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Taskmaster: Champion of Champions, review: a cult classic no more – this is a British comedy great

Greg Davies and Alex Horne host Taskmaster: Champion of Champions
Laugh track: Greg Davies and Alex Horne host Taskmaster: Champion of Champions - Channel 4

Who knew that a bald man stretching rubber bands over his cranium, then waggling his eyebrows until they pinged off, would induce helpless hysteria? Or that a grown woman drinking children’s paint could verge on performance art? Such was the giddy, glorious silliness on Taskmaster: Champion of Champions (Channel 4). I’d say “don’t try this at home” but surely no sane person would. That’s why it was so irresistibly entertaining to watch.

Four former winners of the comedy gameshow – Dara Ó Briain, Morgana Robinson, Sarah Kendall and Sophie Duker – returned to do battle in a one-off tournament. They were joined by Ghosts’s Kiell Smith-Bynoe, who finished runner-up to Mae Martin in series 15 but filled in because Martin was busy in what looked suspiciously like Hollywood. Host Greg Davies and sidekick “Little” Alex Horne reminded poor Smith-Bynoe of his second-class status at every turn, which built into an amusing form of bullying.

Five rounds of egg-dropping, hat-throwing, hand-clapping, wig-wearing stupidity followed until somebody was crowned Champion of Champions by a single-point margin. No spoilers. Suffice to say, their celebration was hirsute and hilarious.

This special also marked the contest’s 150th episode. Horne noted how it had overtaken The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which only managed 148. “That’s a slap in the face for Will Smith,” quipped Davies. This milestone instalment exhibited all the qualities which have seen Taskmaster blossom from a cult gem on Dave to a beloved mainstay of the terrestrial schedules.

Its casting remains impeccable. Every quintet of players is game for anything and clearly having a ball. Taskmaster absorbs five different personalities, from Gen-Z comedians to showbiz OAPs, and creates comic alchemy. If you’ve heard of them, they reveal hidden depths. If you haven’t, it’s like meeting a new friend.

However, it’s the show’s format which remains the true star. The endlessly inventive tasks are high in concept, lo-fi in execution. Their charmingly ramshackle feel is redolent of home-made games on rainy days or improvising with the dress-up box. Presiding over the resulting chaos are the witheringly sardonic Davies and the show’s nimble-witted creator, Horne. When this deadpan duo dissolve into laughter on their thrones, it’s infectious.

It might air post-watershed on Channel 4 but the odd oath aside, Taskmaster’s twisted tomfoolery is refreshingly family-friendly. My children are avowed fans. So is their grandmother. This was fun for fun’s sake. Who doesn’t need that nowadays?

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