In the very first scene of The Horne Section TV Show (All 4), we are introduced to Alex Horne’s very real lot in life. After all, Horne is best known as the creator and producer of Channel 4’s wildly successful Taskmaster. So it stands to reason that the first person we should see on screen is, well, Greg Davies.
“Imagine you worked for five years developing your own telly show,” Davies announces from the Taskmaster stage. “Someone from telly goes, ‘I’m going to give you your own TV show,’ and, just before you can celebrate, the big telly person reveals that you can’t be the fucking host.” Announced (as usual) as Little Alex Horne, Horne then wanders on stage and is almost immediately sent off on an errand to fetch Davies some bagels.
This is the Alex Horne we meet at the start of The Horne Section TV Show; belittled and ignored and cursed with altogether too many children. But Horne has a secret weapon: his band, The Horne Section. Here, Horne is in charge. Here, he gets to bark the orders. Here, he is safe. The Horne Section TV Show, then, is a TV show about The Horne Section. Specifically, a TV show about the Horne Section making a TV show called The Horne Section TV Show.
The show is such an explosion of silliness that explaining the plot seems slightly unnecessary. Nevertheless, here goes: desperate to climb out from under Davies’ massive shadow, Horne pitches a show to Channel 4. Broadcast live from his house, it’s a cheap chatshow featuring his band (his real band, which has been together for more than a decade and performs all the music on Taskmaster) and celebrity guests. Thanks to a succession of mistakes and coincidences, the show ends up being commissioned. The show we watch is of the band making their show.
If that sounds a bit too much like a snake eating its own tail, there is good news. The Horne Section TV Show is a lot of fun. It’s a riotous, good-natured sitcom that sits somewhere between Flight of the Conchords and The Goodies. Better still, it manages to capture Horne’s onscreen energy – startled and awkward and relentlessly British – with perfect ease. There is never a moment where he doesn’t look like someone who has just realised that a camera is on him for the first time in his life, and the mileage he gets from this is astonishing.
My favourite thing about the show, though, is how it acts as proof that Horne is one of the most well-liked people in comedy. Davies appears, sending up his bullying persona to a truly delightful degree, and Tim Key makes an appearance later on. And it speaks volumes that Horne managed to convince John Oliver – now a US citizen, and serial winner of Emmys for his HBO current affairs show – to play a major part in every single episode.
Oliver appears remotely, and yet his enthusiasm for simply getting to be on The Horne Section TV Show is palpable. He yelps, he dresses up, he repeatedly threatens to sing. It is, hands down, the most effervescent he has been on screen in years. His presence is a joy.
Then there are the other celebrity guests, who appear on the show within the show. Martin Kemp plays a version of himself so outlandish that it’s like watching a Jason Statham biopic of Martin Kemp. Dr Ranj becomes extremely excited about new automotive technology. Big Zuu sings a song called Donkeys Are Pricks, which has to be a shoo-in for the Christmas No 1.
It’s a slight show, but one that drips with charm. Neither Horne nor any of his band is a particularly natural performer, but that barely matters. It all adds to the homemade, thrown-together feel of the thing. It is such a delight to watch.
Like many people, I found that watching Taskmaster on demand with my kids during lockdown (the bleeped version, I’m not a monster) brought us together in ways many other shows couldn’t. The same is probably true of The Horne Section TV Show. It’s so guileless and gleeful that the whole family will get something from it. Yes, admittedly there is that song about donkeys being pricks, but the kids need to learn.