better. But it’s funny. And that is all we need ask of it.

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.

There are fewer things that bring unbridled joy into our televisual lives than the perfectly made sitcom. They are rare beasts, but that is a good thing as it means that when one arrives it feels all the more special. Whilst we wait on news on a second series of Raised by Wolves, still making a strong claim in my eyes for sweeping the next British Comedy Awards, Channel 4 has handed to us the equally strong Man Down.

We have had to wait a while for this to return to, although the delay is understandable with the untimely loss of Rik Mayall, who played chief torturer and father to Greg Davies’ lead character. Such was the loss that it was a deep source of worry as to if the next series would still have the same drive without him.

But hurrah! It does! This is due to three factors. The first is the introduction of Stephanie Cole as Aunt Nesta. Whilst the cruelties to Dan are inflicted more accidentally (or at least with a slightly better intention), there is still enough of a sense of this character being a blockade to Dan’s attempts to have a better life for her to work.

The second is that the remaining existing supporting cast are as strong as ever. Mike Wozniak plays bookish, obsessive Mike perfectly (how his car insurance speech hasn’t gone in the cannon of great comedy moments is beyond me), whilst Roisin Conaty is as amazing as ever as chaotic, unemployable yet irrepressible Jo. Conaty, it should be said, has fast become one of my favourite comedians, and I hope her star continues to rise.

The last factor is Greg Davies himself. It is easy to forget that has brilliant as his interplay with Mayall was, it was only for a few minutes each episode, and a great sitcom is not built on this alone. The character of Dan has been, and always should be driving force in this show, which he is. Davies’ bizarre physical energy, reminiscent of Mayall’s, drives the situation. Life’s losers are at the centre of so many comedies, but few are written as large. Or more importantly, as funny.

A comment from on of the chief reviewers in this weeks Radio Times caught my attention his week. Each week the magazine selects a drama of the week, documentary of the week and so on. David Butcher commented that often the hardest task is selecting a Comedy of the Week, due to the lack of quality in general across the genre on television. He is therefore delighted at the riches that are currently on-screen.

Amongst the fleet of sitcoms doing their bit is Greg Davies mad-cap comedy Man Down, a tale of an overweight, middle-aged drama teacher whose girlfriend has left him after years of incompetence and buffoonery, leaving him to rebuild his life. Of course there are the usual band of hindrances in his friends and family, not to mention his own emotional and social limitations. Not the most original premise I grant you, but it gets away with it with aplomb. Why? Because it is funny!

Davies himself is, of course, naturally funny both physically and in verbally. He is brilliant at playing a man whose life is spiralling out of control. But the supporting cast deserve plaudits as well. First there is Rik Myall playing his borderline-sociopathic father, a comically malevolent force who can’t help but steal the scenes he is in. Roisin Conaty is equally delightful as the monstrous and delusional Jo, whose life, like Davies’s seems to be swirling around the gutter, except you feel she never climbed out of it in the first place. Then there are the minor characters, including aggressive waitress Shakira and the unseen (yet clearly terrifying) Bob.

Yet the character who is most adoringly crafted is Brian, played by Mike Wozniak. Brian is the straight-guy in this ensemble of the bizarre; he has the stable home life, the successful career and the ability to not cause the calamities everybody else does. Yet there are little hints that not everything is right under the surface: suggestions he is bottom of the pecking order at home for a start. And  despite initial reluctance, he seems actually quite willing to get involved on the car crash lives that surround him, which seems odd if he is so centred in his life. A particularly joyous moment saw him give a speech on the how to maintain a Direct Debit that would have even put an orator like Churchill to blame. It was the battle-cry of the respectable middles-classes to end them all. Somehow the most square and normal of all the characters is the one who is the most brilliant.

Man Down is indeed a treat. Yes the comedy can aim at a base level – one episode revolved around a man with a giant backside –  but such crudity, when played well and with balance is fine. On this basis, British comedy is in stronger health that it’s detractors would give it credit for.