In Taskmaster, which premieres Friday, April 27th at 11 pm ET/PT on Comedy Central, British actor Freddie Highmore (Bates Motel, The Good Doctor) inadvertently provides us with a perfect metaphor for American television’s latest attempt to adapt a U.K comedy game show. Tasked with getting a basketball through a basketball hoop without using his hands, Highmore turns to the crew and says, “Maybe I can use it as a football?” After accommodating his soccer skills to the ball’s weight and bounce, he promptly launches it square on the backboard in his first attempt.
Despite the gasps of host Reggie Watts, co-host and creator Alex Horne, Highmore’s fellow contestants (Dillon Francis, Lisa Lampanelli, Kate Berlant, and Ron Funches), and the audience, the basketball doesn’t go through the net. Yet that’s not where the “perfect metaphor” ends, for after a dozen more attempts, Highmore leaps into the swimming pool separating him from the goal, tips it over until the hoop and net are perpendicular to the ground, and gently kicks the ball in. He doesn’t win the round, as he used his hands to overturn the goal, but Highmore’s defiance proves my point — not everything works out as planned.
Aside from a few recent examples (like Whose Line Is It Anyway? and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?), British game and comedy panel shows don’t always work in the United States. In fact, those that have are now nowhere near as successful as they were during the early 2000s. While the variety and talk show formats have all but taken over American television’s attention at the moment (see: Michelle Wolf and Hasan Minhaj joining the ranks of former The Daily Show correspondents getting their own series), however, it seems Comedy Central is going to try out another British import on its viewers.
Taskmaster is unlike anything American audiences have seen in recent memory. Across 10 episodes, host Watts and co-host Horne will require contestants Highmore, Francis, Lampanelli, Berlant, and Funches to do a wide variety of increasingly strange things for their and the viewers’ enjoyment. (They’re also competing for points and a trophy bust of Watts’ head. I’m not kidding.) With its odd mix of Whose Line‘s comedic setups and The Bachelorette rose ceremony-like gatherings, Taskmaster may prove clever enough to lower the goal post and kick the ball in.
Reggie, had you seen or heard of the original U.K. Taskmaster before getting involved?
Reggie Watts: No, not really. I knew Alex. I’d met Alex before and we were already friends. I definitely dug what he was doing. And from seeing him do his live shows and just interactive Horne based stuff. When I heard there was a project with him, I just thought whatever it is, I’m down to do it. That’s how it started.
How did you guys first meet?
Watts: We were both in the Melbourne Comedy Festival. From that festival on we kind of became friends. I was a guest on his festival show. I guess the show that he was doing while I was there was kind of a variety show. We kind of just hit it off. He’s just a really brilliant guy. That would have been maybe three years before Taskmaster. Maybe more.
Alex Horne: I think we met at the Melbourne Comedy Festival. I do a show with a band called “The Horne Section,” which is sort of a mix of jazz and comedy. I’ve got a jazz band and comedians come on and muck about with them. Reggie was probably the most perfect person we ever had. The idea is people improvise and muck around. He’s got the best improvisational skills and the best music skills. We just hit it off. We did another thing in Dublin a few years later. That was it really.