Task #2021.4: rank all series of British TV show Taskmaster from worst to best.
Update, January 2023: Thanks for reading for the past two years! I’m sorry that my review/ranking of series 14 will have to wait — I’ve watched it already but as it’s directly threatening my top 3 order I’m going to wait until I’ve rewatched the two series! Meanwhile, the New Year Treat specials have been amalgamated into one series — do please enjoy!
Nobody watches Taskmaster for the educational value. There is nothing to be gained academically from seeing five celebrities sweat it out in a house, trying to figure out how to finish tasks, while disapproving Taskmaster Greg Davies and his loyal assistant Alex Horne (the real brains behind the show) judge them in the studio. Lateral thinking is a possible outcome, but if you’re the sort who looks at entertaining TV series and tries to pick something out of it, you really need to start getting a life. Or you’re a fan like me. (I recognize that the two are not mutually exclusive.) The question I ask myself, though, is: is there some way to turn this fandom into something constructive? Surely there is something positive to be squeezed out of my obsession with this kitschy, small-budget TV show?
Behold, I humbly submit my personal list of rankings of all series. These are purely subjective, and if you’re interested in talking about it I welcome civilized discussion in the comments. If you’re here to look for a place to start watching, the ones from my 5th place onwards are pretty great. Or maybe not. I’ve finished my task — yours is to see for yourselves.
Your time starts now. (Minor spoilers below, you have been warned, etc, etc.)
16. Series 1 (2015)
A classic case of early instalment weirdness, this one gets a lot of credit for the sole reason that Romesh Ranganathan can be seen throwing a watermelon to the ground in the first episode. Scratch beyond that, though, and you find only a vaguely amusing show: the dynamics are not well-established, the energy is low as hell, and most damningly of all, everyone spends ages trying to figure out whether the action they’ve just seen — watching Alex eat toothpaste, for instance — is supposed to be funny. Loads of people like to complain about contestants who don’t know what they’re doing: this grand tradition begins with Roisin Conaty, the grandmother of them all. I know it’s a bit harsh to judge it based on how awkward everything is, but seriously. It’s all very boring, and possibly the only series I try to actively avoid.
Favourite task: “Paint a picture of a horse, while riding a horse.” (episode 1)
MVP: Romesh Ranganathan (“TREE WIZARD!”)
15. Series 3 (2016)
To be clear, this one is perfectly serviceable on its own. And that’s the whole point: I don’t really like this series because of how average and forgettable it all is. For every series, I can name at least two or three tasks that I loved in. This one didn’t have any — the most I remember is Rob Beckett cackling madly, but he does that for everything he’s in anyway. Everyone just seemed to be stuck on one setting too — Paul is grumpy, Dave is polite, Al is rich and so on. Of course, five episodes is not enough for us to get to know all of them well, and the format is partly to blame for the series being meh. But I do not watch this series for ennui, and I’d only watch it if all other series had been wiped from existence.
Favourite task: “Surprise Alex when he emerges from the shed after an hour.” (episode 2)
MVP: A bit hard to choose — everyone’s equally average. Oh alright, Paul Chowdhry then.
14. Series 8 (2019)
Yes, this contains probably my favourite task in all the series — the railway yard hide-and-seek is probably the best thing to have ever happened in the whole show — but it goes downhill from there: awkward pairings, lacklustre banter and distinctly uninteresting tasks with few stakes. But the biggest problem is how forced it all feels — I know that every contestant needs to have at least one win here, but in the case of Joe Thomas’ winning episode this is engineered so blatantly that Joe’s win felt hollow, something gained through the producers’ machinations more than Joe’s own merits. I also found myself actively disliking Iain Stirling’s behaviour on the series: he’s what I think of when I imagine white, privileged arseholes who can’t bear losing to someone else. Thank God for series 9 afterwards.
Favourite task: “Sneak up on Alex.” (episode 1)
MVP: Joe Thomas
13. Series 6 (2018)
Unfairly maligned as one of the worst instalments of Taskmaster — I actually had to comb the official YouTube channel to find a clip from this series — this one actually is quite serviceable when you come to take them task by task. It’s a story of contrasts: Asim, Liza and Tim make for a great team, even though Alice and Russell are evidently the more competent ones; Alice is the bubbly cynic while Asim is the scrappy fighting his way up. But I agree with the general consensus that it gets boring later on, as panellists hit the same note over and over again, with only the occasional zany moment saving them. Instead, this one sticks out in my mind most for the development of Greg and Alex’s relationship — who can forget the rapturous moment when they actually, finally, kissed? In any case, while the entry above demonstrates why you need longer series, this one demonstrates why 10 episodes isn’t necessarily a good idea either.
Favourite task: “Write a bedtime story for grown-ups.” (episode 3)
MVP: Liza Tarbuck
12. Champion of Champions I (2017)
Now THIS is how you make a shortened series. Of course, this series was clearly an afterthought of sorts: created on a whim just as an excuse to milk the five champions being together in one room and make them go through the same thing again; what I appreciate about it is how hard you have to look to recognize this. Yes, I can’t remember anything about these people except Bob Mortimer, but they don’t skip a beat in reminding me just why they have been crowned champions of their respective series (except Bob, who with every single thing he does makes me wonder why he did win his series). Unfortunately there are a few clunkers in this one that don’t gel the harder you look, and Katherine’s approach to “the biggest mess” task struck me as just a step too far. To date, it’s the only task which I haven’t watched in full even once. The drama’s just too much, you know?
Favourite task: “Write down a word beginning with T every time Alex blows his whistle.” (live, episode 1)
MVP: Bob Mortimer (obviously)
11. Series 2 (2016)
This series and its tasks are constantly cited as the prime example of what Taskmaster is about, and though I don’t agree with this idea in full (see my 4th place for that) I do see how a case can be made for it. After all, this is the one where contestants begin to think out of the box: when people begin to realize that you can swerve and break the rules, their internal conflict and the lengths they’re willing to go to be creative pull this series out of the dumps of series 1. But if you want to argue for this series as textbook Taskmaster, though, look no further than Joe Wilkinson’s infamous sudden disqualification, which dropped him squarely into last place, and endangered his marriage certificate. It’s the first instance where the stakes are significantly heightened, and you realize the key thing that has glued me to this show ever since: anything can happen.
Favourite task: “Create a video for a nursery rhyme.” (episode 2)
MVP: Jon Richardson
10. Series 10 (2020)
A confession: when I first wrote up this list I thought series 10 was great, deserved to be up there in the top 5. Two years on, the recency bias has worn off, and I’ve found myself pushing this series further and further down the list. It’s not that it’s BAD or anything — if anything, this series is a testament to Alex’s ability to come up with new tasks and make use of the bigger budget he’s been allotted since the move to Channel 4. But the overwhelming sense I get from this series is one of relief: relief that the sudden imposition of a pandemic has not seriously crippled the show, relief that audiences are responding well to the new format, and relief that Katherine Parkinson, bless her heart, is braving her endless humiliations nicely. Which is all very well for a normal television show — but from Taskmaster, one learns to expect a little more than slapstick humour and awkward relief.
Favourite task: “Silently make the tastiest and prettiest cocktail with the best name.” (episode 6)
MVP: Katherine Parkinson (by a country mile)
9. Series 13 (2022)
The first post-pandemic series was warmly received with a sigh of relief by the community; perhaps because everyone was so close to each other, it felt a little more intimate, and the eclectic cast certainly makes this series a warm and inviting watch. (The only weak link is perhaps Ardal O’Hanlon, who perhaps struggled to balance the sniping at other contestants with his doddering old man persona; that’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy his presence though.) The tasks, too, are inspired: the simplicity of “learn Swedish” or “make all of these things happen at the same time” is just lovely. But I just don’t get that big a rise out of it all — everyone’s competent, but there isn’t the kind of joy or confounding of expectations that other series were better at. (Of note, Alex’s attempts at twists proved a bit too complex for me. I’m a simple man who just wants some laughs, this complicated mind-gaming isn’t my thing.)
Favourite task: “Taking it in turns, roll a tyre down the Knappett.” (live, episode 4)
MVP: Judi Love
8. New Year Treats (2021-2023)
The most common complaint I read about these one-off specials is that they give us too little time with the contestants: one can easily imagine Claudia Winkleman or Amelia Dimoldenberg bringing their awkward charm or cloud-cuckoolander antics to a whole ten-episode series, and seeing their characters slowly develop. And I always think that Greg is fawning a little too much when it comes to these specials (fair enough, given that they’re all much more famous than he is), which takes away a bit of the fun. But with that said, it’s easy to gratefully accept what little time we spend with these scintillating personalities, who as time goes by have been put to increasingly good use. And hey: if we can have Adrian Chiles crawling on a gravel driveway in his underwear, then I’m not going to complain about how quickly I forget about these people — it’s living in the moment that’s the key.
Favourite task: “Turn your chosen ball into a head. Your new head must be the head of one of your fellow contestants.” (live, 2022)
MVP: Mo Farah
7. Champion of Champions II (2022)
This really is exactly what it says on the tin: an episode’s worth of former Contestants fooling around, occasionally reminding you why they won their series (which, coming 18 months after the airing of series 10, is very welcome). The tasks are a little more inspired than the previous attempt at CoCs, and the contestants are a little more evenly matched — but the whole episode is really just one long Greek tragedy for Ed Gamble, who starts the episode off at the top of his game and then slowly devolves into a frustrated, angry mess that is somehow also a thing of beauty. (You need to have something of a sadistic streak to be a Taskmaster viewer.) Otherwise, this is a perfectly serviceable coda to the five series at hand: interesting answers to interesting problems, a light laugh in a heavy year — and that’s no mean feat for a show that’s getting close to 120 episodes.
Favourite task: “Cut holes in and create a scene on this board. Most wonderful scene wins.”
MVP: Ed Gamble
6. Series 4 (2017)
And here is the other factor that has kept me a loyal fan to Taskmaster all these years. I was already biased towards Hugh Dennis the moment I realised he was part of this series; what surprised me was how much I liked the other contestants by the end of the whole thing. To be fair, the ability of the contestants to be endearing despite their serious flaws is made easy here: they are almost always friendly with each other — how can you be mean to bubbly Mel Giedroyc? — and there’s no sense of urgency about the whole thing even as they continue to deliver the laughs and chuckles. It’s Taskmaster for the slow living. And that’s ultimately what also limits this series: it’s a warm bath, rather than a shock to the system that elicits strong gasps from the sofa.
Favourite task: The bathtub task (team, episode 5)
MVP: Hugh Dennis
5. Series 5 (2017)
The first “great” series on this list. I have said that anything can happen on this show, but imagine my surprise when renowned actress Sally Phillips demolished all decorum and started stuffing cake down Alex’s armpits while giggling like she was having the time of her life (and given that she was going through a divorce at the time, it probably was). From there on it only gets more chaotic: Bob Mortimer discussing his pooing habits, Aisling and Alex’s deadpan reactions to a jelly sliding down a pole, and Sally’s water cooler moment — everything this lot does just sends sparks flying, and this show is all the better for it. Taskmaster, at its heart, is not about people performing tasks: it’s about how people interact in a bigger world while showing how they can be individuals with complex characters. For its simultaneously elegant and messy depiction of this fact, this series vaults its way into greatness.
Favourite task: “Create the best splat.” (team, episode 2)
MVP: Bob Mortimer (“do we strike you?”)
4. Series 11 (2021)
From the moment I finished episode 1, I was already resisting the temptation to compare. They always say you need time to cool down after a series, and there’s always the fear that you’ll get caught up in the heat of the moment, and lose all sense of objectivity. But there’s no helping it: this series is just an irresistible bundle of joy. From Mike Wozniak’s continual barrage of verbal wordplay to Sarah Kendall’s endless capabilities (she proves that simply excelling in every task can be sexy too) to Charlotte Ritchie herself, only rarely does this series careen off the rails and leave you dazed and confused. Unfortunately this series also relied heavily on the squick factor — Mike’s “absolute casserole”, Jamali’s attempt at a Russian doll meal, and most disgustingly Lee Mack’s spittle and poppadom mix cascading down the front of his beard. Shame, really. This really stood a chance of usurping series 7 before that last incident happened.
Favourite task: “Record the greatest aircraft safety announcement and perform the greatest safety demonstration.” (episode 8)
MVP: Charlotte Ritchie (“wheeeee!”)
3. Series 7 (2018)
Let this series show that Alex Horne is truly a genius. The tasks themselves are nothing special — with every rewatch (my third this winter) I notice just how many of these tasks are mundane and threaten to tip into boredom. But Alex knows that the key to a good series is having a good cast, and it’s in the interplay between the plainness of the tasks and the lengths to which everyone is willing to complete them that perfect comedy is born. Every single person has something to grab your attention this series: the fury of James Acaster, the determination of Kerry Godliman, and of course Phil Wang’s… um, costume. But it’s Rhod Gilbert’s no-shits-given rampage through the series that ensures that I keep coming back: the man is already pure chaos, but it’s the effortless way with which he takes everything to the extreme that makes this pure entertainment — and shows Alex Horne’s genius in between the humiliations.
Favourite task: “Tie yourself up as securely as possible.” (episode 10)
MVP: Rhod Gilbert
2. Series 9 (2019)
The received wisdom about series 7 is that it contains one of the most stellar casts in the history of the show. But take it from me that series 9 is better. Yes, you do not have anyone as freewheelingly insane as Rhod Gilbert. But everyone here does their part to make this as unexpected as possible: Rose and Ed’s endless healthy rivalry, Katy’s cloudcuckoolander tendencies, and Jo Brand just not giving a damn about anything. You already know the results, and yet these five people are so engaging that you just lean forward all the time, eager to see what comes next (and fearing for the mental health of anybody who comes into contact with David Baddiel). When Katy Wix disappears for two episodes, you’re acutely aware of her absence despite the wondrous performance of her substitutes. Coupled with Alex’s taskwriting being the best it’s ever been before and since, series 9 is just pure thrill ride, twist after twist, excitement after giddy excitement, from start to finish.
Favourite task: “Complete the adventure. You may only open one task after completing the previous.” (episode 2)
MVP: Rose Matafeo
1. Series 12 (2021)
I genuinely thought that series 9 was the best this show could throw at me. I genuinely thought that nothing would be able to beat Ed Gamble’s rampage or Jo Brand’s withering putdowns, and after two pandemic series and signs of fatigue from Alex Horne, it was all but obvious that Taskmaster had peaked, that from now on, all we could look forward to were a grab-bag of amusing antics that might occasionally put a smile on my face.
How wrong can you possibly be? This was a series that excelled in bringing joy and ecstasy to my heart every Friday. All of the tasks — ALL OF THEM — were nothing short of pleasant, and there was at least one every episode where I found myself positively rolling on the floor. “Copy Alex”, “Solve the riddle”, “Make a cute toy for a cute dog” — all of these entertained me to no end, kept my mouth open in laughter for so long. And yes, there were signs that Alex was running out of ideas: this is the first series where a few tasks were inspired by (or even borrowed directly) from foreign versions of the show. But the cast are such charming people that you forget all concerns of creativity, and just appreciate everything and everyone that comes onto your screen for those 45 minutes.
Oh yes, the cast. A striking amount of them are registered geniuses: Victoria Coren Mitchell is one of the smartest people on television, and Alan Davies, despite constantly coming across as a bemused grandfather, isn’t far behind. But the others were just as fun to watch — Desiree Burch’s sarcasm was a delight, as was Guz Khan’s no-nonsense attitude towards everything in general. But what wouldn’t I give to spend an eternity watching Morgana Robinson do anything, with her ducky energy spilling everywhere and powering so many of her moves: I can’t count the number of times my face lit up when she was onscreen.
But what seals the deal for me is how positive everyone is here, how everyone seems to be having a whale of a time. Alex has broken character from his nervous, awkward persona before, but this series has him hunched over, clutching his notes and shaking with barely suppressed laughter; to see him so uninhibited is a shock and a joy to behold. And whereas previous series had contestants being overly competitive — (cough) Iain Stirling — these five people always vocally supported each other, went out of their way to defend each other’s moves even if it cost them points. At one point, Greg had to shout at them to “STOP BEING NICE”, and Guz’s retort that “we have defeated the format of your show” might as well be this series in a nutshell: defiantly positive, endlessly unexpected, always revelling in that communal joy. For that, series 12 stands — far and away — as the best version of the show I have ever seen.
Also, did I mention that Morgana Robinson is gorgeous as well as talented?
Favourite task: “Work out the contents of these bags.” (episode 2 — and I have to say there are half a dozen alternatives)
MVP: Morgana Robinson (“HAHAHAHAHA… I’m really proud of you!”)
I’ll update this list as new series air, which should keep me occupied for the next 18 months — see you round here when the elusive CoC II (finally) pops up!
16 thoughts on “All 16 Taskmaster Series Ranked (NYT 2023 update!)”
Season 11 then 4 then 2 then 6. Season 9 BTW SEASON 10 WAAAAAAAYYY OVER RATED HERE!!! it is near last!!
I did think about putting series 11 way higher, but I think series 9 had the more inventive tasks and the high points don’t rely that much on squick.
And I’ve actually lowered series 10 a bit already — when this piece first came out in January I ranked it fourth! And I realise Katherine Parkinson divides a lot of fans, but I think she’s delightful. 🙂
Out of interest which season did you watch first? My ranking (below) heavily rates the beautiful simplicity of the early seasons over the gimicky latter seasons.
Best – 7 – 1 – 2 – 4 – 8 – 3 – 5 – 9 – 6 – 12 – 11 – 10 – worst
No one in the latest 3 seasons had any chemistry whatsoever
I started around series 4, but I do get your point about gimmicks… the tasks have been quite complicated of late, and it’s the show’s recent major flaw. But as I’ve said, sometimes the cast (members) are so endearing that it’s hard to resist.
Interesting rankings though!
I pretty much back this order – this article basically seems random to me. The simplicity and finding of loopholes is what makes this show great and that has bearly been present an any of the double figure series.
Season 12 tasks were often too complexe for me which is my main concern going forward. I do agree it is one of the greatest cast the show ever had, but I wouldn’t rank them ahead of those from seasons 5, 7 and 11. So I’d rank season 12 somewhere between 4th and 6th, season 12 has a better cast, season 4 better tasks, season 9 a better balance of both but it’s pretty close between those 3 seasons in any case.
Right now I’d go 7-5-11-9-12-4, but all 6 are perfect TV anyway.
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I like having a nice mix of tasks, and I think the more complex tasks tended to have more comedy to them – the riddle, the red chair, the box and the pipe… The one where they had to remember Alex’s moves in the church is easily the best-edited task since Joe’s disqualification. And that’s saying a lot since I think the mobility scooter challenge was superbly-executed and David and Ed’s fountain sequence escalated perfectly.
But you’re right in that different things matter to different people. I finished this series and immediately thought, “Was that the best series ever?” I laughed more at many other series. I liked a lot more at other contestants more than any on this stage. I didn’t think this was Greg’s best outing, and he’s my MVP of every series. Still, this was the first series where I enjoyed every single minute of it. Nobody got too competitive (I still have issues with Ed yelling at sweet sweet David Baddiel and Daisy May flipping out on poor Richard… and effing Iain, though he at least has said how ashamed he is of himself). Nobody was too pathetic (I’m sorry, but watching Katherine flail at everything just got sad… and I don’t watch this show for people who don’t try, do I, Jo? Doc? Roisin?). Nobody played an annoying character onstage (I love Romesh, but even he regrets his angry playacting). Nobody argued excessively with Greg.
These all made me realize that what’s most important to me is what happens on that stage. Which is why I’m not a huge fan of Series 7, because Phil Wang and Rhod Gilbert TANKED onstage. Both kept repeating the same beats over and over and OVER. Phil’s HILARIOUS stories about haggling for his prizes got worse every time (though the length of that joke sure didn’t help). Rhod thinking mostly-nude pics of Greg were hilarious burns (Greg posed for most of them, fully knowing they were going to be seen by the public, so he clearly wasn’t going to be shamed by them). Rhod was so spectacular at so many of the tasks, but he also went on auto-pilot way too much. This series was the first time that I didn’t care who won. Even Victoria, who clearly didn’t deserve to win, but had she won? Good for her! (That said, any of the middle three winning would have delighted me, though I predicted a Morgana win after the first episode. She brought the same skills to the table as Mel: enthusiasm and secret smarts.) My one memory that I take from this series will be the Prize Task where they all bought things for each other. They all thought about the actual best gifts to give each other, and they were all so excited to take those gifts home. That’s great television.
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While I generally think you’re right about Series 8 in it’s placement and about Stirling, I think the manufactured episode win thing feels a bit odd. Joe finishes in the top 2-3 in several episodes, so he’s definitely no slouch. I also don’t really think they try to get everyone a win because we’ve had seasons pass where one or even two contestants don’t get a win?
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I agree that Joe Thomas definitely had it in him to win more episodes — but Alex’s comment in the one he won, that “he almost got full marks” kind of stung while everybody else flailed in the low teens — it smacked of them stacking all the ones where Joe was the outright winner altogether. Alex denies this, of course, but that lopsided a win…
As for the “trying to get everyone a win” situation — that might not have been the case in earlier series, but IIRC that has happened for every series since S6. Even Baddiel and Parkinson got wins, and they strike me as performing worse than Phil Wang (the sole exception since 2018). So I do think that they are trying to make sure everybody gets something…
I see no reason to comment on Sarah Kendall and Morgana Robinson’s physical appearance- kinda creepy…
Oh I’m not focusing on their physical attributes — on the contrary, I think that it’s mostly their ability to power through the tasks that makes them worthy and great contestants!
(And also, like, it’s a platonic contemplation of beauty, I don’t mean it in a sexualising way, if that was what you meant.)
Season 6 was ridiculously, embarrassingly bad. There was no humor whatsoever. Alice is cute? That’s a weird compliment, since I thought folks were going for funny here. And Lisa Tarbuck literally couldn’t be arsed, as they say, to be entertaining (save for one great bit I wrote off to blind luck).
Second worst, season 10 and Katherine Parkinson. Here’s where I noticed the contestants were no longer comedians. And sometimes weren’t remotely funny, and didn’t give a damn.
Otherwise, I’ve been thrilled. Sure, it’s up and down, but it was only these two seasons where I thought, “Jesus, are THEY going to be on again?”
I think they did try for humour with series 6, so there are (very dim) bright spots in it; I also do get the criticism for series 10 (and with every look back it drops a little bit more for me), but Mawaan and Katherine Parkinson I liked. But yeah, both are a bit “meh” for me…
Season 1 at the bottom is madness and makes me question the validity of the remainder of the list. Tim Key alone is enough to keep it out of the bottom third
Everybody has different takes! As I said, I thought the awkward energy was too much.