CHRISTOPHER STEVENS reviews last night’s TV: Taskmaster dumps Dave for C4…. and – hooray – is as silly as ever!
The Trump Show
Telly is a brutal business. A show that slips in the ratings can be cancelled on the spot — but a hit series doesn’t mean an end to all the insecurities.
For channel chiefs, it just brings sleepless nights for different reasons. What if your fan-favourite elopes to a rival broadcaster?
Every comedian launching a show on the low-budget Dave channel in recent years has had one aim — to be as big as Taskmaster.
The slapstick panel format, invented by Alex Horne, sees five comics performing silly, often very clever, challenges to earn points from scathing adjudicator Greg Davies.
Taskmaster host Greg Davies (left) and creator Alex Horne (right)
After nine increasingly successful series, it was the jewel in Dave’s plastic crown. It gave us Richard Osman throwing a shopping trolley in a stream, Noel Fielding disguising himself as a banana and Sally Phillips playing basketball with Wellies on her hands.
And then Dave’s flagship sailed away. Dave got dumped. Taskmaster (C4) has gone mainstream.
Playing the imperious titular ‘taskmaster’ and his fawning courtier, Greg and Alex make a strong double act. Though apparently they have little time for each other in real life, on screen they have a natural rhythm.
‘Little Alex Horne’ (who is actually 6ft 2in) makes an ingratiating remark. ‘Lord Greg Davies’ (an enormous 6ft 8in) pauses just long enough to convey his contempt, and carries on. It’s a one-note joke, but it’s unfailingly funny.
As contestant Richard Herring pointed out, the core of the format is not how well the players perform the tasks, nor whether they make complete fools of themselves. The fascination is in seeing celebrities desperate for approval, even when they know it’s a set-up.
Herring botched a game that involved guiding eggs, without throwing them, into a frying pan 30ft away. Even when his eggs were splattered over the floor, he kept scraping them up. ‘You looked 12 years old, a determined little boy trying to prove himself to daddy,’ mocked Davies.
Budget buster of the night:
Art expert Georgina (Julia Stiles) returned in Riviera (Sky Atlantic) with jewel thief Gabriel (Rupert Graves). The palaces, gowns and backdrops of Venice and Buenos Aires were fabulous. Pity the plot wasn’t worth 50p.
‘Isn’t that what this show is?’ retorted Herring. Every series seems to attract one player whose thinking is not so much lateral as certifiable, and one who proves unexpectedly competent.
The lunatic this time appears to be YouTube personality Mawaan Rizwan, who wondered if an egg would fly if he filled it with helium (it didn’t).
And the dab hand was Daisy May Cooper, best known for her sitcom This Country with her brother Charlie.
She’s heavily pregnant, and a natural giggler. Whether she reaches the end of the series without laughing herself into labour, we’ll have to see.
For some reason, much of the background music this time echoed Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack for Spaghetti Westerns.
The same mood was evoked in The Trump Show (BBC2), a documentary about the past four years in the White House.
When the President met North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, it was to the eerie strains of The Good, The Bad And The Ugly. But this three-part series is not just a sneer. It asks whether the media has misjudged The Donald, dismissing him as a showman and failing to grasp what a natural demagogue he is.
‘People underestimate him at their peril,’ said BBC correspondent Jon Sopel. ‘He understands politics as entertainment.’
The interviewees, mostly White House staff sacked by Trump, relayed plenty of that entertainment. The outrageousness of the anecdotes was gripping.
On the day of his inauguration, said one, Trump wanted to swear his oath, not on the Bible but on his autobiography, The Art Of The Deal.
And why not? It’s obviously sacred to him.