Taskmaster USA: The Fan Review
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If you’re a fan of UK Taskmaster, read this review.
Comedy Central’s US import of hit cult UK modern classic Taskmaster has, for most fans of the original, been met with trepidation. American sensibilities are different. American TV is unforgiving of the super-weird and different. The import process tends to erode the creative work, sometimes to the point of irreparable harm. Does Alex Horne stand a chance in America?
Taskmaster USA holds up to its moniker: It is decidedly Taskmaster, but it is also decidedly American. The personalities of the panel are certainly bigger, the Taskmaster’s cottage is a sprawling LA condo, and the entire show is fit into eight 21-minute episodes. The details of the format have been neatly trimmed like a topiary to fit the confines of American cable TV, but the format itself, and its unique selling points, are present.
If you’re a fan of Taskmaster from the UK, then I shouldn’t have to go over how the game works. If you’re not a fan, you’re in the wrong place. Click here to read the Taskmaster USA Review for Newbies.
The format of Taskmaster USA has changed to fit a shorter run-time. Each episode starts with the prize presentation—no longer a task—in which one panelist brings in an item they certainly don’t want to lose. The winner of the episode gets that item. Out of all the sacrifices the show needed to make to get the runtime to fit, this is probably the most evident. With an eight-episode run, it’s obvious that there’s three more episodes than available prizes, but we’ll leave what happens as a surprise.
Two pre-taped tasks are played during each episode, and all of the tasks are lifted from the UK version, so if you’re looking for brand new tasks, you’re definitely in the wrong place. The presentation of each task is very similar to how the show is shot and edited in the UK—which makes sense because as Alex Horne told us in an interview last year, a lot of the same team that make the UK show made the US show. The live tasks also end each episode, and all of those are also lifted from the UK.
The panel is made up of comedian and DJ Dillon Francis, actor Freddie Highmore, and comedians Kate Berlant, Lisa Lampanelli and Ron Funches. American personalities come with American sensibilities, so there’s much more shouting and swearing but at the end of the day, everyone with a panic mode panics in their own unique way. Taskmaster’s uniquely suited to showcase a contestant’s panic mode, and the same surprise and delight one has when watching contestants try to solve these conundrums given to them remains in this import.
As an aside, I’m pretty sure Dillon Francis watched every episode of UK Taskmaster before he came onto the show.
Sitting in Greg Davies’ giant chair as Taskmaster is comedian and Late Late Show with James Corden bandleader Reggie Watts. Out of all the elements of the show, Reggie’s casting as Taskmaster seems to be the least pleasing choice for a fan of the show, like me. While funny and offbeat, and offering judgements to his own unique sensibilities, Watts came off during the season as uncomfortable or unsure of his role as adjudicator, and didn’t at all seem to particularly enjoy being the arbiter and rule-maker. I would have preferred someone more opinionated and authoritative in the role of Taskmaster, especially during some weird judgement calls during the season that would have been viewed as disqualifications under the iron fist of Greg Davies.
The other issue is the runtime. A lot of the memorable parts of the show come from the banter between the hosts and the panelists, but Comedy Central’s decreased runtime means that there’s less time for banter. The odd scheduling and format choice leaves me confused. The show will air two episodes a week back to back for four weeks. Why not just make four hour long episodes? I’m sure there’s a reasonable reason as to why but I’m left scratching my head.
Here are some little things that Taskmaster obsessives will no doubt ask: There are no team tasks this season. The season’s theme vegetable/fruit is a potato. The theme music is the same. The “house” cue is still the same, albeit truncated. Incidental music lists the same people from the UK show: Dru Masters and Tom Howe. No tiebreakers were pre-taped tasks. Fred the Swede didn’t make it over. There is no caravan, but there still is a shed. There were no single-person joke tasks, but there may be some tasks in which one person is asked to do a little more.
Taskmaster USA is decidedly, more—for the Taskmaster fan, we’re getting more celebrities doing tasks in their way. It’s 8 more episodes of fun. Is it as good as UK Taskmaster? No, but certainly this import holds its own on the US television landscape.