Taskmaster: how does the US version compare to the UK original?

Taskmaster USA is now airing on Comedy Central in the States. What’s been changed from the UK original?

Chip shop chips for tea. Opening a virgin Panini sticker packet to fill a brand new album. Smelling the first satsuma of Christmas. Snapping off the little plastic bit from the lid of a Marks & Spencer Extremely Chocolatey Mini Bites tub when you’re the only one home. The prospect of a brand new series of Taskmaster fills us with more joy than the prospect of all these things combined. Dave’s comedy, now entering its sixth series, is a tonic for life’s ills. It’s silly and cheering and this world would be a much worse place without it.

Good news then, that in addition to a sixth series here in the UK, there’s now even more Taskmaster in this world. A US version of the show, co-presented by creator Alex Horne, has just started airing on Comedy Central in the states. Den of Geek investigated the first two episodes. Here’s how the US import compares to its UK original…

It’s much shorter.

Taskmaster is a half-hour comedy in the US, including three ad breaks. That leaves just under twenty minutes of task-mastering per episode, with two pre-filmed tasks and one live studio task. If you’re used to the UK version, it feels short. Comedy Central though, is airing the episodes as double-bills, which helps.

There’s no prize task.

In the UK version, the prize task is the first of each week, in which all five contestants each bring in a themed item (most unusual, meaningful, surprisingly expensive…) to create that episode’s prize collection. Points are awarded for the best and worst interpretations of the given theme. That’s been scrapped for the US show, which instead has one contestant an episode bring in an item they own that they really don’t want to lose. Early examples included a laptop computer and a cherished childhood toy.

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There’s a new Taskmaster.

Comedian and musician Reggie Watts replaces Greg Davies in the Taskmaster’s throne (and therefore it’s a bust of Watts’ head the contestants are competing to ultimately win) , with Alex Horne providing continuity as the co-presenter and task umpire.

The Taskmaster is less angry.

Reggie Watts is an altogether more calm and collected presence than Greg Davies, and less prone to aggressive outbursts. His humour is dry and whimsical, verging on the surreal. His presenting style is reminiscent of that of an old-fashioned anthology series armchair introducer. His show-closing catchphrase is “And remember… good night.” Watts praises the contestants, interpreting their various creative efforts with tongue-in-cheek erudition, and is generally more congenial towards them and Alex. He can, however, be ruthless, delivering one judgement that “in the spirit of generosity, she will get no points.”

The tasks are the same.

The US tasks are so far a repeat of the UK tasks. Get the basketball through the hoop without touching it, do something backwards that looks impressive in reverse (nothing even touches the utter delight of Tree Wizard), rescue a ping pong ball from the bottom of a tall tube, make the longest continuous noise… It’s like a ‘best of’. Speaking of which

Nobody is good at painting a horse whilst riding a horse.

Now transatlantically verified.

Under pressure, people still make entertainingly terrible decisions.

As in life, so on Taskmaster. Is it easy to kick a basketball into a hoop? It is not. Are Cheesy Puffs really the best choice of material for stuffing up holes in a plastic pipe about to be filled with gallons of liquid? No. They are not.

The nicest contestants still get picked on.

Mel Giedroyc, Mark Watson, Josh Widdicombe… they were all subject to the additional indignity of individual tasks that they alone had to complete. It’s all a matter of trying to get a rise out of the sweetest players, one feels. Who’s picked on in the US version? Why, young Freddie Highmore, who takes it all on the chin.

Not all of the contestants are comedians.

Joining three US comics Ron Funches, Kate Berlant and Lisa Lampanelli in the US series are DJ and music producer Dillon Francis, and actor Freddie Highmore, both of whom seem like good sports.

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Alex gets less abuse from the Taskmaster.

Greg Davies being generally oppressive to Alex Horne is a staple of the UK presenter dynamic. Not so in the US, where Reggie Watts adopts a stance of mild bemusement at Alex’s existence, almost to the point of aloofness. “It is Alex isn’t it?” he asks his co-host with affected dismissiveness at one point. A different level of power move.

But he still gets quite a bit from the contestants.

The American contestants are rude to Alex Horne. He’s called smug, “which means British and terrible” according to one player, and is repeatedly told to “eat a popsicle*” and to jolly well bugger off*. He seems okay with it though, and gets a few swipes in himself.

*Not actual phrases used

It looks mostly the same.

The studio set is pretty much the same, the design and editing and music are all intact. The contestants still sit on stage in first-name alphabetical order. There’s still a Dexter serial killer room hung with plastic sheeting for messy tasks and a portrait of Reggie hanging behind his throne. Alex still adjudicates the tasks with an iPad. The scoring is all the same and the various attempts are still edited together for maximum amusement.

But Taskmaster house now has a pool.

Well, it’s in LA, not Chiswick.

And there’s still a shed.

But probably filled with Hershey Bars and watering cans with gallon, not litre measurements, instead of the traditional contents of a British shed (Lawnmower. Twenty year old paint cans. Your dad’s porn mags. A squirrel.)

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Verdict: which is better?

The US version of Taskmaster is funny, because it involves funny people and Taskmaster is such a genius premise that would be very difficult to make unfunny. It is, however, really, really short when you’re used to UK episodes and feels over much too quickly even with the double-bill. Fans of the UK series are also not going to be surprised by the tasks themselves, which are so far all repeated. Think of it as an expansion pack rather than the game itself.

Overall, it’s fun for newcomers, but to existing fans, it’s Taskmaster Lite. Entertaining, by no means a travesty, but certainly no competition. Bring on series six!

Taskmaster series six starts on Wednesday the 2nd of May at 9pm on Dave here in the UK. Taskmaster USA airs on Fridays at 11/10 on Comedy Central in the US.