Between dragging myself to work, lying in a bed with my eyes wide open unable to drift off to peace sleep, and trying to drink away my constant existential angst, I’ve turned my back on society and started catching up on all the TV shows that I missed while I was at university. This was mainly due to my not having any access to live cable, barring the rugby that I’d watch in the pub, because who needs a television license when you have a DVD collection that covers your largest wall.
I’ve been dusting off the boxsets that the almighty BT TV Bundle gives me access to, and I’ve been slowly working my way through them, as well as a live broadcast or two, but who really watches television when it’s actually been carefully scheduled and designed for a specific time slot?
I thought, especially as this is my first real foray into new television for a good few years, that I’d best start this odyssey with the classiest, most acclaimed show I could find. Would it be Game of Thrones, a series so hyped that if it doesn’t cure cancer I will be severely disappointed, Breaking Bad, because the American healthcare system is so knackered you need to sell meth in order to get treatment, or The Wire, a bit old now but still regarded as the finest television series of all time? I made my choice.
Taskmaster is a made for Dave exclusive devised by the bearded Alex Horne, based on a very popular Edinburgh Fringe show he performed in 2010. But as Alex Horne wasn’t a household name when the show first aired, the producers thought that he couldn’t front it alone and turned to a comedian who is fast becoming my favourite, Greg Davies. With Alex Horne as his ‘Beta-male lackey”, Greg acts as the titular Taskmaster, getting 5 comedians per series to perform utterly insane tasks for his delight in reward for points, from getting 4 yoga balls up a steep hill, emptying a bath as quickly as possible, sliding the furthest, and getting rid of a 50kg block of ice the fastest. On paper the series seems destined to be a failure, and I reckon it would be if it wasn’t for the extreme competitiveness and creativity of the contestants, and the carefully worded tasks that normally have a trick way of winning that wasn’t defined within the very loose rules they are set.
The mix of Alex Horne’s characteristic playful nature added to his occasional terrified looks to camera, normally around the time that Noel Fielding tries to eat him as the filling of an exotic sandwich, added to the cutting banter of Greg Davies that never strays too far into being cruel, you end up in tears laughing. Last night, during a segment where Mel Geidroyc had to eat a two-foot-tall chocolate sandwich and ended up getting and M&M stuck in her nose, I all but choked on my toast.
Although some of the games are a bit too silly at times, it’s a brilliantly simple, utterly wonderful idea that anyone could have thought of, but you didn’t, Alex Horne did, and that’s why he’s rolling in all that UKTV dollar dollar bill yo.
Speaking for idiotically simple ideas that should be too puerile to make good television, Robot Wars is aired on BBC2 [8pm on a Sunday] and is now into its tenth series, and somehow is stronger than ever. This, the third series of the reboot, has been so far, the most coherent and well produced, with a format that makes sense and has managed to build suspense throughout all the episodes. As someone who can still name all the winners and runners of up of all 7 of the original UK Championship series’ (no one cared about Robot Wars Extreme), to see Robot Wars back and as a good series, this thrills me to my childish, violence loving core.
The highlight of this series so far, without really spoiling anything, is how all the roboteers have turned everything up to eleven, and, in some idiotic cases, 12. One robot in particular turned up with a spinning bar weapon so heavy that no only was it entirely ineffectual but it destroyed itself, throwing the 35kg bar through the bullet proof arena wall and far too close to the audience. It was superb.
Dara O’Brien and Angela Scanlan have also matured as hosts, with Dara’s destructive glee coming through more and more, ditching his normally calm scientific demeanour, and Angela is letting her natural sass come through, dishing out withering put downs to every team that goes into the area and leaves in pieces.
It does have its drawbacks – too many of the bouts are over with one hit, and there is a definite and obvious gulf in class between the robots that have been made by school groups, or students with a budget of eight pence, and the trained engineer millionaires who have spent a hundred squillion quid on their perfectly machined mechanical killers, but it’s fun, raw, and childish.
Next week, there’s a ten-robot rumble that only ends when there’s only one robot left moving in the arena. Please, BBC, I can only get so hard.