The island review – this nautical panel show is so hilarious that it’s a wreck | Television

IIf the hallmark of a major TV series is bad imitators in the wake, Taskmaster is starting to look like a classic. Revive the panel show by getting comedians to tackle fleeting challenges instead of just doing a quiz, it said. Easy! But if The Island (Dave) is any indication, it’s far harder to re-tap the Taskmaster magic.

Warning klaxons sound immediately as the host, Tom Allen, opens the case by getting stuck in explaining the concept. Four comedians are on an imaginary cruise ship that has run aground. Four uninhabited islands are within easy reach. Each cartoon must found a new society that shapes every element of its imaginary lifestyle, hoping to persuade the highest number of imaginary passengers to become citizens.

First, the comedians – Ninia Benjamin, Ahir Shah, Sara Pascoe and Johnny Vegas – must name their island. What’s a funny name for an island that is not genuine and currently has no properties? Well, there is not one. Pascoe calls his “Magical Island,” which leads to a strange bit about the place being filled with magicians. Vegas goes after “Sale Now On”, on the grounds that cruise passengers tend to be old people who are innately unable to resist a trade – at least it’s a gag, albeit not a good one. Benjamin barely even tries with “St Benjamaninia” while Shah chooses “Poyais” because this was the name of an island invented by a 19th century swindler, which is less a joke and more a relevant fact.

Round two asks the comedians to nominate a celebrity to be their police chief. As the names come in – Sean Bean! Mysterious Me! Gregg Wallace! Ricky Grover, the excellent but not so well known comic actor! – any hope that someone will have thought of a funny reason to say that they ebb out, and the fatal error of the setup is confirmed. The island is so foggy and contrived that it asks participants to conjure up laughter out of nowhere. It’s cryptocomedy. People who are funny for a living can not do that.

With so many programs now involving three, four, or possibly five comedians thinking of things or performing tasks, a hierarchy exists that, in theory, determines where such shows are available. The best ideas go to terrestrial TV, with satellite channels just below. Further down the food chain, Radio 4 series are followed by overly long podcasts one reluctantly subscribes to having seen on Apple’s website a hundred times, followed at the very bottom by podcasts behind paywalls that non-subscribers never hear about.

Being on Dave, Taskmaster’s original home before its big money moved to Channel 4, places the island at level two, but it should rightly be down there gnawing at the podcast hordes. In fact, it was created by James Acaster and Ed Gamble, the presenters of Off Menu – a podcast where comedians talk about the food they enjoy. Acaster and Gamble should probably have noticed that while that format evokes revealing anecdotes about real life, so guests are having fun in a new and relatable way, The Island… does not.

This show is a filmed podcast. The only benefit to us of being able to watch the comedians, instead of passively half-listening to them while we cook, go for a walk or redo bathroom sealant, is when they make clay busts of themselves, which must be judged by Rich Miller from The Great Pottery Throw Down. Miller comes up with some generic ceramic comments (“I love the material qualities that come through”), assigns random points, and then wanders away.

Other than that, the comedians spend the hour sitting around a table and saying things. Near the end, they play a simple parlor game where they have to think of celebrities who have places in their names, suggesting that every single scribble on the idea board has been used. Then we realize that as in Taskmaster, the Island will offer the same people every week. This is alarming: Episode 1 has already accidentally included several photos of Pascoe smiling faintly as another of her colleagues’ fools collapses like a sorbet canoe. How affected is she going to look in week five?

Allen deserves perhaps the most sympathy. He is a tireless professional in a crisis like this, capable of blasting the deadliest moments with vinegary camp. You feel like he could have a decent crack at fronting a show where comedians name their favorite prime number if not already commissioned by Audible as a 43-party hosted by Dara Ó Briain.

Allen gives the episode’s funniest moment, but when that moment is him pretending as if the sound of the ship’s horn is him farting, it’s clear the vessel is stuck. The island is out of rescue.

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